So, what would an independent alternative look like?
First, it would acknowledge that free markets, property rights, and the rule of law are the underpinning of free societies. The most prosperous, democratic countries on the planet are those that have embraced free-market capitalism.
But free markets, like any human institution, are imperfect; sometimes the rational pursuit of one’s own self-interest leads to negative consequences for the larger society that the market itself has no economic incentive to rectify. Case in point: environmental destruction or the recent financial crisis.
That’s where democratically elected governments come in. They have the legitimate right to address problems that affect the populace as a whole and that the market cannot solve. This tension between individual rights and societal needs has existed since the very beginning of our republic and will continue as long as our country does.
Some government involvement is necessary and desirable, but the tendency for governments to abrogate greater powers need to be kept in check by a vigilant electorate and a strong legal system founded on the US constitution.
Second, our world has limited resources—both natural and financial—and we have to learn to live within our means. Our recent experience in Iraq and Afghanistan shows that we cannot impose our will on the rest of the world. We need to pick our battles wisely, and figure out how we’ll pay for them before we get too involved.
Third, we need leaders who tell the truth. After a terrible decade, when our position in the world plummeted shockingly, too many Americans are still not facing reality, as any poll about cutting the budget shows. (People are a bit more sober about foreign military adventures, though.) The next decade will be all about how we use our limited resources, and that’s a tough message for people to swallow.
Now, to some specifics:
1.No more new foreign wars. Secretary of Defense Bob Gates said it best: “Any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it.’’
In fact, we’re going to have to start dismantling our far-flung global military empire (the US armed forces are in more than 150 countries) and allocate resources only to areas where we have a vital interest that we can realistically defend. That means saying “no” when there’s great pressure for us to intervene or even letting others (as in Libya) take the lead.
2. Focus on rebuilding the economy. We need federal and local governments that encourage creation of good jobs at all levels by giving real incentives to potential employers. But we must also provide proven, targeted training programs that identify marketable skills and train people to do them. Americans need to renounce the anti-intellectual strain in our culture and work and study harder, too, if we want to stay competitive.
3. Get our fiscal house in order. Stop playing politics and face the elephant in the room–massive entitlement spending, although all discretionary defense and domestic spending needs to be on the table, too—as should the many inequities in our tax code. As the late Joe Battipaglia once said, Americans have to decide how much government they really want—and how to pay for it.
That’s my independent agenda—and I’ll be elaborating much more on this blog. What’s yours? Let the conversation begin!