We the people, have an obligation to preserve, protect, and defend the United States Constitution, not our politicians. It is up to us, the American voters, to use our vote as a voice to be heard in Washington. I believe that Mark Twain said it best when he wrote, "Politicians are like diapers, they need to be changed frequently and for the same reason.". Just like a baby needs a fresh diaper, many believe that we need a fresh Congress because they are full of it.
The amount of money politicians will spend to retain their position of power will likely reach all time levels again this year. The idea being the candidate who spends the most money will win. They will spend millions on negative advertisements against their opponents, because they don't seem to have anything good to say about their own accomplishments. Many believe that we need to send the message to Congress that they can not buy our vote.
United States voter turnout for general elections has been on average between 50 and 60 percent. The 2010 general elections had voter turnout of about 40 percent. And in the Minnesota 2010 primary elections only 15.5 percent of Minnesota's eligible voters even bothered to show up to cast their vote. That number is worth repeating. 15.5% of eligible voters actually voted, less than 2 out of 10! If you think that this is as good as it gets, and you are satisfied with your current standing in life, then by all means don't vote. If however, you are of the belief that our country is headed in the wrong direction and we are capable of so much more, then vote for change. And, if you don't believe that any of the candidates will make positive and lasting changes, then you have the opportunity to get involved and become active in politics.
Many Americans believe that we need to clean house with respect to Congress. I believe the biggest problem we face is the relationship between Washington and Wall Street, essentially money in politics. Financial deregulation was first facilitated by political contributions by the biggest firms on Wall Street. Once Glass-Steagall was repealed, acting as a wall between traditional depository banks and investment institutions for decades, it was off to the races. Add statements such as those by then well respected prominent figures like Alan Greenspan who said, "regulation of derivative transactions that are privately negotiated by professionals is unnecessary", and many people believed that these banks knew what they were doing. Of course, it is now clear to most that traditional banks should not engage in unregulated, over-the-counter derivatives markets because of the risks placed on the American taxpayers.
If these banks want to act like hedge funds, then they should become hedge funds. Congress allows this to continue, accepting millions of dollars in campaign contributions from the financial sector. The people that run these mega-banks are paid based on return on equity unadjusted for risk. They can engage in excessive risk because they know that if the bet goes wrong the taxpayer will bail them out, and if it is a winning bet they make billions. They know that they are too big to fail. The biggest banks in the U.S. are even bigger than they were in 2007.
Meanwhile, millions of Americans have had their homes taken away, and millions more are delinquent on their mortgage payments or in the foreclosure process. Since 2007, the median wealth of the American family has dropped 40 percent. Interest rates are at historic lows and millions could save thousands of dollars every year if their bank would work with them to help them get a lower interest rate, or get a low rate loan for a new home. But, why would banks refinance a loan at under 4 percent when the American homeowner, trying to do the right thing, feeling obligated to fulfill the terms of their loan agreement, continues to pay a much higher rate of interest? Most of the money that would be saved in monthly mortgage payments would likely go straight back into the economy helping many local businesses. President Obama had a perfect opportunity to make fundamental and lasting changes to our banking system in March of 2009, but lacked the political will to do so. These banks simply should not be allowed to gamble with taxpayer money.
Another problem that is quickly turning into a crisis is with respect to our youth. Our education system is failing. The dropout rate among high school students and the additional costs to society associated with these young people is alarming. In addition, those who continued on to post-secondary education have amassed debt that is equally alarming. Student loan debt is over $1 trillion, more than credit card debt and auto loan debt combined. Individuals grew up being told that getting a good education is key to success in America, and public and private universities continued to raise the cost of this commodity, some 400% over the past 30 years. Despite the tuition increases, individuals continued to enroll in hopes of landing their dream job upon graduation. This has turned out to be a nightmare for many recent college graduates. Of those who graduated from college in the classes of 2009, 2010, and 2011 approximately 16 percent have found full-time employment. Not exactly what they were hoping for.
Most Americans I talk with believe in the free market system, but they are resentful of the way the system is run. Perhaps now more than any other time in our history Congress has failed to represent Americans. At this time, I don't believe there is a single member of Congress that is willing to resist the temptations and seductions of the money and power that is readily available to them in Washington. Washington is a place where greed is rewarded. The greed in Washington has been well documented showing the wealth that those in Congress amass while in office as so called public servants.
Our government has a very important role in our economy, and many believe those in Congress have failed miserably in this role. The purpose of our government in business is to help make and enforce the rules of the game; to help ensure a fair and competitive playing field for all. Government should not be in the business of picking winners and losers. The market has proven to do a fine job of this. In Congress' attempt to control the markets, they have created what is being called the "fiscal cliff". Congress knows that their inability to act will likely hurt millions of Americans. Many believe that both parties are culpable. Americans want substantive real changes, but it is extremely likely that Congress will wait until the eleventh hour again to come to any resolution. Many believe that Congress will likely kick the can down the road by further extending tax cuts that continue to raise havoc in an already incomprehensible tax code, and they will continue to increase the national debt limit from $16.394 trillion to about $18 trillion.
We deserve better, and we are capable of so much more, if our government would just get out of the way. America should be, and can be a global leader setting an example for the rest of the world. In spite of our seemingly incompetent federal government, we have as a nation several advantages. First, we live in a large and mostly closed economy. U.S. exports account for only about 13 percent of our GDP, and only about 2 percent of our exports go to Europe. Second, the U.S. is becoming much more efficient and competitive in the manufacturing sector, attracting more businesses. Third, the U.S. is experiencing a natural energy explosion that is making America a much more self-sufficient nation. And finally, America has proven to be a country of great innovation.
Most agree that our problem is that we are on a path that is unsustainable. There is too much uncertainty and not enough clarity from Washington. We want a government that protects our freedom. Socialism and the free market will always butt heads. Milton Friedman wrote about these issues over 50 years ago. I believe that we live in a time and place that men and women have dreamed of and fought for for centuries. We are a great nation, and we will continue to be a great nation. However, from time to time we must make some difficult decisions. To make these changes we the people must stand up to preserve, protect, and defend the United States Constitution. One way to do this is to vote. Better days are ahead.