Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

This Week With Christiane Amanpour hosted an excellent debate this morning, with conservative pundit George Will and Congressman Paul Ryan on one side, and Congressman Barney Frank and Clinton Administration Labor Secretary Robert Reich on the other, over the fundamental, perennial issue of the optimum size and scope of government. First, please note that I did not frame it in the conventional way, with “small government” (SG) on one side, and “big government” (BG) on the other, because that is the frame created by SG advocates to mislabel their opposition. The real debate, as I see it, isn’t between SG advocates and BG advocates, but rather between SG advocates and advocates of “No Presumption Pragmatism” (NPP).

The legitimate concern is that NPP may tend toward limitless growth in government, but it is not therefore the case that those who are advocates of “no presumption pragmatism” are advocates of big government. Rather, it might be that there is an un-met challenge facing NPP that, if met, is a preferable path to either dogmatic SG advocacy or a careless, unrestrained-government growth version of NPP.

But there is an inherent tension between wanting government to perform an endlessly growing list of functions, and wanting government to be a minimalistic agent in our national affairs. ABC News’ John Donvan summed up that aspect of the debate nicely:

In the following introductory comments and opening salvos in this incarnation of The Debate, the participants lay out the parameters nicely, challenge some assumptions, redefine some positions, and offer some compelling insights and arguments:

Paul Ryan does an impressive job advocating his position, arguing that adhering to strict principals that generate optimal outcomes is superior to overreliance on government to take care of all challenges and address all issues, the latter error leading to a sprawling and cumbersome burden on human creativity and enterprise rather than an effective reduction in social problems and increase in human welfare. Barney Frank and Robert Reich respond that the government is too big in some ways and too small in others, and that reducing one’s position on the issue to an anti-government presumption fails to address the real challenges of managing a popular government.

Frank points out that many SG advocates are perfectly happy to rely on government to impose their will on others, advocating restrictions on women’s reproductive rights and a lack of definition of civil rights for gays and lesbians, while opposing the use of government in the productive manner of addressing “public goods” and “public bads,” not defined by arbitrary moral convictions, but rather by the real effects of our inevitable interdependence on our individual well-being. Reich reiterates that the question isn’t the size of government, but rather what factions of the population government is assisting or failing to assist.

Paul Ryan’s argument that smaller government is inherently more efficient and more effective than big government simply ignores the inevitable fact that any government function costs money, that, in a complex modern economy, there are a plethora of inescapable and quite expensive government functions that must be performed (e.g., regulating information-intensive markets such as financial and energy markets, which are easily gamed at potentially catastrophic public expense, but costly to monitor effectively); that the majority of the government programs targeted by SG advocates (with the notable exceptions of Social Security and Medicaid) actually involve piddling expenditures in relation to these large inescapable costs that government must be able to meet; that advocacy not to meet those inescapable costs is advocacy for a wildly self-destructive public policy; and that many of those piddling expenditures are in programs which research strongly demonstrates reduces far larger future costs that occur in their absence (such as those we currently incur in our enormous criminal justice system, far larger and more expensive, per capita, than those in other developed countries, incarcerating a far larger proportion of our population).

Since, in reality, there are expensive functions that a modern government must perform, and since, in reality, some social welfare programs have been strongly demonstrated to be cost effective over time, all things considered, what we as a polity really need to do in this debate is to transcend both the “big government is bad” platitude and the “every problem has a direct government solution” habit, and move into thinking more systemically, more intersectorally, and engage, in ever larger numbers with ever more commitment and knowledge, in the real challenge of using government as a disciplined and effective agent of our will, a portal into the organic processes of which we are a part, through which the essential functions of consciousness, of collective decision-making, of necessary oversight, of intentionality and value-driven intervention, can be implemented.

The debate in response to the audience question at the end over bailouts v. limiting the size of banks so that none are “too big too fail” is, as Robert Reich pointed out, an example of an information-intensive issue on which the relative positions of “conservatives” and “liberals” is not quite clear. The conservatives in this debate favored limiting the size of banks, while Frank on the liberal side argued that we require a different paradigm that allows for the existence of big banks in order to be internationally competitive. Though this Great American Debate historically began, in many ways, over a very similar question (should we have a national bank or not?), in its modern incarnation, it’s less ideological than technical, both sides admitting to the need to rely on economic analysis rather than blind ideology, neither side having the definitive solution to what is in reality a very complex problem.

