Monday, November 25, 2013

"Hampton Roads" Takes One Giant Leap Backward

Doesn't it make you reach for the spot just above your heart when you hear Neil Armstrong's majestic proclamation "that's one small step for a man, and one giant leap for mankind?" It was a spot much lower, where my lunch was settling, that I clutched when the Supreme Court of Virginia approved Governor Robert McDonnell's giant leap backward for the region we have known as Hampton Roads. Unlike the west-bound lanes of the Midtown Tunnel which will be newly built and thus subject to user fees, the hardly-changed east-bound lanes and the entire Downtown Tunnel will be arbitrarily taxed as well just because the Supreme Court says the state is big and bad and "rough" enough to do it.  How fitting that this announcement came on Halloween--Devil's Day--as it is known in quarters like Downtown Detroit, where criminals use the occasion to torch large swaths of the city in celebration!

True friends of Hampton Roads removed tolls from all major tunnels in the 1970s and 1980s. They nixed long distance phone charges and erased tolls from the Virginia Beach expressway in the 1990s. These regional heroes even managed a Monitor-Merrimac Bridge tunnel that has never seen a user fee. These deeds brought our region of 1.5 million people closer and closer by the decade. How do you refer to people who bring a wrecking ball to a region though?

Every toll between two ends of a road is a barrier between them as much or more than it is a user fee. Each of them proposed in our area stands in the way of movies at the Commodore or Naro, dinner in Olde Town or Ghent, and ultimately excursions through these impediments on the way to work. On February 1st., Williamsburg becomes more accessible to Suffolk than Norfolk is. Portsmouth soon will be closer to Yorktown than to Virginia Beach. And all of us will have to rethink what the political map of our neighborhood looks like--Republican or Democrat--when those who operate the regional wrecking ball are ready to decide on whom to arbitrarily impose the next user fees. You are trivializing what is happening here if you do not consider the possibility that that the area might simply implode economically, i.e. break apart, if you will.

All of this has me thinking about a great new You Tube idea: Rough people with weapons, chains, and the like can stand in the middle of a road. As rich people, poor people, old people, young people and desperate people try to pass, these community leaders can demand money as a user fee for accessing the road. If they're paid, they can smile and let the person pass. If not, they can rattle the chain, shoot the weapon or otherwise terrorize the user while continuing their blockade. This can be videoed and uploaded, exemplifying a great new approach to "working" on the part of the roughnecks. You can call it the "efficiency" of not raising taxes when it's done by politicians or bureaucrats and assessed arbitrarily on travelers though.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Does the Deficit Matter?

Recently, two liberal economists, Robert Reich of the Clinton Administration, and Paul Krugman, of the New York Times, have complained that the budget deficit doesn't matter. This is hardly a liberals-only position since George W. Bush's administration was reputed to have sat around the White House War Room saying the same thing. Indeed, Mr. Bush and the Congress began running deficits within months of his winning the 2000 election. Bill Clinton and the Congress claimed to have balanced the budget for the two or three years prior to that, and it is against this same budget formula that Mr. Bush began embarking on spending imbalances.

The takeaway from the new rants by Reich and Krugman is that there is no reason to have erected the fiscal cliff that President Obama and the Congress are bickering about. The government prints money, Krugman argues, therefore it cannot go bankrupt. This is actually a true statement. Even the spirit of the statement, the notion that the United States does not need some sort of emergency reaction to the deficits, is true. The fiscal cliff was political theater for the 2012 Presidential and Congressional elections. With those settled, there is no need to immediately undercut Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, or Defense, as there is no need to choke off whatever recovery we have going with stifling new taxes.

Unfortunately, the deficit does matter for two other reasons: First, deficits have been used for most of the past 40 years to feed the growing entitlement mentality harbored by many Americans. Earning the big bucks, those reflected in the American standard of living, is hard, and the country has made it. Why not ask those fat cuts to pay for the difference between what an American earns and what he or she collects? Do you know who the fat cats are? They're those mostly mythical people who have lots of extra money they don't deserve. Because these cats are essentially fictional though, there are not a lot of real people to ask to pay more so we can earn less.

