Thursday, November 08, 2012

The 2012 U.S. Presidential Election, Tapping the Political Center and A Blueprint for an America Built to Last: The Example of the Marshall Plan for Europe


The final popular vote in the 2012 Presidential Election in the United States is going to be something like 61 million for incumbent President Barack Obama and 58 million for the challenger Mitt Romney. Republicans retained control of the House of Representatives, and Democrats retained control of the Senate, though their small gain does not give them the super-majority they need to get anything done without Republican Senatorial cooperation.

Not only are 61 million votes a lot of people on one side of the ballot, but 58 million votes are also a lot of people on the other side of the ballot.

That fairly balanced division of votes suggests that there could be an identifiable political center around which the votes congregate.

But where is that political center and whose center is it? 

We at LawPundit are political centrists, the "swing vote" as it were, so we were thus interested to read that immediately after the election, Kentucky Republican Senator and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, vexing author of filibustering obstructionist strategies during Obama's first term, had issued a challenge to Obama. 

Although McConnell had stated prior to the election that his own partisan top priority was to keep Obama from winning a second term, McConnell, given little choice, but showing leadership, now challenges Obama to move toward the political center in order to facilitate joint work in a divided government, stating:
"To the extent he [Obama] wants to move to the political center, which is where the work gets done in a divided government, we'll be there to meet him half way."
Senator Mitch McConnell was a student body president in his youth, went to law school, and is obviously competent in law and legislation, which is the job of Congress. We do hope McConnell is abandoning harmful obstructionism

We think that McConnell's "centrist" approach is pragmatic, and pragmatism was long the hallmark of the GOP, but lost in recent years. We also see that the Heritage Foundation has given McConnell a 75% "conservative" Senate vote rating. McConnell himself is thus not "the political center" he seeks. That center would appear to be to the left of McConnell. So where is it?

An American "political centrist" in any case is a far different figure than a European "political centrist", while a "political centrist" in California or New York State differs greatly from a moderate in the Southern states or even in the Midwest. The cultures and values are different in the regions identified by the Bureau of Census as America's four main geographic regions: West, Midwest, South and Northeast.

So what is the unifying "political centrist thread" that could be found there?  Could one posit that it is the consensus of a common pragmatic purpose more than a common ideology? We think so. We think that politics should focus on solutions rather than problems, on results rather than theories.

We ourselves definitely support freeing national politics as much as possible from the political extremists on the left and right political wings, whose politics are those of destruction, rather than reconstruction. They claim noble motives, but we see only destructive results. America does not need extremists destroying what has taken so many people, resources and lives to build up over hundreds of years. What America needs is a land from shining sea to shining sea filled with politically sensible and moderate citizens who share a consensus about a positive American future. Hence, the correct political path would seem to be a centrist-guided reconstruction of America.

As an example, America needs to rebuild at least 25% of its road and highway bridges. That is not a political issue -- it is a pragmatic issue. The cost is estimated at ca. $2 trillion dollars. Who else, but taxpayers, can pay that amount? and is that too much money? As well shall below, it CAN be done, and the amount is not out of this world.

It is the job of the legislators we now have in Congress to get reconstruction legislation passed, on both sides of the political ledger. Bridges are neither Republican or Democrat, but are bipartisan, or better, non-partisan. We saw that in the Minnesota bridge disaster of 2007 (Popular Mechanics).

Reconstruction will greatly help to take care of current unemployment problems throughout the country. It is the job of Congress to see that such reconstruction is properly financed. Although many people of means oppose taxation for nearly any purpose, the fact is that those who have the money have always financed such necessary reconstruction work and those who do not have the money are paid to do the actual required physical and mental work, and it has always been that way.

We could of course require that the "not haves" finance the work and that the "haves" do the actual work of reconstruction, but, really, have you ever seen the Trumps of this world working on construction crews? No. Neither have we.

One job of politicians is to get US citizens and legislators to understand the following basic economic truth: upturns in the economy can only be achieved if people have money in their pockets to spend, and they can only obtain that money if they work, and they can only work if the people who control the money in society provide that work, either through private enterprise -- for many the preferred vehicle in capitalism, or via government programs and financing. There is no other way. None.

Let us take one recent example of reconstruction in America, in Nebraska.

We visited Nebraska last year for the first time in 25 years and were pleased but amazed to see Interstate 80 between Lincoln and Omaha being reconstructed and expanded, more than 50 years after Eisenhower, part of what was later named the "Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways". Only now is Nebraska starting to get a highway that will be comparable to a standard Autobahn in modern Germany, which has many of them, not just one. Many are masterpieces of engineering and design. If a small country such as Germany can build such magnificent roads, what, except for the failing will of leading US personages and the stinginess of its citizens, keeps a much larger America from reconstructing its roads and highways?

