In 1864, Ulysses S. Grant, Commanding General of the Union Army, was approached by a quartermaster officer in regard to an order by Grant to spend several millions of dollars on one phase of an approaching campaign. The officer was hesitant to approve the massive expenditure and asked Grant if he was sure that he was right in making the decision to proceed.
"No, I am not," Grant said. "But, in war anything is better than indecision. We must decide. If I am wrong, we shall soon find it out and do the other thing. But not to decide wastes both time and money and may ruin everything."
Grant was talking about a military operation in the American Civil War. His words of wisdom are just as applicable today.
Pick up the paper. Turn on the TV. Log onto the Internet. We are beset by problems. All around us is difficulty and peril.
We ring our hands. We despair. Our problems seem insurmountable.
What will it take to fix things?
What it will take is for us to make some decisions. What it will take is for us to stop complaining and waiting for the situation to fix itself. It will not.
For close to forty years we have talked about energy independence and the necessity to break our dependence on Middle Eastern oil. Yet, we have not expanded our domestic oil production in response. We have not built new nuclear plants. For all our supposed interest in renewable energy we have not significantly expanded solar or wind energy production either.
We stand paralyzed, trapped in a maze of environmental, safety, security and economic concerns. We are unable to move.
Our entitlement programs are growing out of control. Anyone with a calculator and access to some very basic information has been able to see for many years that we cannot afford to continue to fund them as they are currently structured. They are dragging us over a fiscal cliff. Changes have to be made.
We do nothing. We do not terminate the programs. We do not trim the programs. We do not modify eligibility nor do we find alternate sources of funding. We stand like deer in the headlights, unwilling to give up any benefits, unwilling to bear any pain, knowing that we are headed for disaster and doing nothing to avert it.
Our economy is stagnant. We have shipped our manufacturing base overseas, allowed our infrastructure to decay and made ourselves hostage to a Chinese regime which talks "free trade" while acting in accordance with an overtly mercantilist policy deliberately designed to expand exports and limit imports. Our unemployment rate is staggeringly high. Our major industries are shadows of their former selves. We are in grave danger of losing our status as the world's largest economy.
We do not act. We ask the Chinese to consider modifications to their policy of undervaluing their currency but insist on nothing. We wish for a resurgence of manufacturing but do nothing to overhaul tax codes and regulatory schemes that discourage companies from producing inside the United States. Competing considerations of economic competitiveness, workers rights and environmental protection befuddle us. We watch as the situation worsens and wish it were different.
There are no easy answers. There are just decisions that need to be made. Yes, we need to encourage the development of alternate forms of energy to replace fossil fuels. In the meantime, while we are doing that we need to cut loose of foreign oil. That means expanding domestic production. Figure out how to do it with the minimum disruption to the environment, tell the relevant government regulatory agencies to do their jobs and ensure that the appropriate rules are followed, and move.
Take a hard look at entitlement programs and our budget and put some numbers on a piece of paper that represent what we can actually afford, in the real world, to spend. Then adjust the programs to fit within that budget. That means some people are going to get less and some people are going to get nothing. There will be painful adjustments. No matter how painful those adjustments are, however, they will be nothing as compared to what people will experience when these entitlement programs fail completely.
Sit down at the table with business leaders from the major American manufacturers who have moved their production abroad and ask them what it would take to make it profitable for them to manufacture their products inside the United States again. Then, within reason, give it to them. Tell the Chinese what modifications they need to make to their policies in order for us to be satisfied that they are acting in good faith and actually committed to free trade. When they don't make the necessary changes, slap tariffs on their goods and limit their exports to this country until they absorb the fact that we're serious. In the short term it will cost us more for big screen TV's and plastic junk from Wal-Mart. In the long term, we will have a balanced trading relationship, a healthy domestic economy and significantly lower unemployment.
None of these decisions will be without consequences. None of them will fix our problems overnight. But, we have no choice. Not to decide may ruin everything.