Tag Archives: America

The American Dream at risk

JP Bio PhotoDr. John Psarouthakis, Executive Editor of www.BusinessThinker.com

I came to the United States carrying almost no baggage except a surname most Americans have trouble pronouncing.  I had $15 in my pocket, a few words of English, and a naïve determination to study at a great engineering school.  My “Boston aunt” had recommended the school, known worldwide by initials I assumed were pronounced “Mitt.”  I soon learned to say “Em Eye Tee.” (MIT).  I did not anglicize “Psarouthakis.” For most of the six decades since I stepped off the boat almost everyone—friends, colleagues, new acquaintances—has avoided the surname problem by calling me “Dr. John.”  Very informal. Very democratic. Very American.

How could I possibly not love this country?  I was an orphan raised by penniless aunts in a poor Mediterranean but charming town.  In America I received a world-class education, did research in a most exotic niche of the U.S. space program, entered the private sector as a technology manager, moved to the business side, learned how to evaluate underachieving companies and how to acquire them.  Riding the American Dream as far as I possibly could, I assembled my own manufacturing firm—following a plan devised on my dining-room table—and made that firm into a Fortune 500 company with units in several countries.  In busy semi-retirement I have written books, promoted cultural exchange programs, done some adjunct university teaching near my home, and am now commuting to Europe three times a year as a guest lecturer at one of the world’s oldest and finest universities.  It has been a long, wonderful journey from the adobe bungalow, without running water, where I grew up.

I tell you these things up front not to brag.  My point reaches in the opposite direction.  I am one among scores of millions of immigrants who stepped off that boat and flourished in a country that is unlike any other.  No nation on earth has presented such fertile opportunity for hyphenated citizens, German-Americans, Greek-Americans, Italian-Americans,  Irish-Americans, Chinese-American . . . a list that spans the globe.  In time, even hyphenated Americans who were brought here under the most heinous human condition, slavery, discovered that opportunity can extend to the #1 job in the land.  As a nation we remain imperfect.  But despite our considerable flaws we remain the best hope for humanity, a true nation of immigrants, the world’s destination of choice.

Sadly—and here is why I am writing these pages—the free-market economy that has made America a unique beacon of prosperity now finds itself in grave imminent danger.  We, and the entire globe, have arrived at a great historical intersection, a time of momentous change with indelible consequences.  Policy choices must be made that will let our economic freedoms continue to flourish in a technological world far more radically different than the “New World” Columbus visited.  Our politicians meanwhile seem amazingly incapable of looking into the future.  Instead our “leaders” look selectively, futilely to the past, vowing to restore old economic glories along pathways that no longer exist, squandering finite resources, seeing no further than the next election cycle (which will begin the day after the current campaign ends).  These politicians and policies will, I fear, choke our great economic engine so badly that a depressed and anxious citizenry will go along with its destruction.  If that happens, if America is allowed to slip off to some cobbled version of European socialism and dependency, we will no longer be unique or even exceptional.  We will have lost not just the energy and creativity that generations newcomers bring to this shore.  We will have lost the reason they want to come.

One is supposed to avoid trying to communicate while angry.  But honesty aids communication, and I need to express my thoughts by admitting I am angry about what has happened to this country since I arrived and began my journey of opportunity.  The American people have been lied to and misled by political elites and by dumbed-down news media, a pair of institutions that now feed off each other 24/7 while barely putting anything more substantial than a sound bite on the table.  True, the American people themselves bear some responsibility for not demanding better fare.  But when people are being led by the nose toward a cliff, it’s the leaders who must be held accountable.  My anger aims mostly in their direction because they should know better.  Most of them do know better.  But shallow populism wins votes, and even shallower journalism wins ratings.  So here we are, teetering on the edge of a state-dominated economy and society that would mean the end of America as I have known it.  And, yes, I am angry about that.  I am not here to shout, though.  Instead I am offering ten essays to be posted, one at a time, and I hope you will find them to be thoughtful “good reads.”  I hope, of course, that these essays will contribute to discussions-debate and decisions that will help save our free-market economy.

The great four-way intersection of our time is both complex and easy to understand.  Does anyone not realize that technology, globalization, a need for pragmatic changes in education, and a new role for manufacturing in our society define the parameters of whether the United States surges to new heights (or sinks into mediocrity) in a brand-new world?  An infinite number of policies and possibilities await smart decisions and agile execution.  That’s complex, for sure.  But defining those four elements as the playing field is easy.  Our leadership, though, has muddled through decades of failing to understand, finally, that new technology cannot be put back in the bottle, that globalization is a full-bore fact of life, that education’s nightmare is the promising freshman who is obsolete by graduation day, and that manufacturing—well, let me say for now that we have to let the old go, and we have to nurture the new.

I believe America’s unique economic engine for opportunity can, to borrow from William Faulkner, not merely endure but prevail.  But for that to happen we need to grasp the impact of those four elements in a world that is changing at incredible speed (perhaps I should say “incredible to someone old enough to remember when change came much slower”).  The longer we refuse to learn to compete within the new realities, the noisier the populist shout will demand killing the goose that laid the golden egg for all of us.  We have a serious unemployment problem.  That cannot be denied.  We have a disappearing middle class.  That cannot be denied.  We have a debt problem so severe it becomes difficult to make honest choices for the future.  That cannot be denied.  But if these serious issues are allowed to push America away from a (relatively) free-market-economy, and away from a    (relatively) limited-government model, then our goose is cooked

This set of essays does not deny that capitalism has cycled into a period where it has become less efficient at providing a livelihood for the citizenry.  That much is painfully evident.  What will be argued is that there is need for a modified, 21st Century capitalism, one that will provide the best possible lives and livelihoods for all Americans, and for anyone else who cares to adapt the once and future standard for the world.