The next segment deals with economic inequality and collective responsibility:

Elizabeth Warren’s introduction to this segment of the debate is, I believe, a very eloquent expression of the fundamental truth undermining the extreme SG/Libertarian argument: We are interdependent members of a single society, our political economy not being, never having been, and simply not capable of being, a mere market place for exchanges among atomized individuals, but rather an arena of coexistence in which some aspects of our shared lives are coordinated through market exchanges, but some aspects are necessarily coordinated in other ways as well.

These “extra-market” aspects of our shared existence aren’t just cultural, aren’t just a matter of family relationships and community relationships and voluntary organization memberships, but are also political and economic, involving our collective decision-making apparatus, our laws, and the ways in which a modern capitalist economy is populated with corporate actors whose own internal structure is hierarchical rather than “free market” based, and which wield enormous political power as a result.

The distribution of wealth and opportunity in America is clearly not a function of some mythical perfected meritocracy, but, as in all times and places throughout human history, is primarily a function of historical injustices reproduced through the chances of birth and the inherited opportunities and burdens that come with them. Our current legal system, evolved through periodic cleansings of the codification of those injustices, has certainly diluted the effects of those historical injustices, but their remaining legacy is clear to see, and is, in fact, a statistically undeniable current reality. Whatever policies we implement or decline to implement today, doing so with blithe disregard for the realities that currently exist is indefensible on both pragmatic and moral bases.

Paul Ryan’s response to Christiane’s opening question about economic inequality bordered on disingenuous: He blamed “current economic policies” for that growing disparity, despite the fact that the disparity has grown with the greatest acceleration, as it has in previous historical epochs, with the growth of deregulation and the success of SG political advocacy. This trend can clearly be seen in the three eras of most obscene concentration of wealth in America: The era of “The Robber Barons,” the “Roaring Twenties” of the Hoover Administration, and the current Reagan and post-Reagan era.

Ryan also, as he did throughout this debate (and as is an endemic deficiency in his ideological camp’s position), acted as if there is no other nation in the world with which we can compare our policies, to determine which kinds of policies really do increase social mobility and decrease economic inequality, and which ones really do exacerbate the lack of social mobility and the increase in economic inequality. The inconvenient fact is that a comparison to the social democracies of Western Europe and Canada demonstrates what the historical record I mentioned above also demonstrates: Social mobility is increased through social democratic government interventions in the economy, economic inequality is decreased, and prosperity is not undermined.

Paul Ryan argues that any attempt to decrease social inequality inevitably serves only to impoverish the wealthy rather than enrich the poor. This is an assumption and a fallacy. Historically, in fact, our political economic institutions have evolved in large measure to decrease social injustice (including economic inequality) without undermining the productive engine from which we all benefit. We’ve been successful enough at the latter goal that we consider merely slow growth to be economic failure, and periods of economic stagnation to be a crisis, and have, on average, maintained a fairly constant and sustained continuing growth in overall economic prosperity. While we’ve met that side of the challenge rather soundly, we not only have failed to address the increasingly inequitable distribution of the wealth thus created, but have actually devolved into a debate over whether we should care about that failure or not.

Ryan and Will represent the more “urbane” branch of their ideological movement, counterfactually insisting that their position decreases inequality and increases social justice, rather than that inequality and social injustice don’t matter. Unfortunately for Ryan and Will, the history of our own nation, and a comparison to other nations, demonstrate that the truth is the precise opposite of what they are claiming it to be.

Robert Reich added the observation that both the marginal tax rate on the wealthiest, and economic growth, were astronomically high under Dwight D. Eisenhower, debunking the assertion that they are antagonistic to one another.

George Will argues that Big Government always favors the wealthiest and most powerful, because it is most responsive to those who can pay expensive lobbyists and make large campaign contributions. Well, yes, government is skewed in favor of those with greatest political economic power, which is why the anti-government, deregulation movement has been so successful: It favors those with the greatest political economic power. To argue against using government to favor the interests of the less powerful on the basis that any government action is somehow inevitably going to favor the more powerful is a bizarre tautology, especially given the historical fact that disenfranchised groups have with some regularity successfully organized to gain power and legal protections throughout our history (e.g., women, African Americans, workers, environmental activists, etc.)

