"Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government." Thomas Jefferson

Right Stuff Needed for Fiscal Moonshot

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 4
Publish Date: 
Thu, 08/30/2012


Last Saturday, as Americans debated whether Lance Armstrong was a genuine hero after dropping his fight with the US Anti-Doping Agency, another Armstrong – an undisputable American hero -- died. Were Webster’s to pair Neil Armstrong with hero in its dictionary, one needn’t Think Again to fathom the bravery, achievement, and nobility implied by the word.


By fulfilling President Kennedy’s audacious goal to have an American walk on the moon within the decade, Neil Armstrong is remembered for the skill, courage, grace under pressure, and innate humility necessary to achieve “one giant leap for mankind,” while crediting legions of dedicated others for the “one small step for man” he took on July 20, 1969.  Upon fulfilling his mission, he didn’t spike the football or parlay fame into power or fortune.  He receded into dignified private life to teach and inspire future generations.


In breaking the sad news, NBC’s Brian Williams asserted, “we have lost the last American hero,” as if surrendering America’s heroic destiny to our era’s chaos and controversy. Yet throughout our tumultuous history, Americans have proven “where there’s a will, there’s a way”  -- starting with George Washington, who summoned heroism in his beleaguered troops by crossing the icy Delaware River enroute to American independence.


Though Thomas Jefferson warned “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground,” our founders established “a government of the people, by the people, for the people,” knowing it was a precondition to a dynamic, prosperous and free society. We fought the Civil War so this American ideal wouldn’t perish from the earth. Now, with our faith in the American Dream rattled, we face another great challenge.


Today we suffer unprecedented levels of economic stagnation, long-term unemployment, and government dependency. Despite a record $830 billion stimulus enacted in February 2009, this recovery (which technically began in June 2009) is the weakest of the 11 tracked since World War II. Stimulus advocates promising the unemployment rate wouldn’t exceed 8 percent (though it has for 42 consecutive months), were also wrong in forecasting a 5.5 percent rate by now.


Even since the “recovery’s” start, economic trends have deteriorated: the ranks of the long-term unemployed grew by 800,000; those no longer in the labor force increased 8 million; and food stamp spending doubled to $85 billion. New York Times economics columnist Catherine Rampell reported that median household incomes declined more (4.8 percent) during the “recovery” -- even among the continuously employed -- than they fell (2.8 percent) during the preceding 18-month recession.  Consequently, 85 percent of the much-discussed American middle class report that it’s now harder to maintain their standard of living, according to Pew Research.


Humorist PJ O’Rourke said, “giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.” Refusing to relinquish their intoxicating power to spend and borrow, political leaders have subverted the national interest by causing four consecutive trillion-dollar deficits. With government spending at stratospheric levels, we charge $41,222 to our children’s credit card every second. At $16 trillion, our national debt is up 50 percent since January 2009, exceeding the size of our economy. When added to future Medicare and Social Security claims, it totals $136 trillion -- an incomprehensible, indefensible, and morally reprehensible sum.


Anyone who’s balanced a checkbook -- or watched events unfold in Europe -- understands that red ink turns to blood, particularly when interest rates rise above historic lows. So, how can we trust leaders who won’t see and aren’t planning to avert the fiscal black hole toward which we’re rocketing? Shouldn’t we urge courageous leaders to redirect our perilous trajectory toward a safe landing?  


As the cliché goes, “if we can send a man to the moon,” we can restore America’s promise to secure a more stable and prosperous future. After instituting reforms to entitlement programs and its tax code, Canada achieved a remarkable economic turnaround, and so can we. It will require a Kennedy-esque leader to define the challenge as the fiscal equivalent of the moonshot, and to summon the political will for lift-off against fierce gravitational forces.


As a firm believer in Americans, Abraham Lincoln said, “If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.”  Eager for blast off is a nation of unassuming and reluctant heroes – ordinary Americans.  Spoken to like adults, and with the facts in hand, we have the “right stuff” to enable another “giant leap for mankind.” If this isn’t our generation’s most important mission, what is?


Think Again – our children need us to be their heroes.


French vs American Revolutions — Vive La Différence!

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 4
Publish Date: 
Thu, 07/19/2012


The French celebrated Bastille Day last week, 219 years after beheading Marie-Antoinette in the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror. To this day, she’s the poster-child for upper-class excess, entitlement and insensitivity -- the ultimate “1 Percenter.”