Second, the rest of the world won't keep investing in a dysfunctional system that rewards mediocrity and largess forever. Either somebody has to actually earn most of the money that is provided to Social Security recipients, Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, and for defense outlays or one day our political and economic systems will be recognized and disregarded as the shams they will have become. No one can predict quite when the rest of the world will make other bets if the entitlement fest continues, but let me guess about twenty-five years. By this time, Medicare will long be insolvent and Social Security will be in imminent danger of collapse.

What makes sense now then, is to say enough is enough. But when we say that, as Krugman and Reich point out, there is no need to drive the economy off of a fiscal cliff. Taxes should be raised a little bit on everyone who received a tax cut over the past twelve years and let's face it, that's everyone. Spending should be reined in. This means that Social Security benefits should become fully vested later and Medicare should be supplemented more with private insurance plans. Additionally, defense savings opportunities should be explored and Medicaid should be offset with higher uninsured taxes. While this may be painful, it does not have to be a drive off of a cliff--fiscal or otherwise.

Monday, November 5, 2012

On the balance, it's Obama for me

Okay, nine hours before the voting starts, I'm ready to tell you who I'm supporting for President. Here's why this is the right moment: 1) Students don't pay me to tell them how to vote, but many of my students read this blog. 2) I wanted to tell you how I feel so you can never say I based how I felt on the election results. And 3) although, I made up my mind several days ago, both candidates are decent and caused me to think and rethink this decision.

Mitt Romney is a classy man and may be a decent President. He earns high marks for his Mormon version of Christianity from me because I have a number of close Mormon friends and admire their consistency. My pals practice what they preach! Mr. Romney is also correct about the 47 percent issue. Nearly 47 percent of Americans don't pay any federal income tax and for everyone except an occasional politician, that's too many people to expect nothing from. For 19 years, Republicans and Democrats alike have been aiming spending increases and tax cuts at their voters. As Mr. Romney points out, it is disingenuous to reverse tax cuts on only those who earns more than $250,000. Hell, Presidents Bush and Obama have given me tax cuts over the last 12 years and as much as I like them, I don't deserve them any more than the rich guy. Of course, no defense of Mitt Romney would be complete without praising his intellect for putting a Miami University (of Ohio) grad like Paul Ryan on his ticket. I went there!

When there is an incumbent involved in election though, that process is to some extent is a referendum on him. Because this is so, President Obama deserves a second term. I am most impressed with the health care reform that some call Obamacare. The President will be remembered long after tomorrow, or 2016, because he was the first to identify an American's responsibility to pay for his or her own health care. He called it an individual mandate, although John Roberts and the Supreme Court referred to it as a tax. History books will list this alongside FDR's Social Security and LBJ's Medicare, but they will call those rights and President Obama's individual mandate a responsibility.

The President has also earned a second term by orchestrating the financial cliff. This is based on the arbitrary line in the sand that Congressional Republicans drew when they declared that no tax increase could be part of a budget balancing equation for any reason. In my opinion they were wrong. While the ideal budget reform would involve tax increases and spending cuts, the studies I've seen show U.S. spending as a percentage of GDP being more in line with other major economies than its level of taxation (which is usually below those of other economies). I don't think it is wrong to wish for smaller government, but I do think it's arrogant beyond the pale to insist that reversing Bush and/or Obama's tax cuts for all taxpayers is off the table. If we return Congressional Republicans to office tomorrow, and polls say we will, then we deserve to have our economy driven off the financial cliff if we have chosen unwisely. On the other hand, if President Obama is also returned, most of us expect some kind of deal.

What kind of deal would it be if a President Romney and the Congressional Republicans decided they couldn't increase taxes and also couldn't cut spending on their voters without risking their majorities? Well a repeat of the last 19 years, I would cuts, spending increases, and budget deficits! Call me naive, but I think President Obama is spoiling for a fight on this one in his second term--a necessary one. If this is so, the to paraphrase General MacArthur, Let the Battle Begin! 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Who Will You Vote For?