Indeed, almost all roads in Germany are paved and have underground drainage systems. Less advanced, open drainage trenches, ditches or gullies are frequent in the USA and can be found in the United Kingdom. Similarly, in view of frequent power blackouts in the USA due to power lines down in storms, many power lines in Germany run underground, not above ground as in the USA, thus greatly reducing storm-caused power blackouts.

But how is it possible that America lags so far behind Germany? After WWII, most of Germany was destroyed and everything had to be rebuilt from the ground up. How was it achieved? Is there a lesson here for politicians from both political parties in the USA? We quote here at length from the Wikipedia article on the Marshall Plan, which of course is taken from numerous sources:
"The Marshall Plan (officially the European Recovery Program, ERP) was the American program to aid Europe where the United States gave monetary support to help rebuild European economies after the end of World War II in order to prevent the spread of Soviet Communism.[1] The plan was in operation for four years beginning in April 1948. The goals of the United States were to rebuild a war-devastated region, remove trade barriers, modernize industry, and make Europe prosperous again.[2]
The initiative was named after Secretary of State George Marshall. The plan had bipartisan support in Washington, where the Republicans controlled Congress and the Democrats controlled the White House. The Plan was largely the creation of State Department officials, especially William L. Clayton and George F. Kennan. Marshall spoke of urgent need to help the European recovery in his address at Harvard University in June 1947.[2][3]
The reconstruction plan, developed at a meeting of the participating European states, was established on June 5, 1947. It offered the same aid to the Soviet Union and its allies but they did not accept it,[4][5] as to do so would be to allow a degree of US control over the Communist economies.[6] During the four years that the plan was operational, US $13 billion in economic and technical assistance was given to help the recovery of the European countries that had joined in the Organization for European Economic Co-operation. This $13 billion was in the context of a U.S. GDP of $258 billion in 1948, and was on top of $13 billion in American aid to Europe between the end of the war and the start of the Plan that is counted separately from the Marshall Plan.[7] The Marshall Plan was replaced by the Mutual Security Plan at the end of 1951.[8]
The ERP addressed each of the obstacles to postwar recovery. The plan looked to the future, and did not focus on the destruction caused by the war. Much more important were efforts to modernize European industrial and business practices using high-efficiency American models, reduce artificial trade barriers, and instill a sense of hope and self-reliance.[9]
By 1952 as the funding ended, the economy of every participant state had surpassed pre-war levels; for all Marshall Plan recipients, output in 1951 was at least 35% higher than in 1938.[10] Over the next two decades, Western Europe enjoyed unprecedented growth and prosperity, but economists are not sure what proportion was due directly to the ERP, what proportion indirectly, and how much would have happened without it. The Marshall Plan was one of the first elements of European integration, as it erased trade barriers and set up institutions to coordinate the economy on a continental level—that is, it stimulated the total political reconstruction of western Europe.[11]
Belgian economic historian Herman Van der Wee concludes the Marshall Plan was a "great success":
"It gave a new impetus to reconstruction in Western Europe and made a decisive contribution to the renewal of the transport system, the modernization of industrial and agricultural equipment, the resumption of normal production, the raising of productivity, and the facilitating of intra-European trade."[12]
Consider that the Marshall Plan described above constituted ca. 5% of American GDP and that another $13 billion in aid was given prior to the official start of the Marshall Plan, making it 10% of US GDP.

The GDP of the USA currently is about $15 trillion, so that a comparable plan today for America itself would have a price tag of $1.5 trillion, which is near to the amount required. Could it be done? Of course it could. Why are Americans unwilling to do for themselves what they once did for Europe?

When America instituted the Marshall Plan to reconstruct Europe after WWII, that took a lot of money, US taxpayer money, and it worked. America got a tremendous return on that money, a massive yield which brought "the American way of life" to Europe and started a long-term European peace, not to mention the opening of new markets and a new kind of globalization via NATO and the transatlantic alliance, which reduced global dangers. Those advances should be continued.

However, the job of politicians today in America is to get Americans to put their money back to work in their own country, rather than financing growth elsewhere.

Moreover, when you put people to work, you must have them doing something that is constructive and sensible, rather than what is destructive or degenerate.

The American system has enabled the wealth of those "who have" the money today. It is THEIR responsibility to sustain that America.

The proper standard is: 

If you take out of the pot or have taken out of the pot, 
then you must put back in what you have taken or take,
plus interest. 
That is the only way a nation can be sustained over time.



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