However, Think Again before believing every demonization you hear, especially without factcheck.org. In truth, though a privileged aristocrat, Marie-Antoinette was not only a faithful Good Samaritan, she actually never uttered the notorious catchphrase “Let them eat cake.” Never mind those silly details -- social justice was at stake!

By portraying Marie-Anoinette as selfish and out-of-touch, the revolutionaries justified their bloodthirsty mob rule and indiscriminate savagery. Declaring “liberty, equality and fraternity,” they ushered in an anti-democratic period of unlimited governmental power, civil strife, and economic despair, though eventually Enlightenment principles transformed France into a vibrant democracy.

Today, France has Europe’s most state-directed economy, and among its most stagnant and indebted. Prioritizing “the collective interest,” the French prefer government to free market solutions spending more on social welfare than any other developed country. Recently, the anti-wealth rhetoric of newly elected President Hollande -- and his plans to hike taxes – made London the sixth largest French city, to its mayor’s delight.

Similarly Enlightenment-inspired, though resentful of strong government, American revolutionaries devised a system to protect individual liberties. James Madison wrote, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.  If angels were to govern men… controls on government would (not) be necessary.  In framing a government… you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”

While the French were sticking dissenters’ heads on bayonets, Americans enacted a Constitution designed to disperse authority in order to protect the moral promise in our Declaration of Independence: that every individual is born with equal and inalienable rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. Thus, the American Revolution facilitated the creation of the freest and most prosperous society on earth.

Over the last century, while America’s free economy boomed attracting immigrants to our opportunity society, politicians were busy encumbering it, à la française. They instituted the income tax, asserted extra-constitutional powers to regulate, dabbled in cronyism and created entitlement programs that now consume 65 percent of the federal budget. Once 3 percent of gross domestic product, government spending is now 25 percent, crowding out the private economy and producing daily deficits of $4 billion.


Consequently, we suffer French-size economic stagnation, unemployment, and debt (up 50 percent since January 2009). Poverty rates are the highest since tracking began in 1959; food stamp dependency is exploding; and the percentage of Americans with a job is the lowest in decades. Not surprisingly, two-thirds of Americans say we’re on the wrong track and that there’s too much government power and too little individual freedom.

Meanwhile, clueless that government policies influence economic decisions, politicians now propose increasing taxes. “Taxmageddon” -- the toxic mix of year-end tax increases – is causing businesses to defer hiring and investment. Even if limited to the top two-percent with incomes over $250,000 (which includes small businesses responsible for half of private sector jobs and $720 billion in earnings), tax increases would create serious recessionary headwinds while funding only 8.5 days of federal spending, per the Congressional Budget Office. This is a blueprint to cripple job creation, and 23 million job-seeking Americans.

Though they agreed it was economically injurious to hike taxes in 2010 when the economy was growing at twice its current rate, tax-hikers argue it’s now about fairness while referencing the “roaring 90’s” when rates were higher but before explosions in spending, debt, and stagnation.  What's fair about increasing taxes knowing the vulnerable will suffer disproportionately?

What is fair considering 2009 IRS data shows the top one-percent and top five-percent paid 37 percent and 64 percent respectively of federal income taxes, while the bottom half paid two percent? If the richest aren’t yet paying their fair share, doesn’t that suggest they don’t merit their earned success?  By denying some Americans their earned success, doesn’t that undermine our opportunity society and social cohesion?

Having migrated toward French values, practices and even their anti-wealth rhetoric, its hard to recall our Founders' belief that government’s role is to protect – not grant -- individual rights and property.  To reinvigorate our free society and market economy, we need a true “fairness agenda”: a simpler tax code with fewer special interest loopholes, no more corporate welfare, and reforms that preserve entitlement programs for future generations.

Most importantly, we must recover the private initiative that French historian Alexis de Tocqueville found exceptional in 1830s America: ““In every case at the head of any new undertaking, where in France you would find the government ... in America you’re sure to find an association.” 

By renewing our commitment to individual liberties and the ethic that each of us – not government -- is our brother’s keeper, Americans “have it in our power to begin the world all over again,” as American revolutionary Thomas Paine wrote.

Wouldn’t our Founders want us to Think Again?