As I sat, watching the Vice Presidential debate the other night, I found myself rooting for both guys. Joe Biden has been a decent Vice President, and my daughter got to hear him speak last spring at Maury High School in Norfolk. Paul Ryan went to my university--Miami of Ohio. Unfortunately, I didn't listen with the expectation that either man would help President Obama, or Governor Romney, respectively, institute the ideas they were bickering about. Instead, I wondered about which of them, or their bosses, would fight the hardest against a system designed to stop them from carrying out those ideas. But let me not be cynical, that is the way American government was designed: To prevent one man (or two) from having unfettered ability to impose his will on the country.

Let's consider the most important economic issues facing the next President and follow that up with my analysis of what , if not who, is the right way to pursue them:

1) Are government spending cuts important? I tell economics classes there is little evidence that net government spending cuts have ever occurred. Therefore, if government spending cuts are important and they have never occurred it is extremely important to understand prior to the election how the current candidates will propose accomplishing the impossible. What will Mitt Romney or Barack Obama do that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton could not do?

2) Is cutting the budget deficit important? If cutting the budget deficit is important, consider number one above: Must the deficit be cut with spending cuts, or are tax increases feasible? If it is impossible to tax anyone more because the economy is so weak, and if it is impossible to cut spending just because it is then should Americans, like lambs to slaughter, simply wait until budget deficits cause a bigger problem?

3) Is there an entitlement mentality in the United States and if so, is it important to change that? I have said in economics classes that the danger of the budget deficits in the United States is that they will create an entitlement mentality. Please note that I am not referring to entitlements as defined by the federal government. Social Security and Medicare are entitlements and this means that American citizens have paid for them and therefore are entitled to them. By contrast, I am referring to a way of life that suggests that a person is entitled to a standard of living whether he or she earns it or not.

4) Are large defense cuts feasible? This relates to number one above, but two related questions must be answered: Can the country be protected from all reasonable threats with significantly lower defense costs? and...Could President Obama or Governor Romney actually work with Congress to preserve a net government spending cut if there are significant defense cuts? 

5) Is it feasible to cut Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid? This relates to number one, and it sounds good to push health care and survival costs for the elderly, children, and relations without comparative advantage to families and off of the government. But will it work?

Well...I conclude that government spending cuts are not particularly important. From statistics I have seen, the United States is not out of step with other major world economies in the level of government spending as a percentage of GDP. To the extent that President Obama or Governor Romney insist on spending cuts only, as a way to balance the federal budget deficit, I will be tempted to vote against him.

Moving the federal budget toward balance is somewhat important though. It is true that our Federal Reserve (FED) and money system provide significant opportunities to print money and borrow without Americans truly feeling pain. On the other hand, I think recent FED policy has pushed the envelope, or been aggressive, and cannot be sustained. It is not lost on me that the only time a federal budget has been balanced in my adult lifetime was by President Clinton (a Democrat) and a Republican Congress. Although, President Obama does not possess the exact same strengths (or weaknesses) as Mr. Clinton, and the current Republican Congress does not posses the exact same attributes as the one in the late 1990's either, the party and ideological comparisons are striking and tempting.

President Dwight Eisenhower, the World War II hero, warned of a vast military industrial complex, which would prevent frugal defense decisions from being made: Generals, admirals, and defense contractors would threaten that any decision to save money would actually put national security in jeopardy if for no other reason than to preserve their own interests. He was right of course. And yet, who among us, other than those generals and admirals (if not the defense contractors), is qualified to tell us what will or will not threaten national security?  I will be tempted to vote against either the President or Governor Romney if either argues that balancing the budget is possible by significantly cutting defense.

