It's About Our Poverty Stupid!

One may believe the current, passionate debate in Lake Bluff, IL is about the need to repair or replace an outdated, and soon to be an unfit municipal swimming pool. It is not; it is about our poverty. It is hard to believe that bucolic, Norman Rockwell-like Lake Bluff is, well, poor, but we are.

Webster's defines poverty as,"the state of one who lacks the usual or socially acceptable amount of money". It is an undeniable fact that almost everyone in Lake Bluff agrees that a municipal swimming pool that complies with standards and codes is part of the fabric of this family oriented community and an asset that has been available to residents for many years, is an important facility. The problem is, we are broke; we are collectively poor and over taxed as individuals, we have exhausted our resources and taken on unsustainable debt, there are commitments to staggering Medicare and Social Security entitlements and public employee benefit obligations, at every level; Village, City, Township, County, State and Federal.

Our poverty and debt burden is wearing us down, our confidence is waning and we see no path out of the morass. Individuals and businesses are faced with unprecedented uncertainty.  We are the deer in the headlights; just standing there, stationary and static in our behavior. As we survey the landscape, we view crumbling infrastructure, businesses are choosing not to invest in growth, sitting on $1.8 trillion of cash, some of our neighbors' houses are either foreclosed or in a short sale because they are under- or completely unemployed, or recklessly indebted.  Small businesses are not able to obtain or maintain working capital credit lines and they are uncertain of the next regulatory volley from the government, so they refuse to hire or grow. Furthermore the elephant in the room, porous borders and illegal immigrants, are scandalously and  recklessly ignored or politicized.  

While this is the reality, the political leaders are not leading. In their speeches they make claims and projections no one believes, others are blamed for the present state of affairs, they are everywhere perpetually campaigning and offering solutions that cannot be trusted to be reality based. They are, in the words of Daniel H Burnham of Chicago architectural fame, "making no little plans." We only see massive, burdensome, prohibitively expensive and unpopular policies and programs thrust upon us. Now comes the piper who wants to be paid for all this stuff. Since there is no money, we borrow. There is insufficient tax revenue to pay the bills, so they tax more heavily, driving down the incentive to work and invest, a hideous cycle.

No wonder a swimming pool generates debate and has the potential to polarize us. But the pool is purely symbolic; a microcosm of what truly ails our society. We want to make plans and buy things we cannot pay for, and our credit card is maxed out. We are frustrated and even angry. A tea party movement is created in response.

As this all this is going on, our politicians and those in political leadership positions show blinding indifference to our country's fiscal condition and emotional psyche. They pile on massive new entitlements, ignore the unaffordable future obligations from the ones that already exist, are determined to micro manage our lives, slaughter Constitutional freedoms, incur trillions of dollars of new debt, tax us to the point of exasperation. At the same time, obvious needs are ignored. We desperately need private sector growth that will increase tax revenue without rate increases or new sources, create real and permanent jobs, stabilize the economy and markets, expand wealth, and restore our confidence.

Sure, there are other problems facing America, foremost is national security. However, our pathetic economic condition is, as Admiral Mike Mullen stated, a national security matter. Unless and until we solve our long term fiscal challenges, we are a far weaker nation and more vulnerable.

Let's concentrate then on real and long term fixes for the economy. After that, we can build our pools, defend our country and get on with our lives, confident and more certain of our future.