The second issue area I’m going to cover is the economy, education, and healthcare – basically the major facets of domestic policy.
The economy, not only domestically but internationally, has seen better days. A perfect storm of greed, ignorance, and looking the other way – the economy of the United States as a whole has been affected by an oligarchic consortium of industries – financial services, construction, big energy – who through various means teamed up to build on the hopes of people seeking the American dream.
It didn’t matter if you were white, blue collar and had three kids in Ann Arbor, Michigan or a recent Ecuadorian immigrant working at Wal-Mart – you could buy a house, thus fulfill that ideal so many have of living in America.
A little, slight problem – the banks crafted these great things called subprime loans, given to individuals who did not have what would considered a sufficient FICO credit score as well as a heightened risk of default. Basically, think of Bill Gates giving Joe the Plumber money to buy a house, without really caring if Joe could for it or not. Then Joe the Plumber becomes Joe the unemployed guy who fixes pipes. How will Joe pay for his house?
He’ll probably end up selling the house. But what if he lives in such hard hit economic towns such as Stockton, California (foreclosure capital of the country), where everybody else is in the same situation? There lies the macro end of this problem – when you have this major propensity of foreclosures where the banks receive nothing but the building and the land itself, you start seeing this snowballing effect happen where you get the economic crisis of today.
Another incident of who was asleep at the switch. Through government being focused on more pressing matters (Iraq, terrorism) and enacting certain deregulatory legislation, homeowners were left to their own devices in trying to figure out how to solve their finances, now that not only their houses were at risk but their investments, also in the financial services industry, were tanking.
A bad economy does have a few bright spots. For instance, enrollment at colleges, public and private, is up substantially. According to an article from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/382473_registrations09.html), community colleges in particular are seeing the biggest boost in enrollment. Even here in the Capital Region at Hudson Valley Community College (https://www.hvcc.edu/planning/highlights.pdf) has seen successive years of increasing enrollment, no small part due to the conditions in the region and in the nation.
Congress has passed a significant bailout package, protecting big finance from going under. A socialist idea, the Right will tout no doubt. The government, the friend and foe of “the people”, has undertaken in the past bailout measures to ensure the security of the economy in troubled times. In the late 1970s, Congress guaranteed a billion dollars worth of loans made by Chrysler Corporation to ensure its corporate safety.
Government, besides the whole regulation argument, had a lot invested into the situation as well. Several retirement funds, namely the multi-billion dollar New York State Employees Retirement Fund, is built upon investments made through securities, mutual funds, and other traded equities. This fund, whose sole trustee is State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, is responsible to monitoring such economic activity that could be denigrating to providing retirees their due income. If Mr. DiNapoli, on a purely hypothetical occasion, allowed the fund to deplete due to market capitalization decimation on Wall Street – the political consequences would not only be grave for Tommy Boy, but also his political friends, namely Democrats.
Probably the best case to look at is Argentina at the turn of the 21st century. Just about every issue you can think about that’s happening right now in America happened in Argentina, albeit with a bit less corruption and political discourse. Unemployment skyrocketed, currency defaulted, inflation became an issue, major corporations neared bankruptcy – sound familiar? But the good thing is that it was resolved… after three years. Poverty levels had hit an epidemic 57.5%
So how do we solve it, how do we fix this here to ensure it won’t get this bad again?
Through the education of individuals, to make sure they understand that every time an institution, whether it’s a bank or some governmental agency, you don’t always have to dot the I’s and cross the T’s. This country is plagued by a grave lack of basic legal education which is so critical in a time where society has become more litigious. I’m not saying that we need everyone to either go to law school or become a paralegal, but a basic knowledge of what individuals are capable of during contract negotiations, especially for property as well as certain terms and conditions when it comes to financing that property.
Segueing now, education is key to any society. Whether its learning to read or obtaining the knowledge to lead, education plays a role at all levels, all ages, and all demographics.
A Japanese friend of mine asked me recently how a state such as New York differs so greatly from the state of Oregon in terms of funding education. Even though this is a larger issue, I brought up the argument that New York State, after years of having a larger population, several issues due to the size and scope of the state, and the fact that state leaders have placed a great emphasis on the quality of learning, would naturally have a higher level of funding than Oregon.