Skepticism is necessary with regard to the feasibility of cutting Social Security, Medicare, and/or Medicaid. While cost increases in these programs need to be minimized as our entire population ages, the likelihood that there can be significant cuts to them appears unlikely at best. Put another would be great if everyone else's family cared for their elderly, children, and incapable relatives, but I can't care for mine. Oh, I do pretty well by my daughter I think, but as a single parent, that leaves me little in the way of extra resources (financial or attention-wise) to care for my two parents who need nursing level care, or those family skeletons one finds in every hard-working American's closet. Faced with the prospect of quitting my job to provide the necessary attention, or spending my daughter's college fund, the mortgage payment, and automobile maintenance costs on their care, I'm not sure there is a serious alternative to letting Mom, Dad, Uncle Fester and the other closet skeletons starve on the street corners in the absence of the government programs. I will be tempted to vote against anyone who plans to balance the federal budget with significant cuts to these government programs unless the candidate addresses how the fallout would be dealt with.

This brings us to the entitlement mentality problem. I am not aware of an American who has seen an increase in any federal tax since 1993. On the other hand, wealthy and middle-income Americans received tax cuts under President George W. Bush on income, capital gains, and dividends in 2001 and 2003. They also got a Social Security tax cut under President Barack Obama in 2010. Poor and middle-income Americans received Bush's tax cut on income and Obama's on Social Security although they generally can't afford stocks or other capital investments and therefore didn't benefit much from those related cuts. In my opinion, shielding any of the aforementioned revenue-skimping Americans from some tax increase amounts to encouragement of an entitlement mentality.

What then of Mom, Dad, Uncle Fester and the other family skeletons? In my mother and father's case, they worked hard all of their lives and paid every required cent to Social Security and Medicare. Those programs protect them today for that reason. But my Uncle Fester (and other skeletons), and many moms, dads, and relations of other Americans have simply shrugged hard work, low pay, and/or the Social Security and Medicare with holdings. These people have little income, great expenses, and in some cases have thrust their dysfunction on their minor children. How do we alter Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid  to make them look at these entitlements as last resorts rather than water at the trough? Although politicians are notoriously poor at telling their voters they will have to endure pain and sacrifice, I will be tempted to vote for either man that proposes logical alternatives to make the entitlements last resorts rather than first ones. However, because I would not take a candidate seriously who said he would make the other guy's voters do all of the sacrificing, I'd be tempted to vote against one who did that. For example, I don't take the proposal to let tax cuts expire only for the rich seriously or as reasonable.

If you are seeing both candidates in there--sometimes I said I'd vote for each, but others, I said I'd vote against him--don't you see how tough it is to be me this election season? But then enough about will you vote on November 6th? I'll drop my answer close to or on election day, when I have one.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Tolls: The Sorcerer's Finance

The best advice I can ever give you is to be very, very careful when it appears that what is in the best interest of society is precisely what's in your personal interest. If this is true, then you are a very lucky creature. When it is always true--you are unquestionably God's favorite. But what does it say about you if you believe it to be true, but it is not?

Consider the latest rage in the public finance of highways--tolls. The popularity line breaks down like this: If you are not subject to tolls, you are likely to favor them. However, when they are forced upon you, on a road that you used to drive for free, then you are probably not...especially when your demand for that roadway is inelastic. By inelastic, I mean when you are required to use the highway because your house and job are on opposite sides.

So who is correct? Are the people who complain about tolls because they have to pay them simply nimbys (not-in-my-back-yard)? Well, often no. Are those who favor tolls when they don't have to pay them part of the free-lunch crowd? Actually, usually yes. Here's why:

The simple truth is that tolls are a political solution to the public finance of highways, not a common sense solution. Because tolls are political in a free country, it is not wise to believe that everyone will one day be subject to them. Roads will be associated with tolls when the political benefits to the decision makers outweigh the political costs. Other roads will not be equipped for toll collection when the political costs exceed the political benefits. This situation is likely to produce one outcome, which flies in the face of fairness. It quite probably will cause those who are subject to tolls (because the decision makers received a net benefit) to pay for those who can never be subject to them (because the decision makers would have to pay a net cost). The "nimbys" don't want to be the only ones paying for highway use, and they don't want the risk of paying for everyone else's use in addition to their own. On the other hand, this is precisely what the free-lunch crowd wants.