George Will then brought up the interesting observation that (therefore) the welfare state in America is primarily a transfer of wealth from the poorer young to the wealthier elderly (in the form of social security and Medicare). But this is a surprisingly sloppy representation, since neither the young nor the elderly are monolithic in their economic condition. I do agree, however, that social security and Medicare should be means tested; as a nation, we simply can’t afford to subsidize the wealthiest with public programs designed as safety nets.

But it is completely disingenuous to argue that the primary reason for that intergenerational disparity in wealth is due to Social Security and Medicare. The fundamental reason is insufficient government regulation of a market successfully exploited by a small minority of citizens over the course of their lives, such that they accumulate astronomical wealth by old age, creating the disparity that Will cites.

Ryan, however, made a potentially good point that Big Federal Government concentrated in Washington creates a convenient geographic and institutional nexus of power for corporate America to influence the political class. However, ironically, the policies that are most implicated in anti-BG advocacy are those policies that are most antagonistic to corporate interests, such as improved public health and safety standards, improved environmental standards, and expanded social services and programs for the neediest. The success of corporate lobbyists isn’t primarily the increase of government action to their benefit (though there is, of course, some of that), but rather the decrease of government action to their benefit (i.e., deregulation).

I do believe, however, that we need to move toward a paradigm of government facilitated public empowerment to carry out some of the functions currently embedded in governmental bureaucracies. Government can serve best to channel resources and pass legislation that will fund and guide local efforts. We need to think and act more systemically, in a more decentralized way, rendered coherent and conscious through our central agency of collective action (i.e., government), but utilizing all of the social institutional material on the ground in pursuit of social problem solutions and social institutional improvements.

The audience question that opens the next segment is very timely for me, since just yesterday I received my first “photo surveillance” ticket in the mail:

Paul Ryan’s repetition of the notion that economic equality automatically grows with economic growth is well answered by Barney Frank, who pointed out that economic growth is a necessary but not sufficient condition of wide-spread economic well-being

In fact, aggregate economic growth and economic equity (distributive justice, which is one aspect of social justice) are neither diametrically opposed nor perfectly compatible. There is a tension between them, in which some policies could indeed increase aggregate growth at the expense of distributive justice, some policies could increase distributive justice at the expense of economic growth, and some policies increase both economic growth and distributive justice at the same time. Obviously, the last category has the most to recommend it, but there are also times to accept trade-offs between aggregate growth and equitable opportunity to partake of the wealth produced by it.

As a thought experiment, consider the extremes: Few would support an arrangement by which one person accumulates ten times our current GDP every year, but everyone else is left in abject poverty. And, similarly, few would accept an arrangement in which there is absolute equality of abject poverty. There is clearly some balance to be struck between these two values.

Of course, Paul Ryan is right on target in the gist of his last remarks at the end of this segment: We need to end crony capitalism, eliminate subsidies to the rich, and address our economic challenges systemically. Those observations, however, do not belong to the larger ideological package that he is advocating, and, in the final analysis, are not compatible with it.

And on to the closing arguments:

Diminutive Robert Reich’s joke during his closing argument, reminding the audience that he has worked in government most of his life and then standing up and asking, “Do I look like Big Government to you?” struck me for a moment as funny but irrelevant, until I reflected on it a bit: Government is a human institution, comprised of human beings, acting in human ways. It is how we use it (and how we fail to use it), and what we do with it that defines its value. It is a vehicle of human will, not an external imposition, and it is, and should be, exactly as “big” as we are.

But, despite all of my arguments above, the take-home lesson from this debate, for everyone, should be that there is a legitimate debate to be had. From there, we can begin to acknowledge that no platitude suffices, and that the question is not one that can or should be answered with a slogan or reductionist philosophy. The responsibility of popular sovereignty, of self-governance, is that we govern ourselves wisely, succumbing to the manias and oversimplifications neither of the left nor the right. The more of us who take that step, who seek to transcend blind ideologies and embrace the challenge of being reasonable people of goodwill working together in a complex and subtle world, the better off we all will be.

