Déjà vu … All Over Again


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Yet again, we find ourselves in a place where the future of the economic recovery in America is in the hands of Congress. All nonessential federal government services will be shut down on October 1st unless the Senate and the House of Representatives can come up with the necessary budget or piece of legislation that will avert it.

And if they manage to avoid that disaster, they will also have to turn around quickly and muster an agreement to once again raise the debt limit of the federal government by the middle of October. The country is now about $17 trillion in debt, but it is clear we are going to have to borrow a lot more before we get control of this problem.

As an economist, I have spent my whole career trying to forecast the expansions and contractions of the U.S. economy. Forecasting was difficult enough under normal circumstances, but it is impossible when one must factor in the shenanigans of Congress. This alone is reason enough to shrink the size of the federal government. If they had less power (and by power I mean money), then they could do less damage. And damage is all that they seem to be able to do recently.

So what can we do about all of this? I believe there is only one solution: the citizens of America must acquire more education. The economic fate of our nation relies on our citizens’ ability to understand all of the complexities of a democratic form of government, and they must use this understanding in the choices they make in their daily lives. Education is the only solution for self-governing citizens.

There has been a lot of discussion in the moldmaking industry and in manufacturing in general about the need and value of an education. Many of our young citizens choose to attend college but then come out with no job and a high level of debt. Some people have suggested that their efforts would be better spent training for a job as a skilled worker in the manufacturing sector. And I do not argue that this might be a solution for those who must find a job to make a living.

But the real purpose of an education is not to train people to make a living. It is to train people to be citizens. Making a living is a challenge that most of us must figure out, but as citizens we are also challenged to make a life.

We must all be "productive citizens". This a dual challenge that requires a two-pronged solution. We must figure out capitalism. This means we must learn how to engage the marketplace in a manner that allows us to earn a living. And we must also figure out democracy. This means we must learn how to be mostly self-governing. And at those times when we must share the responsibilities with other members of our respective communities, states, or federal government, then we must have the skills to do so.

There are a lot of people who make a lot of money but who are poor citizens. Professional athletes and rap stars come to mind. There are also a lot of people who are good citizens but are struggling to make a living. Then there is Congress who we all elect in order to solve a few of these problems, but in the end they mostly tend to make them worse.

So if we are going to solve any of these problems it looks like we will have to do it ourselves. And I can say without hesitation that solving these problems will require energy, innovation, and a lot more education.