With due credit to Jim Collins in his book “Built to Last,” I have used part of one his themes to speak to the big lies that are out there regarding our problems in the US. The presidential campaign, or any for that matter, discuss how their opponents have lied about one thing or another. Yet, there are much bigger untruths we need to discuss in the context of our problems. I must apologize in advance, though, if my efforts to sound non-partisan fail as one political party has made an art form at being disingenuous, which is one of the reasons I left it behind.
Big Lie #1 – Deficits Don’t Matter
This one has been attributed to Ronald Reagan by Dick Cheney who even brought it up recently. This is one area where the Tea Party got it right, yet we disagree on the resolution. Yet, the truth is the deficit does matter and if we don’t do something about it, we will be like Greece. We are already seeing the deficits cause city after city in the US to declare bankruptcy and this will continue. Ben Bernanke and Erskine Bowles said last week that failure to act will be catastrophic. The other untruth is Reagan actually did care about deficits. That is why he increased taxes five times after he made his first major tax cut that went too far.
Big Lie #2 – We are Taxed Enough Already
According to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris, who has measured overall taxes as a percent of GDP in 34 countries for over forty-five years, the US is one of the least taxed countries in the world. Of these 34 countries, the US ranks 32nd in terms of most taxes. Our average tax rate pf 24.1% of GDP in 2009 is almost 10%of GDP lower than the average of these 34 countries of 33.8%. When our budget was last balanced in 2000, the year before Bush took office, our rate was still much less than the average. We also are at our lowest tax rates in over 50 years in the US. The truth is any politician can get elected saying he or she will lower taxes, yet we need sober discussions now regarding raising taxes as well as cutting spending as recommended by the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Plan.
Big Lie #3 – If you work hard enough in America you can change your Economic Class
Unfortunately, this is more a lie than it is a truth. For every Herman Cain story there are tens of thousands of failures to change their economic class. The best read on the subject is a ten-year old book called “Nickeled and Dimed in America.” The author worked a series of minimum or near-minimum wage jobs and reports that these jobs actually perpetuate poverty. Her peers worked their fannies off in usually more than one job, yet the wages are so low they could not eat enough or in a healthy manner, they could not afford health care, they could not save anything and were truly living paycheck to paycheck. These jobs are as close to slave labor as you can get without calling them that. And, per a Parade Magazine survey before the recession, over 70% of people making under $90,000 were living paycheck to paycheck. This is the real America and we need to address this. Better education has to be part of this equation as does living wages.
Big Lie #4 – Global Warming is a Hoax
When I hear reasonably intelligent people say this, it still amazes me, but they are biting hook, line and sinker on stories and biased data the Oil/ Gas Industry is feeding. Of course, global warming is happening and of course it is man-made. The data by reputable scientists dwarfs everything else plus the evidence is in front of us now. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) just released a report that confirms the man-made influences on global warming citing the Texas droughts as one example. The US Court of Appeals in DC just ruled that the EPA has the right to govern greenhouse gases and chastised the Oil/ Gas Industry for criticizing the overwhelming scientific evidence. The rest of the world gets it, so the US needs both political parties at the table to discuss a workable eco-energy policy now. Germany is 10 years ahead of the US and will be 80% alternative energy powered by 2030 without nuclear power.
Big Lie #5 – Guns don’t kill people, people kill people
No, it is actually people who can get a hold of a gun kill people. The terrible tragedy in Aurora, CO is not the reason for this lie being included, but I will note that such tragedies will happen again. Yet, the greater tragedy is the number of deaths that occur on a daily basis where the victim knew the perpetrator. Pick up any local paper or watch the local news and count the number of homicides, suicides and shootings. With so many disagreements, despondence and stress, access to guns is causing a death to occur when it may have not been the case without such easy access. We have over 260 million guns in the US and the NRA is the most powerful lobbyist in the country who has only one purpose – to perpetuate the sale of more guns. No civilian should have access to an assault weapon – they should be illegal. Gun registration should have deeper background checks and be more elongated – we are talking about a weapon not a fishing license. Bullets should all be encoded so they are traceable. The police forces of America support this, but the NRA does not. I hold the opinions of our police force in higher esteem.
Big Lie #6 – More Jobs are Created under Republican Leadership
I had heard this was untrue, so I did some checking as can you on Wikipedia. The truth is quite the opposite and it is not even close. Whether you measure from January to January of the jobs in existence for the incoming President versus when he left office or if you measure from September to September of the President’s first and last budget, the same conclusion can be gleaned. From January, 1921 to January, 2012, we have had 10 3/4 terms of Democratic Presidents and 12 terms of Republican Presidents. These are four-year terms, so Reagan and Clinton would have two four-year terms. The increase in number of jobs under the Democratic presidents have been over 72,177,000 an average of 6,744,000 per term. Under the Republican presidents, the increase in number of jobs has been over 35,752,000, which equates to an average of 2,982,000 per four-year term. The best job increase experiences were under the tutelage of FDR, Clinton, LBJ, Reagan and Carter, the latter of which surprised me. Nixon and Truman were also good job creators. The author of “The World is Curved” served as a budget advisor to both Reagan and Clinton and he noted they were very similar in their beliefs on opening markets. Clinton actually saw more jobs created per term than FDR, but due to the size of the population, FDR had the highest percentage. While the President has less control of the job market than he is given credit for, where I first heard this statistic was when I read there have been more public/ private co-investments under Democratic white houses than Republican ones. That has been America’s history – one of open markets, but also public/ private investment to start a large effort or incubate an idea. This is a key premise of what we need to return to under “That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World it Invented and How it can come Back” by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandlebaum.
I recognize I may have rattled a few cages in the Republican world, but being a former GOPer, they need to be rattled. We need to have serious discussions about our issues and plans to resolve them. We need people at the table armed with facts and not lobbyists’ versions of the facts. And, some of these conversations truly cannot wait for an election as the resolutions will take time and last beyond the terms of any President, which means we all must buy into the changes. We cannot shift gears after four years, especially when we are discussing systematic change. So, we need to get cracking this summer and we can begin with starting with the Simpson-Bowles plan as a solid working draft on addressing our deficits and doing so without damaging our slow recovery.