I don’t know how many of you have noticed, but things are getting a bit tense out there. If life inside the Beltway was making you anxious, you might not want to avert your gaze. The view farther afield is not such a pretty sight these days.
With the Tea Party on one hand and the Occupy Wall Street and We Are the 99 percent protestors on the other, a growing proportion of our fellow citizens are actively expressing disgust with the status quo. And this doesn’t even include all the others like No Labels, the Coffee Party Movement and more who in their efforts to re-establish a middle-ground have ended up — often from the comfort of their home computer or smartphone — on or near the edge of a growing disquiet.
This morning I listened in a state somewhere between fury and amazement as Bill Frezza, a venture capitalist and fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, complained bitterly on NPR that those making more than $250,000 a year were being unfairly cast as “whipping boys” for failing to pull the economy out of its tailspin by creating jobs. His full-throated defense of free market capitalism worked about as well as sending the fire department to pour gasoline on a blaze.
If Frezza and his ilk are to be believed, the country has it all wrong: executives are just like entrepreneurs; consumption always precedes production, and employment is an input to a healthy economy not a byproduct of it. And, oh yeah, corporations are citizens too. Of course, Frezza and his friends are the same folks who creatively destroyed not only some of the nation’s biggest corporate brands, but also brought us the savings and loan scandal, the dot.com bubble, and collateralized debt obligations.
After 30 years of vilifying civil servants and public policies aimed at protecting much less expanding the middle class, these economic elites want us to believe that consumers have only themselves and the left-leaning political pawns they elected to blame for the lack of jobs, growth and real competitiveness.
New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman and co-author Michael Mandelbaum have another take on this. Their book, That Used to Be Us, contends that four trends underlie our current situation (summary taken from ‘That Used to Be Us’: Tom Friedman’s Rx for America to Get Its Groove Back at Yahoo! Finance):
- Misreading the end of the Cold War, which was not a military “victory” but the start of a very big challenge to U.S. hegemony.
- Taking a bad course after 9/11 by focusing on the losers of globalization vs. the winners.
- Underestimating the impact of technological change which has made the world “hyper-connected.”
- A generational shift from the “Greatest Generation” who believed in thrift and “sustainable values” to the Baby Boomers who use “situational values” and prefer to ‘borrow and spend’, instead of save.
Friedman and Mandelbaum suggest that the remedy to our current ills lies in what they call the ‘Five Pillars of Success,” outlined as follows:
- Research and development
In all five areas, the government, they argue, plays the key role, not just in jump-starting our economy, but in restoring confidence in our greatness as a nation. They make a compelling case that without competence in these five areas, the nation cannot expect to reclaim much less retain its position as the world’s preeminent power.
About the same time Friedman and Mandelbaum’s book hit the stores last month, James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic, was discussing a damning essay by former GOP Congressional staffer Mike Lofgren and conveying some pretty salient observations himself (see here, here, and here) about the degree of unrest emerging around the country as a consequence of the growing distrust of our political elites.
More than a few commentators have begun to suggest in some subtle and not-so-subtle ways that the Arab Spring could be followed by an American Fall. As homeland security professionals, we might rightly ask ourselves what this means for us. Which side are we on? Do we stand with the state or the citizens?