The sorcery, or magical outcome, is the half-truth politicians imply: that tolls are nothing more than a user fee--a fee that Johnny Nimby has to pay for his road, but Susie Free-Luncher doesn't have to pay for hers. The odds are better than 90 percent that they both travel to work each day on a government provided highway though.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Defending Joe Paterno in the Court of Public Opinion (For Now)

There were no planes crashed into Pennsylvania State University buildings this week, no fights for control of aircraft over the bare mountains this side of State College, and Joe Paterno's physical body was not destroyed. In every other important sense though, many people were paying serious mind to destroying something that is grand--the legend and legacy of football coach, Joe Paterno.

We study entrepreneurship in Economics. I define the concept in its purest and best sense as "ruthless attention to success without being immoral or unethical." As you read what comes next, do it with this American ideal close at hand: A person is innocent until proven guilty. Now I am defending Joe Paterno in the court of public opinion, not a court of law. As such, I do not ask you to suspend disbelief or limit yourself to only things that are permissible in court. On the other hand, I insist that you not conclude based on logical inference, or your own experiences, unless they are supported by the facts that are available. He is charged with something in this most chaotic of courts--either a cover up or a criminally lackadaisical approach to child pedophilia. Either would be sufficient to undermine claims that he has been a great leader and entrepreneur in the purest and best sense. For now, I have not seen adequate evidence that he is guilty of either.

I want you to read the Grand Jury investigation report into the activities of a Mr. Jerry Sandusky and participants in (or victims of) his Second Mile program. Consider it Exhibit A. Sandusky was once the defensive coordinator at Pennsylvania State University. Don't worry if I didn't spit out the proper title, you will find it quickly by Google search. Let me caution you, it is graphic. Even if you are like me, a forty-seven year old tough guy, rest assured you will need facial tissue long before you arrive at the twenty-third page.

Once you have read it, and are trying to make it look like you really weren't sobbing at the horrors committed by Mr. Sandusky against those innocent little boys, think about all of the ways it might have gone down, and all of the ways it might not have. Someone didn't prevent Jerry Sandusky from having access to the Pennsylvania State University facilities, but who...and why? A crime was committed, there were just too many failures to report things that law enforcement needed to know. But is there anything in the Grand Jury report that clarifies that it was Joe Paterno who silenced those with a duty to speak or kept allowing Sandusky into the facilities?

Here are Exhibits unrelated to the charges against Paterno I offer in support of his ruthless attention to success without being immoral or unethical:

Exhibit B - The Football program has always posted high graduation rates (as high as 87 percent over the most recent period).

Exhibit C- The men he coached: Franco Harris, Jack Ham, Daniel Sepulveda, and Paul Posluszny, to name a few, continue to offer him their respect and deference in opportunity after opportunity.

Exhibit D- Pennsylvania State University has had no major NCAA infractions or investigations under Paterno's 45 years of leadership.

Exhibit E - I'm not aware of any time a Paterno team scored more than 60 points in a game. They don't run up the score.

Exhibit F - I grew up a Pitt fan (Dad graduated in 1961). Year after year of pulling for Pitt in the big rivalry (and usually being disappointed), I came to a startling revelation. Paterno had something there. His players seemed to love him. The students and fans were loyal, and indeed the continuity was making Penn State a cut above the other programs. In a particularly touching moment, sometime around the year Woody Hayes decked a Clemson kid for intercepting a pass, Joe Paterno did the unthinkable: he cried...on national television! The reason? His team lost. Now here it seemed, was a leader. A man who could show us tears for his players, and ruthless attention to success, all at the same time.

Now precisely what evidence does the other side offer of Paterno's failure as an entrepreneur or a leader? No one is suggesting that he himself was terrorizing little boys. Many bloggers, sportscasters and others focus instead on the cover-up. Their evidence? Only the logical inference that Paterno must have been involved in a cover up--as if every time something horrible happens, you can assume the most highly respected person who could have benefited from doing it (or in this case not doing it) must have, without further investigation.

