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Similar to a family that has slowly spent itself into deep credit card debt the U.S. is now facing realities associated with reducing debt while maintaining an enduring vision of prosperity, opportunity, security and relevance. As with so many families and businesses that have built untenable debt, this country must retrench, retool and reconsider partisan practices and philosophies that have reaped a multidimensional bounty of a muted economy, eroding infrastructure, marginal schools, constant military deployment, and foolish gridlock.

Since 2008, the world’s brightest and most practical economists have unconditionally stated that full recovery from the Great Recession would take the better part of a decade. Further, that a government-induced fiscal stimulus was prudent and required to avert a global depression, and that a carefully crafted balance among government intervention, private investment, entrepreneurial spirit, and long-term vision is essential. So far, too many people have lost sight of the fact that recovery is a slow, deliberate slog and not a sprint back to the good old days.

There is a transcendent geometry at play here. First, this is a global challenge. Second, unwise, errant politicians in the U.S. and other countries have spent more time jousting than addressing their national problems. Third, astounding levels of global competition continue to counter previous options the U.S. had enjoyed for a century.

As Fareed Zakaria noted in The Post American World,(W.W. Norton & Company, 2008) it is not about the decline of this country so much as it is the rise of the rest of the world and other countries’ desire to ascend to what we have enjoyed for so long. It is difficult to sell our products to China when it wants to develop its own consumer markets for its business community. Fourth, U.S. debt rose enormously from 2000-2008, fueled by a period of lax regulation, reduced taxes, and high levels of unfunded spending. Levels of growth enjoyed during the 1990s may have been unsustainable but, rather than carefully managing finances and saving for a predictable contraction cycle, virtually nothing was done.

Vision requires an understanding of cycles. Whether cultural, social, environmental, or economic, all things tend to move in cyclic patterns. Myopic decisions involving fiscal, regulatory, security, education, environmental, or domestic policy have led to a deep financial hole. Unfortunately, extraction is not dependent on any one factor; it will take vision, balance, patience, commitment, collaboration and the seemingly misplaced ability to set aside petty affiliations and congressional competition.

Perhaps most important will be the recognition that recovery and the re-ordering of national perspectives will take time. There is a major transformation afoot that requires perseverance, trust, cooperation and a step-by-step plan that is deliberately and carefully executed. It is not a crap shoot; it cannot be an ‘every man for himself’ proposition; and it cannot be founded on misplaced expectations that, if the right leader is elected and a few policies are amended, jobs will return, prosperity will bloom and everything will be fine. It won’t happen. It is almost 2013; times have changed; the world has evolved and there are just too many factors that weigh against rapid recovery.

Decline can be arrested through visionary policies that create synergies among competing forces. Spending for national defense must be balanced with investment in America’s infrastructure, educational system, and applied science. Policies must integrate a long-term vision for and acceptance of immigration as a major economic engine – but only if properly conceived. Policies must also balance the need for regulations that guide and protect with those that energize and encourage. And, certainly, citizens must demand accountable decision makers who embrace the long view and discard motives grounded in ideology, affiliation, avarice and petty competition.

Is there hope for these things? I believe so. But citizens must first embrace a long-term perspective and recognize that slow and steady will win this race. With other countries struggling and failing to maintain their GDP trajectories, we will begin to see decline in various aspects of international competition. This will provide a platform for new enterprise opportunities and refresh America’s allure for the world’s best and brightest who remain motivated to choose these shores to invest, build business and contribute to society. The game is beginning to change. Will we be ready?

With over three decades working in and with federal, state and local government, John Luthy understands public agencies.  Known for his real world, straight talking style, he is a leading futurist specializing in city, county, state, and federal long-range thinking and planning. John is the author of Operations Planning: A Guide for Public Officials and Managers in Troubled Times, and The Strategic Planning Guide, both published by the International City/ County Management Association (ICMA). His new book, Planning the Future – A Guide to Strategic Thinking and Planning for Elected Officials, Public Administrators and Community Leaders, was released in October 2010. An innovative and dynamic presenter, John is frequently asked to speak and consult on how to prepare public organizations and communities for emerging challenges (public futures at http://www.futurescorp.com).

One Response

  1. Maybe you could write next articles referring to this article. I want to read more things about it! Excellent post. I was checking constantly this blog and I am impressed! Very useful information particularly the last part 🙂

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