"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Why We Need to Put Our Fiscal House in Order

While we have spent a good deal of time in recent months talking (or yelling) as a nation about the relative merits and demerits of public employee unions and the extravagance of their pension and health benefit plans, the world keeps spinning, and real dangers lurk.   What no one seems to say is that the question of balancing our budgets and putting our fiscal house in order is not simply a financial or economic matter, it's a national security matter.   We can't spend all of our money on lake houses for retired teachers or Florida getaways for retired assistant directors of the Milwaukee County Department of Human Services... we have more pressing needs.

Mark Helprin (a great novelist and strategic thinker) raises one of those needs in an article today in the Wall Street Journal, namely, America's urgent need to build and modernize a bigger, more powerful blue-water navy:
We have the smallest navy in almost a century, declining in the past 50 years to 286 from 1,000 principal combatants. Apologists may cite typical postwar diminutions, but the ongoing 17% reduction from 1998 to the present applies to a navy that unlike its wartime predecessors was not previously built up. These are reductions upon reductions. Nor can there be comfort in the fact that modern ships are more capable, for so are the ships of potential opponents. And even if the capacity of a whole navy could be packed into a small number of super ships, they could be in only a limited number of places at a time, and the loss of just a few of them would be catastrophic.

The overall effect of recent erosions is illustrated by the fact that 60 ships were commonly underway in America's seaward approaches in 1998, but today—despite opportunities for the infiltration of terrorists, the potential of weapons of mass destruction, and the ability of rogue nations to sea-launch intermediate and short-range ballistic missiles—there are only 20.

As China's navy rises and ours declines, not that far in the future the trajectories will cross.
Helprin's larger point... we once had grander dreams and higher priorities than assuring that teachers in Milwaukee had Viagra as part of their Cadillac health plan.   We once went to the moon and projected power around the world.  We are still the largest and most powerful economy in the world, and we could do great things again.   But we have to put our house in order.  

We can't just sit around and talk about Charlie Sheen and play Xbox and wonder in a few years why we've become England, a decrepit former power.

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