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

The Compelling Economic and Humanitarian Reasons for Addressing Homelessness. As I continue to write about the ways in which the currently popular Small Government Idolatry pre-empts rather than utilizes the analyses necessary not only to knowledgeably weigh costs and benefits of various choices, but also to actually accomplish the “fiscal responsibility” that this particular element of “Political Fundamentalism” claims to serve, The Denver Post  published an article today describing Denver’s highly successful program (initiated by Mayor/Governor-elect Hickenlooper), which brought both businesspeople and advocates for the homeless into the process, and has reduced not only the amount of homelessness, but also, quite dramatically, the costs the homelessness imposes on tax payers ( This is what responsible government looks like.

It’s more difficult than ever to talk about what’s right with America these days, both because we’re still languishing in a persistent economic downturn, and because the most visible movement in America today is a single screaming complaint against everything that America, as a nation-state, does. As Susan Greene discusses in her column in today’s Denver Post (, it is political fodder for both candidates and citizens to decry the alleged laziness and inefficiency of public servants, without acknowledging the hard work, low salaries, and deep commitment that is widespread among them.

Certainly, there are inefficiencies, there are the issues of “goal displacement” and “agency problems” that are inherent to large bureaucratic organizations. These are authentic institutional challenges posing a legitimate need to address them to the best of our ability. But that demand on our ingenuity should not be confused with condemnation for the essential work that is done, and must be done, through our public agencies.

The problem is that the many indispensable things that America does, and that American public servants do, are so fully incorporated into our lives, so much a part of our expectations of what is and what should be, that they have become invisible to most of us, taken for granted and unacknowledged unless and until they’re gone. And even then, the competing streams of often inaccurate information allows people to blame the decreased quality of their lives resulting from the lack to other forces altogether, perversely leading to an increased demand for the shrinkage of government that caused the material and palpable decreased quality of life in the first place.

Such is the dilemma we’re in now. A decades long Republican-driven agenda of deregulation led to underregulated financial markets, the consequences of which were well foreseen (and frequently trumpeted on shows such as 60 Minutes, as was the inevitability of a major large-scale terrorist attack in the United States and a clear identification of our vulnerabilities) at least as long ago as the 1990’s, resulting in 2008 in “the biggest economic crisis since The Great Depression,” driven by a financial-sector fabricated housing bubble collapse and subsequent crash in values of mortgage-based securities.

If, at the end of the Bush administration, a deal had been offered to the nation that we would be in the economic condition we’re in today less than two years later, with a weak but stabilized economy, with an end to net increases in job loss and less than 10% unemployment, with the fairly clear prospect of a gradual return to economic growth and prosperity, every sane human being would have wiped their brow in relief, and screamed, “God yes! I’ll take that deal!”

But instead, the disingenuous Right gets away with trumpeting that 3.3 million jobs have been lost during the Obama administration, and even stating that that loss is a direct result of stimulus spending, disregarding that the rate of job loss was accelerating right up until the passage of Obama’s first stimulus bill, and began decelerating right after (, and that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has reported that the stimulus bill created between 1.3 and 3.4 million jobs that would not otherwise have existed (Organized Ignorance and the Amplified Echo-Chamber of Disinformation).

More importantly, those of us who have actually studied the legal, economic, and physical complexities of things like energy and financial markets, and recognize the role of information asymmetries in the ability of those in centrally located market positions to play markets to the advantage of a few at the sometimes extreme expense of the public (such as happened in the Enron-fabricated California Energy Crisis of 2000-01, and the financial sector collapse of 2008), are aware of the immensity of the task of creating regulatory regimes sophisticated enough, and well-enough funded, to keep up with and police the opportunities for socially disastrous mischief. (See, e.g., Monday Briefs: Labor Markets, Mandela, & High Frequency Trading, Regulation of Financial Markets)

Not only the large demand on the nation-state to provide, maintain, and grow an extensive enough and sophisticated enough regulatory architecture to keep up with technological and institutional advances in insiders’ ability to game the system at the public expense, and unsure the smooth and efficient operation of our markets, but also the large demand on necessary infrastructural maintenance and improvement to reduce transaction costs, attract investment capital, and, in general, grease the gears of the market economy in ways that no private investment capital can’t fully accomplish (due to long time-horizons of return-on-investment, for instance).

