Parade for change

Originally published in Utah Business.

Bake the cake. Light the candles. The US celebrates 10 years of economic expansion this summer, making it the longest expansion on record, boding good news for our nation and state. There’s just one problem… we haven’t made much progress on the critical issues important to our long-term economy and its prosperity, leaving many to wonder how can we use this time of plenty to make needed reforms.

I’m fond of the saying, “The best time to fix the roof is before it starts raining.” During good economic times, it’s smart to address difficult issues such as entitlement reform, immigration policy, and infrastructure investment. But where to start?

It’s easy to point a finger at elected officials, but it’s important to remember that they are a reflection of us. Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute said, “Politicians don’t start parades. They find them, run up front, and march in them.” We need to start a parade so politicians can begin their march for economic reforms. 

The parade I envision does the following:

First, historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jon Meacham should be the parade’s grand marshal. His writings about American history teach us, “For all of our darker impulses, for all of our shortcomings, and for all of the dreams denied and deferred, the experiment begun so long ago, carried out so imperfectly, is worth the fight.” This is the spirit of our parade.

Second, the parade must recognize that globalization and technological change have altered our economy for good. Today’s economy demands certain skills and we must invest every penny we can find into training the workforce of the future. I’m talking about all forms of education―public and private, secondary and post-secondary, applied technology and university, certificates and degrees. However, it’s important to note that advancements in education will also require more than money, they will require innovation. We need to embrace new ways of teaching and learning.

Third, let’s create a “BRAC-like” (Base Realignment and Closure) commission for entitlement reform. The key here is not the notion of a commission, but rather a framework that requires action similar to the US military base closure process after the Cold War. The commission should consider recommendations like raising the retirement age for Social Security, developing more of an accurate measure of inflation when calculating federal cost-of-living adjustments, and supporting needed health care cost-containment measures in Medicare and Medicaid. The process would be data-driven and require an up or down vote so Congress could not make politically-motivated amendments.

Next, let’s resolve to invest more in infrastructure. This is easier said than done, especially with US debt rising as a share of the economy, but we clearly need to invest more of our collective wealth in the infrastructure of the future. This includes communications, transportation, water, and energy infrastructure.

Finally, find a way to lessen the dysfunction in Washington. Some of the more popular ideas include term limits, campaign finance reform, and lobbying law changes. Most importantly, we need our elected officials to be engaged in public service as opposed to self-service.

The opinion editor of the Deseret News, Boyd Matheson accurately said, “We have far too many in Washington, whose only vision is a vision of themselves in office. Every decision they make, every statement they make, is calculated to either retain power or position them to gain more by running for another office.” What a sad statement about public service.

The best way to send a message is through the voters’ box and we get that chance again soon. Remember Lincoln’s refrain, “Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”

Blisters or no blisters, it’s time to start a parade. We made progress with federal tax reform, but there’s more to do. Gather the bands. Bring out the flags. Are you with me?