Actually, the most damning piece of public information (that I have seen) regarding Coach Paterno is in the Grand Jury report itself. That report describes a 2002 encounter where Paterno is alerted by a graduate assistant to a crime committed in the Pennsylvania State University shower by Mr. Sandusky. The other side's argument is that Paterno didn't do anywhere near enough when made aware of this event. Perhaps, but remember the American standard of justice--innocent until proven guilty--and see Exhibit A.2 below.

I offer two more exhibits illustrating lack of evidence of Paterno's failure as an entrepreneur and leader rather than support of his success. These are from the Grand Jury Report. Let's title them A.1 and A.2:

Exhibit A.1 - From the grand jury account, and various media reports, it is clear that Coach Paterno told Mr. Sandusky in 1999 he would never be the head coach at Penn State. Sandusky resigned immediately. This coincides with the timing of a security investigation done into Mr. Sandusky's illicit affairs with the Second-Mile program, and its young participants. But there are no answers here, only questions. Why did Coach Paterno tell Sandusky he would never be the head coach? Were rumors swirling? And what if Paterno was not aware of the security investigation, only the rumors? Would you call Paterno's moves to distance Sandusky from the football program an enabling technique in that event?

Exhibit A.2- Paterno was neither a witness to Sandusky's 2002 crime nor was he Sandusky's supervisor according to the Grand Jury report. He received an account of this on a Saturday morning from a graduate student (at home), and called his supervisor to his house on Sunday morning to report the incident. Does this sound like someone trying to do the minimum and sweep it under the rug? I suppose it might, but on the surface it sounds swift and attentive to me.

Two leaps to conclusion have swirled around this story that unnerve me. If you read the blogs, newspaper opinions, etc., there seems to be this view that Paterno had incredible power. With one phone call to the police, he could have had Jerry Sandusky arrested and put away, but held back. As I've mentioned before, the second is because Joe stood to benefit from the image of a squeaky clean program and appeared to have this iron hold on Pennsylvania State University's day-to-day activities, he was obviously working to cover-up the Jerry Sandusky story while enabling him to torture more young boys.

I'm asking you to consider the third possibility. The chance that Paterno is the man we thought he was all along. A guy who either didn't fully understand Sandusky's vile nature, or didn't have the power to completely dispense with him. Given the 2002 Grand Jury account, if nothing else, this demonstrates a personal shortcoming. Among the differences in Paterno's account of the incident and the graduate assistant's account, there is no disagreement that the graduate assistant reported "something of a sexual nature" involving Sandusky and a boy. In other words he saw some kind of crime. Paterno reported it as described earlier, but didn't make sure it got to the police as he could have. However, if this is the extent of Paterno's involvement in the crimes, it is proof of his fallibility, but not a justification for overturning his legacy.

On the other hand, I accept that evidence of Mr. Paterno's involvement in a cover-up of Mr. Sandusky's actions may be forthcoming. He would have had much to gain from it. If we are compelled to accept that a cover up by Paterno must have happened without evidence of its truth, though, then we risk destroying an inspiring leadership and entrepreneurship story that should have only been footnoted. When we move beyond fables and children's stories even the best leadership stories have inglorious footnotes, reminding us that people can be heroic, but not God-like. Whatever comes to light at Pennsylvania State University, wherever Joe Paterno fits between thug and hero, we must get to the bottom of it. We must never accept that the only difference between heroes and thugs is that the former haven't been caught yet.