We have been underproducing these public goods essential to the smooth functioning of our markets, with Democrats fighting to better approach the optimal level, and Republicans fighting to reduce our investment even more, moving in the direction of increased dysfunctionality. Doing as much as we are doing (and, preferably, considerably more) on these dimensions is what’s right with America; the populist and corporatist pressure to do less is what’s wrong with America.

Beyond these demands on the government to provide the material and regulatory infrastructure necessary to the maintenance of a robust market economy, is a duel-natured demand to make a similar investment in our human capital. As I argued in The Real Deficit, there is both an economic and social imperative to do so: We need a well-educated work force capable of competing in the global economy both to be economically competitive as a nation, and to enable our citizens to occupy the high-skilled high-salaried jobs that contribute to individual prosperity and financial security.

What’s right with America is that, until recently, we have maintained a vibrant system of state universities and government subsidized student loans which have enabled most academically capable young people to take advantage of higher educational opportunities. What’s wrong with America is our diminishing commitment to continue these policies, the erosion of higher education opportunities for middle and lower class Americans.

Of course, those young people need to have not only access to affordable higher educational opportunities, but also the academic preparation necessary to utilize those opportunities successfully. American public education is the target of widespread and, in some ways, much deserved criticism. But the problems with American public education are much more a function of factors outside the schools than within the schools. What our schools themselves have been doing, to the extent that we have allowed them to do it, is very much what’s right with America, for we have gotten an enormous return on our investment in public education. We have, on average, a far higher-quality teacher pool than the salaries and benefits themselves alone would be able to purchase, because many people who simply love to teach and love children go into that profession because it’s what they were born to do.

Even so, there are many deep structural problems with American education, within the schools as well as without. The profession attracts not only the highly committed, but also those who are not competent but can pass the threshold of entry into education, because the demand is so high and the compensation so relatively low. We cannot improve the teacher pool simply by eliminating tenure and removing “bad teachers,” because unless we alter the supply-and-demand equation, all we would accomplish by doing so is to stack the deck just a little more against attracting the highest quality human capital in the first place (by reducing incentives to enter, without counterbalancing the change in incentives elsewhere).

But, despite this weakness in a generally strong teacher pool, and the overwhelmingly risk-averse, ossified, autocratic administration of large school districts (qualities which further undermine the efficacy of the elimination of teacher tenure, by ensuring that almost as many excellent teachers as poor ones are likely to be weeded out as a result), the biggest problems with American public education are, in combination, the deep and widespread cultural anti-intellectualism that continually undermines the educational mission in most out-of-school social contexts, and the general failure to create robust school-community partnerships and programs to better prepare and include parents in the educational mission.

What’s right with America is that we currently counterbalance the relatively low professional salary we provide to teachers with an attractive package of benefits, ample vacations, and unusually high job security. What’s wrong with America is educational reform that kicks responsibility for deep structural and cultural problems down the hierarchy, blaming and punishing those who are, by and large, the strongest component of American public education for defects over which they have virtually no control, and, by doing so, undermining that strong pillar without strengthening the weaker ones. What’s right with America is maintaining the revenue streams that schools require to address these challenges. What’s wrong with America is the zealous movement committed to continuing to reduce and eliminate those revenue streams. (For more on education and education reform, see, e.g., Real Education Reform, A Positive Vision For Colorado, Are We Civilized?, and Education Policy Ideas).

Beyond the regulatory architecture and material and human infrastructural investment that only government can provide, and our commitment to public education as the foundational institution in preparing our citizens to prosper individual and contribute to a robust state and national economy, there are a host of challenges that society faces, and commensurate demands on government, that can be met at considerable present cost in return for both far greater future savings, and a generally improved quality of life for a larger spectrum of the population. I have discussed these at length in essays such as The Most Vulnerable Americans,  The Vital Role of Child, Family, and Community Services, Community, Family, and Crime Prevention, and Sound Mind, Sound Body, Sound Society; Sound Good?.

What’s right with America is that we have, by and large, elected people to public office who are more often than not pretty well-qualified for the job, people who know some economics and some law, are aware of the devastating suffering of millions of children, recognize the magnitude of social challenges we face that can only be addressed through the agency of government, and, in general, have some understanding of the real demands of governance. What’s wrong with America today is the massive and massively misinformed populist movement, financed by corporate money eager to keep the candy store unlocked and unguarded, pushing to put people who reflect and embody their own lack of comprehension and misconceptualizations into office, and threatening to do so successfully, at great and enduring cost to all Americans.