Now I’m sure Oregon has its own issues relating with education, but when we’re talking about a relatively young state of 4 million compared to a beast such as New York at 19 million, it’s pretty clear cut.
My friend also asked me another question relating with education, but this time on a worldwide basis. I’m somewhat paraphrasing this, but the question was about how you solve the world’s current and future crisis situations and conflicts. Their reasoning was education. My response: education is in the eye of the beholder. What can be construed as education in one society can be considered brainwashing in another. There is no level standard, no set guidelines in several scenarios.
All across the country, the level and quality of education varies greatly, as the example of the New York State-Oregon question brought up. Education is a game affected greatly by politics. In certain parts of this country, you may have more conservative politicians pushing forward an agenda of teaching a creationist-based curriculum or on the other side, you could have neoliberals pushing forward an agenda of complete and utter tolerance for everybody and everything without taking into account individual beliefs of what they want to believe, whether each group likes it or not.
A number of people, taxpayers and elected officials in this state, made an issue of K-12 education in New York State. Whether it’s the cost or the quality, always somebody has a problem with it. According to the Public Policy Institute of NYS, in the 2005-2006 school year, New York State ranked number one in cost per pupil for K-12, spending $14,884 in total as well as ranked number one in salary and wages as well as employee benefits. Problems arise due to the complexity of conditions and factors within the state. A child from the South Bronx will not receive the same education as one in Spencerport outside of Rochester.
For higher education, the argument of public college tuition is always an issue. It’s obscenely archaic to have a system, particularly the State University of New York, that updates the cost of tuition each few years, and since its compounded over a number of years – the cost rises in the double digits, infuriating students, staff, and anyone who has a vested interest in the future of a system for all.
The only equalization of education, that you could make it even on some sort of playing ground with all people and all walks of life without disavowing their own personal beliefs on certain issues, is some sort of basic list of truths. Facts – fair, clear, and with no alternative interpretation of what it is, is the basis of this. You may have your own idea of how to construe it, but the fact (no pun intended) remains – it is what it is.
The third beast of domestic policy, healthcare has predominately become a major issue since the first Clinton Healthcare Plan was introduced in 1993. Politically devastating to Democrats in the early 1990s, healthcare reform has become a bipartisan issue… somewhat.
Formation of an urge by government to support its citizens in the medical realm was conceived during the days of FDR with the Social Security Act of 1935. Roughly 30 years later, Lyndon Johnson, as part of his “Great Society” set of policies, amended the act to include what is now known as Medicare and Medicaid.
However, the United States never had a system of where all citizens, regardless of ethnicity and socioeconomic status, would be guaranteed healthcare. Countries such as Great Britain have for years had a public healthcare system to the country’s overall benefit, especially post World War II. For a country of 60 million, the cost of the National Health Service (NHS) is $155 billion dollars. Compare that to the 300 million people in the United States (without revising so much based upon preferences) and you have a $775 billion dollar system. Big money, no doubt.
Under those figures, that would equate the entire Department of Defense ($515.40 billion) budget and spending for interest payments ($260 billion). In these uncertain times, a major program such as that may not be what the country wants, but something it may need.
So how do you effectively “fix” healthcare in America?
There is a prevailing fear in America that “socialized” healthcare would not have the same benefits as a successfully executed private health insurance plan. However, and I know you’ve heard more than a number of private healthcare horror stories, if you can partner private insurance carriers with a system run as a efficiently as the Internal Revenue Service, you may have something there.
Obviously Big Healthcare will not want to be beholden to any group or organization, especially the U.S. government. You still give the same authorities and rights they had before, but you run it like you would the airline industry: freedom to make choices for business interests, but through a system of checks and balances that promote competition and research. Probably what they wouldn’t want is for companies such as Kaiser Permanente, Cigna, among others to turn into a healthcare-version of Amtrak.
As everything in this country, healthcare won’t be fixed until it is completely and irrevocably broken – just like with Social Security. Only a quasi-governmental authority with private and public interests for the advancement of research in health and the standards citizens expect from the government will be the solution for the healthcare issue in this country.