by Errington C. Thompson, MD
We have just celebrated the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landing. So I’ve been thinking. (I know it’s dangerous, but bear with me.) The allies had decided to gamble. This wasn’t a small gamble. This was one of those Las Vegas, high-stakes, “I’m all in,” type gambles. The allies committed 24,000 troops to one battle. Can you imagine the enormous pressure General Dwight Eisenhower was under? Failure was not an option.
Over the past 20 or 30 years we have come to accept failure as commonplace. It doesn’t matter if you’re from the left or from the right, we have come to expect failure. Just for a second, let’s assume that you are one of those Americans who believe in the free market. Enron should give any free-market capitalist a cold shiver. With the deregulation of California’s energy sector in 2000, many free-market capitalist thought that this was Nirvana. Instead it turned out to be a disaster.
Although Enron did rake in billions of dollars at the expense of Californians, the real tragedy was a series of rolling blackouts that seemed to happen almost every week. These blackouts were the direct consequence of deregulation. It probably wouldn’t be as demoralizing if the California debacle was the only problem that Enron had. But it wasn’t. Remember, Enron was supposed to be the shining star in the business world. It was touted by all of the business magazines as the example of the new business model. They were the smartest guys in the room. Illegal accounting practices along with insider trading soon equaled bankruptcy and implosion for Enron.
For those who thought that Enron was an isolated example all we have to do is look at the Great Recession. You can read all kinds of fancy explanations of what happened in the Great Recession, but the basic premise is that we, the American people, bought into an economic philosophy.
We decided, for whatever reason, that deregulation was good and regulations, by definition, were bad. Wall Street was infallible. Therefore, as a corollary to our theory that markets are infallible, it only stands to reason that instruments developed by Wall Street must be good and need no regulation. These instruments, derivatives, almost brought down not just Wall Street but all of Western society. The Great Recession is the best example of the complete failure of business and an economy philosophy of the self-regulating market.
On the other side of the political spectrum, we’ve seen complete failure of government time and time again. The intelligence community completely missed 9/11. We, the American people, allowed ourselves to be lied into the Iraq war which is caused thousands of American lives and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives. Millions of Iraqis have been displaced. We’ve spent, by some estimates, over $3 trillion, and what do we have to show for it?
Our governmental response to Hurricane Katrina should convince anyone that our government is not working. Many liberals would look at Hurricane Katrina and state that conservatives were in charge. Okay, after the Newtown tragedy in which 26 people were killed, America stated with a resounding, unified voice that we needed stricter gun laws and specifically background checks. Over 90% of Americans supported background checks yet, more than 18 months after the shooting we still don’t have any type of national legislation. We can make excuses, but this has to be looked at as a failure of our government to respond to the will of the people.
There have been a host of other major failures in the public sector and in the private sector. Sadly, the list seems nearly endless—the bridge collapse in Minnesota, Lehman Brothers, Bernie Madoff, more public shootings, domestic spying and wiretaps, steroids in baseball, and the concussion scandal in the NFL.
There was a time in our not-too-distant past when failure was simply not an option. We rose to the occasion and we took care of business. Starting with our landing at Normandy, we, the American people, decided to do things right. From the mid-1940s through the late 1970s we saw the greatest economic expansion that the world has ever known.
We invested in our infrastructure with Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System. We invested in ourselves with the GI Bill. We made great strides in civil rights and human rights. The middle class never had it so good. We can be this America if we refuse to fail and if we invest in ourselves again.