Scott Walker: Wisconsin's True Progressive

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 7
Publish Date: 
Thu, 06/07/2012


Last week after his criminal trial ended with a hung jury, John Edwards proclaimed hopefully, “I don’t think God is through with me,” as he planted the seeds for his comeback. Projecting the false modesty and manufactured authenticity that vaulted the one-term Senator toward the Presidency, Edwards personifies Graucho Marx’s maxim that “the secret to life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you've got it made."

In response to Edwards, I imagined a collective uproar: “Think Again, John -- the jig is up!” As Edwards exits stage left, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker takes center stage.  He, along with brave governors in New Jersey, Indiana, South Carolina, Louisiana, and possibly even New York, represent a new breed of leader emboldened to end public sector unions’ stranglehold on our governments and economy.

Putting aside Edwards’ despicable personal conduct, he is emblematic of the corrupt patronage system that Governor Scott Walker ended in Wisconsin -- the one that allows government unions to cement relationships with self-serving politicians, leaving taxpayers unrepresented and rendering many states insolvent.  By voting decisively to retain Walker (the only US governor to survive a recall), Cheeseheads declared the jig is finally up for this brand of special-interest cronyism and the politicians who perpetuate it – at least in Wisconsin.

The truth is, public-sector unions don’t serve a compelling social need since governments don’t exploit labor for profits. Furthermore, as Franklin Roosevelt cautioned, “the process of collective bargaining…. cannot be transplanted into the public service...[without risking] paralysis of government by those who have sworn to support it.” Realizing this, President Carter reduced collective-bargaining rights for federal employees by signing the Civil Service Reform Act.

It’s ironic that public sector unions met their match in Wisconsin, the birthplace of American progressivism and public sector unionism where roughly two-thirds of voters either are or are related to union members.  Now, progressive Wisconsin is proof that the crisis of the modern entitlement state being played out worldwide -- from the Eurozone to California -- doesn’t have to be a Greek tragedy.

In Wisconsin, even union sympathizers realize everyone is ill served when the government can't meet its obligations.  They know the promises politicians make far exceed our ability to pay and, watching Europe implode from the same disorder, realize there is only one choice -- reduced yet sustainable government or bankruptcy. Wisconsin voted for balance knowing the essential first step on the path to prosperity and opportunity is for governments to recover fiscal soundness. 

That was Walker’s pledge in 2010. Facing the fourth highest tax burden in the country and determined to reverse Wisconsin’s $3.6 billion deficit without raising taxes or firing workers, Walker’s reforms disallowed collective bargaining for public-employee unions (except police and firefighters).  No longer can unions negotiate their taxpayer-funded benefits with politicians they helped elect using mandatory dues. Additionally, Walker asked government employees to contribute modestly more to their health and retirement benefits. Even after these reforms, Wisconsin workers enjoy “a combined salary-benefits compensation premium of around 22 percent over private sector workers,” according to an American Enterprise Institute study released last month.

Though modest, the unions and their allies reacted ferociously to these reforms, like a mama bear defending her cub. They captured national attention with protests, runaway state senators, legal challenges and state senator recall elections. Despite their efforts, they couldn’t overcome the will of the people -- to keep the reforms.

That’s because Walker’s reforms are succeeding: The budget has a $150 million surplus; property taxes are lower; the unemployment rate is 6.8 percent (the lowest since 2008 and well below the national average); the private sector created 26,000 jobs in 2011; and savings realized by school districts have preserved jobs and educational programming. Most encouraging, according to a Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce survey in May, 73 percent of employers predicted moderate to good business growth and more than half plan to expand operations within two years – the highest rate in a decade.

No wonder one-third of union members voted for Walker, according to exit polls. Seeing union policies drain government finances, endanger vital government services, and undermine their own jobs and benefits, why would union members want to pay their dues? Now that they have the option not to, tens of thousands have opted out. Perhaps this is the best outcome of all, for civil society is healthier when government employees believe they’re on the same side as taxpayers.

As CS Lewis said, “We all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.”

Though it’s too late for Edwards, other self-proclaimed “progressives” must Think Again – good policy makes great politics.