Colorado has several comparative advantages that position us to combine a commitment to the preservation of our natural endowment; a commitment to the preservation, refinement, and expansion of the pleasant lifestyle that many enjoy in our beautiful state; a commitment to contributing to the development of the New Energy Economy (an inevitable component of future global economic development); and a commitment to fostering the most robust, sustainable, and equitable state economy, and most proactive, efficient, and effective state government possible.

Our natural endowment, particularly our spectacular mountains, are an economic asset both directly, in the tourism industry, and indirectly, as an attractor for investment capital by those who want to locate small start-ups, particularly in high-value-added information-intensive economic sectors, in the most attractive locations possible (since such sectors have no geographic constraints). And, of course, many Coloradans treasure our natural beauty for its inherent, aesthetic and recreational value, considering it to be one of our greatest assets, even independently of economic considerations.

For these reasons, we need to place a very high emphasis on the preservation of this endowment, carefully regulating other industries and practices (such as mineral extraction) that pose a threat both to the environment, and to public health and safety. Fortunately, despite erroneous ideological assertions to the contrary, mineral extraction, as an economic enterprise, is not highly sensitive to regulations or severance taxes, since there is very little flexibility in where minerals can be extracted (they must be extracted where they are found). Furthermore, since extracted minerals are sold in national and international markets, the increased costs of state regulations and taxes have only a marginal effect on market prices. In other words, the benefits occur within the state while the costs are distributed all over the world. For these reasons, sound policy requires that mineral extraction be a well-regulated and taxed enterprise.

Not only is Colorado rich in minerals, but it is also rich in sun and wind and the researchers and institutions doing the most to tap the energy contained in them. The future can rarely be predicted with confidense, but one thing that is virtually certain is that clean, renewable energy technologies are a growth industry, and will be enormous economic engines in the not too distant future. Foresight pays off in the long run. Investing in the New Energy Economy today, despite the modest size of that economc sector at present, and regardless of short term ups and downs in the market for “green energy”, is sound economic policy, and a smart move for the state of Colorado.

Our natural endowment is part of our pleasant lifestyle, with hiking trails, ski runs, rocks to climb and mountain rivers to float down, and spectacular vistas to appeal to all who enjoy nature’s wonders. But the Colorado lifestyle extends into our cities and suburbs as well, with excellent cycling opportunities, beautiful pedestrian malls, open spaces, and an increasing investment in the combination of excellent public transportation and sustainable, localized, aesthetically pleasing urban development. Continuing in this direction not only provides Coloradans with the benefits of all of these public goods, but also attracts the entrepreneurial capital of precisely those kinds of small start-ups that can create the most robust state economy possible. We live in a world in which the most information-intensive industries (e.g., computer software, and cutting edge technologies) create the greatest number of high-paying jobs, and contribute the most to the local and global economy. And such start-ups in such industries locate in places that provide the combination of natural beauty, pleasant life-style, and infrastructural investment that Colorado can provide, if we pursue wise policies.

But to attract such investment capital, and the young professionals and their families that bring it, we need to provide, competitively, what they are looking for: A well-developed human and material infrastructure on which they can depend, and the assurance of the availability of excellent and affordable public and higher education institutions for their children. We are currently, disgracefully, near the bottom of the country in investment in both public and higher education, and that is a very powerful disincentive to small information-intensive start-ups to locate here. More importantly, it is a moral failure on the part of the people of Colorado. As much of a cliche as it may be, our children are indeed our future, and failing to invest in them, to provide them with the best education possible, simply because an alliance of popular economic platitudes and well-funded corporate interests have displaced economic analyses, is a choice that can end up crippling and impoverishing this state, when nature has endowed us with such soaring opportunity.

There is a clear path forward for Colorado, a coherent strategy that preserves our natural endowment, fuels our economy, and secures a high quality of life for our residents. We need now to make sure that we elect the people, and cultivate the public commitment, to realize this vision, and create a more prosperous, sustainable, and opportunity-rich future for all Coloradans.

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

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 (, 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.

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards