This is a response to two NY Times columns that I think are rather closely linked. Bob Herbert speculates today on "When Greatness Slips Away" and David Brooks on "Faustus Makes a Deal." I think Brooks' column largely explains why we let the greatness seen by Herbert slip away; I'll deal with my impressions of Brooks in a later post and probably add a third giving a synthesis of the two views tomorrow.
For now, however, my response to Herbert. He details several instances where he felt that the US missed opportunities, I largely agree with him on these. Later he regrets that we are destroying so much, such as the homes being destroyed in Detroit since few feel the city will come back. This is where I part ways with him. Something that continuously frustrates me is that those on the left advocating for more government intervention and for investment in a changing economy never talk about the downsides to this. Herbert focuses on all the great things we could be doing but aren't and then bemoans some of the destruction going on in places like Detroit that are an inevitable part of any restructuring, you can't have the good without the bad too.
What's different today is that the destruction that will go along with reconstruction falls more heavily on those that do have a voice than it ever has before. In the early days of our republic, we built our society on the ruins of the civilization of the natives, our success could not have happened if we sought to preserve what they had. Movement towards a more industrial society involved the destruction of much of the rural life that preceded it, the same can be said for the destruction of urban life that went along with suburbanization.
The same thing will happen if the paths favored by liberals such as Herbert occur. To put it simply, and somewhat facetiously, the liberal program involves shifting power and wealth to the urban hipsters at the expense of small town real Americans. Changes such as new infrastructure including high speed rail, green jobs and other high tech sectors requiring long educations, energy taxes, etc. all further favor the highly mobile and urban areas over traditional small town America. Liberals seem condescending when they play up only the positives without realizing this, no one is stupid enough not to realize that they won't be able to drive the car they want to on an hour long commute if you double gas taxes. Of course, I view all these changes as being inevitable, it is simply the way the world is developing with the constraints we have in a globalized resource hungry, world. But of course there is resistance to accelerating this, even if it will benefit us all in the long run.
The question that needs to be answered though is not how we can transform all Americans into urban hipsters but how to make things easier for the person who hopes their children will someday inherit the family home and enjoy the same kind of life they did. Until this question can be well answered we'll keep missing opportunities to reform by choice and wait for these changes to be imposed on us by an uncaring world. Stop preaching the benefits of reform and start focusing on the destructive aspects of it, and how to mitigate these, if you want there to be a chance of American's taking the opportunities presented to us.