Julia's War on Feminism

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 6
Publish Date: 
Thu, 05/24/2012



When Gloria Steinem popularized the saying “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle”, I wasn’t old enough to wear a bra, never mind burn it. However, thanks to that feminist credo and its infiltration of 1970s popular culture, women of my generation grew up believing we could make it on our own, like Mary Tyler Moore.  While her theme song cautioned, “this world is awfully big, girl,” our confidence rose with Mary’s cap, tossed triumphantly to “you’re going to make it after all.”


Indeed, we did make it, though presidential campaign operatives peddling the “War on Women” narrative want you to Think Again. They insist it’s a war on women when it’s actually a war for women’s votes.  This month’s political ad, “The Life of Julia,” occasions the question: which voter are they after, Georgia in Greece or Mary in Minneapolis?


Julia is a single, faceless cartoon – evidently an American everywoman – who depends on European-like, cradle-to-grave government assistance from pre-school through retirement. As if being tethered to a dependency-inducing nanny-state were attractive to American women  (or plausible given mounting debt) Julia, like her entitled European cousin, is the anti-Mary -- she can’t make it on her own.


Sadly, this government-centered and soul-deadening narrative is as false and harmful to women as the notion that we should be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. Both beget a toxic cocktail of subservience, loss of identity and worthlessness -- the antithesis of feminism.  Franklin Roosevelt cautioned that dependence “induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fiber”…and “the human spirit.”  


The antidote to “learned helplessness” and its corollary unhappiness is “earned success”, according to economist Arthur Brooks, President of American Enterprise Institute and happiness authority. In his new book “The Road to Freedom,” Brooks explains, “people crave earned success, which comes from achievement, not a check. It’s the freedom to be an individual and to delineate your life’s ‘profit’”…whether measured in money, “making beautiful art, saving people’s souls, or pulling kids out of poverty.”


Earned success is what our Founders meant by “the pursuit of happiness” which is America’s “moral promise” to its citizens. Brooks praises the Founders’ visionary insight because “allowing us to earn our success is precisely what gives each of us the best chance at achieving real happiness,” and his data proves it. 


Feminists understood earned success knowing self-reliance and freedom would yield more choices, achievement, self-respect and fulfillment if women had a level playing field. Now, four decades since Helen Reddy sang “I am Woman,” women are “The Richer Sex” -- the book by Liza Mundy documenting women’s economic advancement.  The New York Times book review noted: women hold 51 percent of management and professional jobs; wives at least co-earn in two-thirds of marriages; and women earn 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees and comprise 60 percent of graduate students.

Meanwhile, according to a March National Journal poll, three-quarters of women believe they can advance as far as their talents take them. Not surprisingly, women account for seven of the top 10 spots on Forbes 2012 World’s Most Powerful Celebrities list including the top two, Jennifer Lopez and Oprah Winfrey.

Despite these spectacular achievements, economic stagnation makes otherwise self-sufficient women – especially single ones -- insecure and uncertain. Preying on this anxiety, ambitious politicians cast themselves as compassionate by promising a lifetime of government benefits to a nation of Julia’s. Considering the tortuous unraveling of the Eurozone, this idea is both fantasy and dangerous. 


In Europe, hopelessly large social security and entitlement promises exceed governments’ ability to tax and borrow, crushing those who believed economic security is a basic human right. Yet, as European leaders grapple with resentments caused by austerity measures, American politicians make the same promises that precipitated Europe’s crisis. 


Brooks would argue that even Julia knows it’s wrong to make promises you don’t intend to keep.  He warns, “Americans today are experiencing a low-grade, virtual servitude to an ever-expanding, unaccountable government that…. has created a protected class of government workers and crony corporations that play by a different set of rules … and has consequently left the nation in hock for generations to come.”


Thankfully, American women are watching and willing to act. According to a Rasmussen poll released this week, nearly two-thirds of women (and men) prefer a government with fewer services and lower taxes. So rather than foster dependency, why not encourage the fiercely independent and self-reliant ethic that originally motivated feminists and propelled women’s economic advancement? 


The real war on women is the one waged by those whose policies undermine our economy thus limiting everyone’s choices, mobility and independence.  As for Julia, she’d be better served by policies that empower her as an individual, not ones that encourage reliance on government.


Think Again, Julia – you can “make it on your own.”


America's New Years Resolution:Fiscal Fitness

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 1
Publish Date: 
Thu, 01/05/2012


Politicians are like New Year's revelers whose resolutions to get fit are as habitual as their unhealthy lifestyles. The most undisciplined merrymaker continually ups the weight-loss ante —10 pounds last year, 20 pounds this year — just as undisciplined politicians alleging fiscal prudence have upped their borrowing limit 4,967 percent since 1962, 67 percent since 2009.

If you thought politicians were pummeled into fiscal restraint after last summer's debt-ceiling debacle, which led to America's credit downgrade by S&P, Think Again. In fact, 2011 ended with debt reaching the new limit of $15.22 trillion compelling Treasury to request another $1.2 trillion debt ceiling increase. This time the increase will happen easily because new rules require both House and Senate disapproval to block it — not likely.

Like a long-running soap opera whose actors change though the story line doesn't, we spend $4 billion more than we have every day — and growing. Since 2008, spending skyrocketed past our historical average of 20 percent of gross domestic product to 25 percent.

The problem isn't merely the amount of debt — though as Sen. Obama asserted before voting against the 2006 debt-ceiling increase, “Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren” — it's the size of the debt relative to our economy that reflects poor economic health. With our debt-to-GDP ratio at 100.3 percent versus 69.8 percent in 2008, we're living on “borrowed” time unless politicians stop deluding themselves that a stagnant private sector can finance a growing public sector.

The eurozone crisis offers America a timely warning that the battle of the spending and debt bulge is an existential one. Europe's saga is our “Chronicle of a Death Foretold,” except America can avert doom by slashing spending levels and lifting private-sector burdens. If Sweden, Ireland and a new reform-minded Spanish government can do both — the reverse of what we've done during the Great Recession — America should, too.

Americans agree, as 71 percent told a Rasmussen poll last week that Washington should cut spending. Absent the political will to reform entitlements and lower spending to pre-2008 levels, “the country is going through one of its longest sustained periods of unhappiness and pessimism ever,” observed Democratic pollster Mark Penn.

Distracted as we are by domestic matters including the media-hyped Republican primary horse race, Americans aren't focused on the international implications of a downgraded superpower. An America in economic distress undermines our capacity to perform the valuable role we've played since World War II — to promote global economic growth and political stability, especially among the poorest nations.

America is the most important trading partner to the world, inducing countries to adopt economic freedoms that enabled our prosperity, including limited government, property rights, free trade and a stable currency. Economically free countries enjoy greater growth, opportunity, civil rights and life expectancy, as evident on the Korean Peninsula, where South Koreans have dramatically better lives than their northern cousins, and in China, where 450 million people were lifted out of poverty after economic liberalization.

America used to rank second in the Wall Street Journal/Heritage Index of Economic Freedom (behind Hong Kong) but fell to ninth this year (below Canada, Ireland and Denmark), reflecting deteriorating business freedom, increased government spending and a weaker currency. Reversing this trend is essential to growth and job creation, otherwise we risk becoming collectively poorer as the world becomes progressively dangerous.

Dictatorial regimes, strategic adversaries and state terrorism sponsors tread more carefully when America is strong; conversely appearing weak and distracted emboldens enemies, frightens allies and undermines U.S. interests. Being a downgraded superpower renders us vulnerable and less prepared for emerging global threats including: a nuclear-hungry Iran intent on Israel's destruction and the transformation of an extraordinarily volatile Middle East; a jihadist-infested nuclear Pakistan; an increasingly militarized China to whom we owe $1.1 trillion; and a nuclear North Korea whose new, 26-year-old dictator poses many challenges.

Stuffed with pork, America suffers from the economic equivalent of arteriolosclerosis, the kind that presages fiscal heart attacks. The symptoms include the loss of our AAA credit rating, fragile business confidence, economic stagnation, persistently high unemployment rates and chaotic financial markets.

Nevertheless, a coronary isn't inevitable. Bequeathing our children a weaker, divided and vulnerable America is a choice, not our destiny. America's economy is the world's largest, producing one-quarter of global GDP, thanks to a 100-year average growth rate of 3 percent. Therefore, our singular objective should be to reclaim the growth that creates jobs and opportunity, not redistribute an ever-shrinking wealth pie nor designate economic winners and losers. First, however, we must accept that even the most prosperous nation in world history can't afford the government we've acquired.

As this election year debuts, voters must implore elected officials to Think Again — return America to “fiscal fitness” or risk being “bypassed” next November. 

