There is a major movement in our country based on isolating individual issues, considering them in a vacuum, eschewing the products of academic research and careful analysis as “elitist,” insisting that arbitrary certainties are far more responsible and deserving of respect, struggling to disintegrate our social bonds to our mutual detriment, and fueling adherents’ angry opposition to applying our minds and hearts to the challenges and opportunities we face as a a people with fabricated absurdities and oversimplistic platitudes. One of the false certainties of this movement is that public spending at levels at or near what they currently are, and taxation at almost anything above an impossibly low level, is an act of violence against future generations, by bequeathing to them a ballooning debt and a crippled economy. But deficits come in many forms, and economies are more certainly crippled by turning any one legitimate consideration into an idol at whose alter reason and knowledge are sacrificed.
First, it’s important to note that this popular conservative vision of how economies work is cartoonishly oversimplistic. Even conservative economists almost universally agree (I haven’t heard one contradict this yet) that the continuation of tax cuts to the very wealthy is fiscally and economically indefensible. Most economists, even conservative ones, recognize the need for a complex regulatory structure to address information asymmetries in our complex modern economy. And most economists recognize the importance of investing in our human and material infrastructure. We will not reduce our national debt, nor reinvigorate our national economy, by starving our human and material infrastructure of the funds necessary to make them functional and competitive.
America, not long ago, led the world in college graduates. We are now far behind many other countries. Our leadership as innovators and an economic powerhouse will deteriorate as a result of our deteriorating commitment to this foundational demand upon us as a people. Jobs and capital will continue to gush from this country like oil from a blown well, and our attempts to cap the leak will be just as desperate. Eventual success, even if such is achieved, will leave just as much irreparable devastation in its wake.
American college tuitions are skyrocketing (http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_16273813), in large measure due to the anti-tax, anti-spend mania of overzealous libertarians. In revenue-starved Colorado, the problem is far greater than it is in less ideologically fanatical states. As a result, not only will America become increasingly less attractive to foreign capital, and not only will American employers be increasingly forced to seek more and more of their high-salaried, highly educated employees from countries like India, where well-educated labor is available at bargain prices; but Colorado will become increasingly less attractive even in comparison to other regions of the country. Entrepreneurs looking for a beautiful place with a pleasant life-style to locate their information-intensive start-ups, will think twice about choosing Colorado (which would otherwise, under smarter policies, be a front-runner), knowing that the state will not be able to provide enough of the human capital necessary, can’t be counted on to maintain the material infrastructure necessary, and won’t provide their children with the kind of education necessary, to attract and hold them.
The most critical deficit we are facing as a country, and more dramatically as a state, is the deficit in our investment in the minds of our children and young adults (the most vital of all naturally resources, tragically squandered); in the state-of-the-art infrastructure that a robust, world-class economy requires; in our hopes and dreams; and in our future. And that’s the deficit that is most urgent for us to get under control.