Throughout the past week I have often felt like a victim. I share that with the kids that demonstrated at Pennsylvania State University earlier in the week. While I can't speak for them, I can tell you that I haven't appreciated the logic leap many have tried to force upon me that Paterno must have been covering for Sandusky. The evidence isn't there (yet?). It also troubles me that I may have been admiring a thug for the last 40 years. However, we aren't the victims. The victims are the somewhere between eight and 100 boys that Jerry Sandusky was able to abuse because of a conspiracy of silence--a conspiracy that Joe Paterno, arguably the most ethical man in football, played a role in. I want to know as much as I can about that role--was he a naive, old icon that could have done more, or a thug trying to preserve his legacy at the expense of at least eight pre-teenage boys? However, I will not rush to judgement.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Something Large

The average wage an American earns is among the highest on earth. During 2009, the typical yank earned about eight times more than the his counterpart in China, ten times the salary of the Indian, and over 100 times as much as the gentleperson form Burundi (Central Africa). How sorry can you feel for the Virginian, Appalachian, or Californian who is likely to collect more in his or her unemployment check than the Chinese or Indian does by working? Gosh--his food coupons and access to Medicaid are likely to go farther than the Central-African's paycheck.

Yet here we are, mired in in the economic doldrums, wondering if it's a recession, depression, or jobless recovery we're talking about. America's problem has festered for a while, and it's quite simple if you think about it: We don't make enough things or offer enough services that the world wants to buy. I'm not talking about cell phone components, clock radios, or even cars. The globalites buy these from the guys that work for less than $4 per hour. I'm talking about the stuff that humanity (American and otherwise) is willing to pay more than $22 per hour to get because it's so large.

The rest of the planet will pay more than $22 per hour for cures for Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, and pancreatic cancer. It will gladly shell out more than $22 an hour for the production of robots that do all sorts of things faster than people do them. Sadly, but truthfully, nation after nation will also offer up such a price for well trained, and well equipped armies to defend them. And then there's my favorite...Those nations and their constituents will invest such sums on space commercialization. The latter, not merely to see what's out there, but rather to be more comfortable (less crowded), more efficient (travel faster and be better suited for harsh climates), and more entertained (vacation in the most exotic of places)!

Ed LaSalle and I have commissioned students to help write and illustrate a book entitled Six Flights Out of This World: The Science Fiction and Astronomy Reader. We hope it will inspire them and their fellow learners to engage in large thinking, because too many Americans have been thinking small for decades. The chickens are coming home to roost! How many times have you run across someone who refuses an education and then refuses to work in an unskilled environment because of poor pay and job conditions? Do you know adults who have quit their occupations merely because they no longer like them, without regard for how they will earn $22 per hour? And what of the guys and gals who say there's no money in legitimate work, but there's a booming drug trade?

Against this backdrop, it's hard to fathom where the government fits in...problem, solution, both or neither? Public involvement in 2008 and 2009 saved the nation from a much deeper recession or even a depression, but at what cost? Were Washington's efforts to charge us less in taxes, even as it did more to supplement our salaries, softening the blow of a global economic fallout, or merely enabling us to keep thinking small?

We'll see. Leaving the answer to your interpretation, I predict that the United States is three years into an economic blah period that will last 25 . I hope I'm wrong. You'll know we're out of the hard times though, when large numbers of Americans are making things the rest of the world will pay more than $22 an hour for. You'll know it's a brand new morning here when Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are the social safety net for a few of our infirm or destitute countryfolk rather than an alternative to earning the $22 we spend. And you'll recognize the return of our vibrancy and resiliency when the Federal Reserve is conducting monetary policy to smooth out the business cycles rather than supplement the underemployment, Social Security, and unemployment insurance Americans rely on to keep consuming at present levels.

So let's prepare beau coups of those large things the world will pay our $22 per hour wage for--space buildings, militiary technology, robots, and cures and treatments for exotic diseases. For more than 200 years this has been the land of opportunity. Notwithstanding a blemish here or there along the way, we have been the most inclusive society in the history of the earth. This is no more apparent than when I travel abroad. What other nation could send any combination of Red, Yellow, Black, or White people to represent it abroad and not raise an eyebrow? Make no mistake about it; inclusion establishes opportunity, just consider what the Nazis lost when they discriminated against Albert Einstein. America will emerge from the economic malaise, but not until we are transformed into thinking large along the way.