Slouching toward Europe: US needs rehab

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 1
Publish Date: 
Thu, 09/01/2011

“They tried to make me go to rehab but I said no, no, no,” British singer-sensation Amy Winehouse sang before joining Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin in the “Dead at 27” Club. Seeing the media atwitter over the “Euro Crisis” makes me think Winehouse's unfortunate demise is a metaphor for what ails Europe.

Winehouse thought she didn't need treatment; similarly the new head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Largarde, fears “policy makers do not have the conviction” to “go to rehab” at this “dangerous new phase of the debt crisis.” Yet with such high stakes, European politicians must Think Again, as should Americans whose aim is to “Europeanize” America.

Like Winehouse, the eurozone (comprising 17 out of 27 European Union countries now sharing a common currency and mutual economic guarantees) is severely depressed, both economically and socially. It suffers from out-of-control addictions to big government and borrowing, has existential doubts about whether so many dissimilar countries share enough interests to fit into an economic straitjacket, and lacks the political will to address its dysfunction. More ominously, unlike the suicidal Winehouse, Europe's financial crisis threatens to pull down others like a nuclear-armed suicide bomber.

Trend-spotting soothsayers who used to boast that the Eurozone would “end American supremacy” and “run the 21st century” now seem delusional. EU policies actually impede economic growth and vitality, rendering Europe less competitive.

In the second quarter, the eurozone grew 0.7 percent, while Germany (Europe's engine) grew only 0.5 percent. Plunging business and consumer confidence further undermine growth prospects for a region desperate to ease debt burdens in the “PIIGS” countries (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain). However, despite talk to control spending and balance budgets (mostly through tax increases), nobody in Europe has a genuine growth agenda.

It's hard for Europe to grow when nearly half of Europeans are officially “dependents” and only 64 percent of working-age citizens work. Even worse, Europeans aren't having babies (European fertility rates are one-third lower than both the replacement rate and the U.S. rate), so the ratio of European workers to retirees is expected to collapse from 7-to-1 in 1960 to one-to-one by 2040. With so many 30-year-old students and 50-year-old retirees, it's no wonder the European welfare state is running out of other people's money — because it has run out of people, to paraphrase Margaret Thatcher.

Furthermore, European welfare states not only use taxpayers' money to give “free” benefits to particular groups, they require employers do the same. Not surprisingly, faced with higher labor costs, employers hire fewer workers in Europe.

The New York Times captured the crux of the crisis: Because Europeans “translated higher taxes into a cradle-to-grave safety net … governments with big budgets, falling tax revenues and aging populations are experiencing rising deficits, with more bad news ahead.” Consequently, ballooning unemployment, stagnant economies, catastrophic debt and demographic collapse threaten the European economic model.

Meanwhile, European politicians take piecemeal steps to respond to bond markets and political pressures from those who don't want to bail out their neighbors' excesses. Former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer argued, “You can't have a pension at 67 here and 55 in Greece.” Luckily, his remarks weren't made in Greece, where protesters defending their “rights” killed innocents.

Czech President Vaclav Klaus, whose country joined the EU but did not adopt the Euro, despairs that Europe's real problem is that Europeans don't value economic freedom. Rather, they “prefer leisure to work, security to risk-taking, paternalism to free markets, group entitlements to individualism and don't understand that their current behavior undermines the very institutions that made  past successes possible.”

This is the existential question: When the social institutions (family, vocation, community and faith) that drive human productivity and satisfaction become less vital, from what will life's purpose and meaning come? Not government security. A 2001 University of Michigan study (among others) showed that public-support recipients are twice as likely to feel hopeless or worthless.

It's not too late for America: We appreciate that work, parenting and community engagement, while often challenging, give our lives meaning, accomplishment, satisfaction, a sense of control and pride — necessary elements for happiness.

In 2005, after pancreatic cancer treatment, college dropout Steve Jobs addressed Stanford graduates offering advice that reflects this quintessentially American credo about work and happiness. He told them to stay hungry and to find and follow their passions because “the only way to be truly satisfied in life is to do great work, and the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” Despite failing health, Jobs is happy (as are Apple customers, employees and investors) having created the world's most innovative and valuable company, spawning industries in his wake.

If rehab could cure Jobs' illness, he would go. As America slouches toward Europe, we should Think Again and go, too.

