It seems to me that for far too long we, as citizens, have taken it as axiomatic that the blame for a disappointing economic recovery and a perceived lack of sound governance lies solely with our elected officials. If true, this axiom is deeply flawed.
Worse, it is inimical to the healthy development of our society because it distracts our attention from our own culpability, as pivotal players in our system of governance, for our state of economic and political affairs.
To restore our economy and, in the longer term, to ensure good governance we, as citizens, must recognize that we are an integral part of our political process, take a more active role in influencing that process, and take more responsibility for our part in our society’s success or failure.
We can effectively discharge our responsibility to influence the political process in a number of ways.
First, we can ensure that we clearly understand the proper role of government and our core requirements of it then clearly and consistently communicate that to our elected officials. Knowing our priorities and informing ourselves of their fiscal and societal costs will help us more clearly communicate our priorities and therefore help our elected officials more accurately determine what they must do to meet them.
Currently, I believe we fail in this by sending lawmakers mixed messages. With regard to spending, for example, we say, generally, that we want the government to stop spending. But when asked, in recent Gallup polling, if specific programs should be cut we say no to cutting nine of 10 programs. At the same time we consistently vote against tax increases, with the possible exception of additional taxes for the wealthy.
Secondly, having given elected officials clear and informed priorities, we can encourage lawmakers to define and implement compromise solutions that meet those priorities, and we can give them back the tools they need to do so.
Most economists I have read seem to say that historically serious deficit reductions require roughly equal amounts of spending cuts and tax increases.
Lawmakers today don’t seem prepared to take such steps and I believe this is because they don’t hear from us. It seems to me that the important thing is that we get to the goal of quickly reducing the debt and getting on sound financial footing accomplished not what tools will be available to do so.
Finally, we can and should hold elected officials accountable for meeting our stated goals. To do this effectively we must take the steps already laid out here.
Our goals must be clear, informed, consistent, and effectively communicated. Our elected officials must be given the tools and the latitude to make tough choices necessary to meet our goals. Then we must thoughtfully evaluate the outcomes to determine if the effort succeeded. If not, we must vote for those officials who meet the goals we set forth regardless of sympathy or affiliation.
If we can do this, if we can seriously and faithfully fulfill our civic duty, then we can ensure our economic recovery and continue to expand and improve upon an already strong, exceptional and effective system of governance.