Polling service Rasmussen Reports released a survey last week that confirms the downcast mood of America: 62% of Americans think the country is on the wrong track. This is a pretty consistent figure over the last seven years, although it had gone as high as 70% during this summer.
The upshot? We’ve got a lot of problems. Worse, we’ve got a Congress so divided along partisan lines that it looks like nothing is ever going to get done, from Supreme Court justice hearings on down. That’s just dumb.
With apologies to Jonathan Swift (since I’m not being satiric), I have a modest proposal: let’s focus. Let’s pick some issues that give us the biggest bang for the buck, issues that solve more than one problem. There may even be some ideas here to entice both liberals and conservatives.
Solution #1: Mass Transit
I can’t speak for those back east, but out here in the West, we had the dad-blasted bad luck to launch our biggest housing spurts when everyone thought the car was the perfect transit solution. Now we’re sitting in traffic, with no plans, land, money, or will to expand mass transit. But that’s exactly what we have to figure out to do, and here’s why.
The first problem better mass transit can address is a long-range one. We’re not going to do anything about climate change until we stop polluting the air. One way to do that is to give people alternatives to driving. We have alternatives to driving here in the San Francisco Bay Area, but they were disconnected, inconvenient, and time-consuming (they’re also so popular as to be standing room only on most occasions).
Another payoff of mass transit is improvement to our infrastructure, not to mention the middle-class construction jobs that come with it – jobs that by definition can’t go overseas. Guess what else we get with more mass transit? Less reliance on foreign oil (although consumption of that has been going down) and – oh by the way – the ancillary effect of giving less money to religious fanatics in the Middle East who want to kill us.
Solution #2: Public Funding of Elections
I’ve always hated this idea, but I believe its time has come. For one thing, no longer do politicians to rely on expensive television and newspaper ads. Donald Trump has proved through social media that it’s easier and cheaper than ever to communicate with voters.
If elections are publicly funded, then Congressional representatives no longer have to spend their time either fund-raising or enacting laws that exempt corporations for certain activities. In fact, public funding of elections would mean that those representatives would have no excuse not to start simplifying the tax code.
Simplifying the tax code would help address the problem of income inequality. Both the rich and the corporations have ways to get out of taxes, through loopholes and other wriggling. The poor pay little in the way of taxes, so who gets stuck? The increasingly shrinking middle class. And from what I’ve heard, representatives would love to spend more time on legislation and less time on fund-raising.
Solution #3: Broadband Deployment
According to the latest rankings of Internet speed, the United States isn’t even in the top 12 countries in the world. Hence, let’s start doing more to ratchet up broadband deployment in America, both so that people have more choices for Internet access (and not just Comcast, for crying out loud) and higher speeds.
What’s the subsequent payoff? Let’s consider another looming problem: a shortage of physicians and medical care. Without broadband, there won’t be any telemedicine, and without telemedicine, there are going to be a whole lot of people in rural areas who don’t have access to medical care. The shortage is especially prevalent among primary-care physicians, who get paid less than specialists everywhere (and yet, pay the same basic medical school tuition). [Disclosure: my spouse was a primary-care physician until last spring.]
Broadband also benefits other rural populations: students, small business, and factories. If we’re going to have manufacturing come back to America at some point, it’s got to be cost-effective (and without tax exemptions; see #2). Putting rural areas on equal technological footing with the rest of the country is a way to do that.
It Takes Two
If there’s one more commonality to all three of these suggestions, it’s that none of them are something the private sector can do alone. It takes public sector involvement to make these changes work. Suggesting that we just let capitalism pave the way doesn’t work with everything: Congress has to get off its collective butts and start working toward making America better – and its citizens prouder.