Green Dream: Red Nightmare for Taxpayers

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 0
Publish Date: 
Thu, 09/15/2011


Winston Churchill famously quipped, “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” What could be more beautiful, never mind seductive, than the strategy to promote renewable energies and a “green economy,” heralded as cure-alls for America's greatest challenges, most particularly economic stagnation?

But a funny thing happened on the way to green utopia. High-paying, clean-tech jobs were a cornerstone of the 2009 stimulus bill, which appropriated $80 billion to promote the “green economy.” Yet, instead of putting us on the green-brick road to recovery, we've learned that subsidizing industry merely results in red — lost jobs, squandered taxpayer resources, scandalous bankruptcies and diminished prosperity. “Green” proponents whose policies produced these shameful outcomes should be red-faced and prepared to Think Again.

With nearly one in six Americans living in poverty — the largest total since tracking began in 1959 (according to newly released Census data), and persistently high unemployment, Americans desperately want to believe the green-jobs predictions of advocates like Van Jones, who wrote “The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems.”

Yet the reality is that these lofty job creation projections are wrong, as detailed in last month's New York Times story “Number of Green Jobs Fails to Live Up to Promises.” The Times concluded, ”such numbers are a pipe dream” because, as they've previously reported, wind power costs 50 percent more than conventional power, and solar-generated electricity costs up to three times more than wind power. Shifting resources toward less-efficient purposes inevitably results in less prosperity — fewer jobs at lower pay.

Furthermore, in order to compete, renewable energy sources require costly government subsidies, price floors or purchase mandates. Consequently, green policies actually increase energy prices, undermine the economy, destroy jobs and hurt consumers, especially the poorest whose family budgets are consumed by escalating costs for everything. Exacerbating things further, energy prices increase when potential suppliers and energy entrepreneurs redirect scarce capital away from government-manipulated markets.

For these reasons, renewable energies produce only 3 percent of U.S. electricity and remain a fledgling global industry, despite having enjoyed enormous government support in the U.S., Europe and China. Given the industry's small size and inherent unviability, allowing China to subsidize production to remain the lower-cost manufacturer is logical and prudent.

The question remains: Why didn't we examine the troubling European experience with the green-economy strategy before launching our own? After a decade of experimentation and faced with job losses, higher energy prices, economic stagnation and corruption, European governments have cut their green funding. Kenneth Green of the American Enterprise Institute summarizes the findings of research studies conducted across Europe: For every green job created, green programs destroyed 2.2 jobs in Spain and 3.7 jobs in the U.K., while the capital needed for one green job in Italy could create almost five jobs in the general economy. Wind and solar power have raised energy prices by 7.5 percent in Germany, and caused Denmark to have the highest electricity prices in Europe.

Perhaps U.S. policymakers ignored the European experience because they wanted the power and resources to pick winners and losers in the energy sector and to dispense favors to political patrons. But when government presses its massive thumb on the market scale, businesses have huge incentives to win favors through lobbying and campaign contributions. This is not only economically damaging, it's the definition of crony capitalism, the destructive consequences of which were exposed last month by the bankruptcies of three politically connected U.S. solar companies — Solyndra of California, Evergreen Solar of Massachusetts and SpectraWatt of New York. All were showcases for the green-jobs strategy, so their demise has eliminated thousands of these jobs.

Solyndra, whose major shareholder is a significant political donor, was the first clean-tech company to receive a loan-guarantee following passage of the stimulus bill, even though the Energy Department credit committee had already unanimously rejected the loan in early January 2009. ABC News reported Tuesday that Solyndra is under criminal investigation because newly uncovered emails show that they might have bypassed normal vetting procedures in obtaining their loan approval, despite being deemed a high risk.

Even if corruption wasn't a factor, the Solyndra debacle demonstrates the ineptitude of government officials when speculating with other people's money — they pale in comparison to more experienced investors who risk their own money.

So after examining the results, it's that clear green policies haven't made us happier, healthier and richer. Instead, they've lowered living standards globally and weakened the technological progress that market forces usually deliver, distracting us from finding optimal solutions to the economic and environmental challenges we face.

Like the proverbial vampire who fears daylight, optimal solutions are the last thing “green energy” proponents want to see. Given the economic bloodletting, American policymakers must Think Again and drive a stake through the vampire's green heart.

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