The alternative is simply not acceptable.

 

BEYOND POLITICS: Thoughts on the presidential election

Mr. Joseph P Garske is a retired private investor. He is an invited contributing writer to the www.BusinessThinker.com
He holds a bachelor degree in history from Harvard.

My personal inclination runs to the philosophical. I attempt to find a perspective outside the paradigms that have come to define our Age of Technology. Rather than examining the trends of Postmodernity and Globalization I prefer to examine the values and assumptions that give rise to them.

I seldom look to the political realm for serious and fundamental discussion of the perplexities that face our troubled world. For me the sphere of politics is by its nature narrow and proscribed. The cycle of campaigns and elections, of candidates and issues, offers little opportunity for actually evaluating the authoritative institutions of law and learning within which all public questions are decided.

But I also recognize the mundane practical concerns that must be attended to while one engages those larger philosophical matters. In the case of America those practical considerations include a basic economic stability, an atmosphere of social equity among its people, and beyond these what might be called its moral imperative as the single Great Power in the world.

There is, after all, a particular importance attached to the well-being of the United States because of its role as arbiter of international affairs and guarantor of order among nations. In stating this, the purpose is neither to approve nor condemn the role America has assumed or that has been thrust upon it. For the purpose here, it is enough to simply accept the fact that America plays a predominant role in the world today.

Some view its recent overseas conduct as an abuse of prerogative–an unwise tendency to intervene in foreign conflicts, leaving mostly destruction and confusion in its wake. Others view America as a paragon of freedom, democracy and the rule of law–a country that is fulfilling a historic, perhaps even Biblical, mission around the world.

Over the past decade much evidence could be amassed to substantiate either point of view. Yet, neither side of this argument is relevant to our discussion here. Whatever one’s opinion, all must agree that America has paid a dear price for its announced purpose of carrying its way of life to the disadvantaged and oppressed peoples of the earth.

In fact, it was an appeal to those high ideals and America’s unique role in the world that formed a major theme in the last presidential election. As the world watched and listened those lofty tenets were restated by a new voice and with a unique eloquence. The hope of their fulfillment was a decisive factor in the electoral result.

To many persons, including myself, what had been set forth seemed to be much more than merely campaign platitude. It not only touched on a deeper crisis of spirit afflicting the American people, it also touched on transcendent matters important to virtually all peoples. Few public careers have been launched with higher expectations or greater promise. None has embarked with more public adulation around the world.

But in the course of his brief tenure the performance of the new president has proven to be disappointing. In the practical matter of actually governing, the new administration seemed to lose its direction. On the basic level of setting forth a clear purpose, of controlling expenditure, of instilling discipline where necessary and unity where possible, it appeared to be weak.

Of course, those failures can be explained and forgiven as arising from the difficult task at hand. But as his strategy for re-election developed, there emerged another type of shortcoming that could not be so easily set aside. In the new campaign the president and his advisors fell to the visceral tactics of malice and rancor instead of ensuring a useful discussion of important matters. The ideals and inspiring rhetoric of the past were discarded.

For a president elected on the basis of the high standard he set and the hope he inspired this has become a most disturbing failure and amounts to a kind of betrayal. By abandoning the attributes that secured his election he has sacrificed the vast mandate given him. It raises to question the true identity of this person so many of us looked to and admired. Perhaps most of all these failures betray certain weaknesses of the man himself–a combination of inexperience on one side and a lack of full maturity on the other.

The result of this dissonance of word and deed has become obvious, even to those who were his ardent supporters. It is these deficiencies that have led to a present situation in which America is no longer adequately governed. His administration has no true leader. It has no useful relations with Congress. It is impotent to act in the current economic crisis. Its role in world affairs has become confused and ineffectual. It can neither terminate nor prosecute a war.
However, in this quandary a clear alternative has emerged. Once again America approaches the culmination of another protracted campaign for the presidency. In the spectacle of its politics every possible difference between the two candidates has been discovered and magnified. Yet, between them the difference lies not so much in the policies and positions they advocate as it does in the difference between the two men themselves.
For many people the deeply held religious convictions of the challenger may seem simplistic, strange, or even at some level repugnant. Yet, undeniably, his principles run far deeper than mere politics. He holds them with an unmitigated fervor and in three decades of highly visible professional life followed by more than a decade of highly visible public life he has proven he will not deviate from them.

Moreover, for the practical and mundane purposes that need to be carried out those convictions provide a solid anchor of predictability. Because what this country needs now has nothing necessarily to do with high-flown rhetoric, with personal style, or with the theatrics of social legislation. Its most important needs are much more elemental in nature.

To me, at least, the challenger is better equipped to satisfy the pedestrian necessities of government. On the domestic front he will be better able to manage, to oversee, to direct, to balance accounts, to control waste, and to prevent misappropriation. Sophisticated or not, these mundane abilities need to be introduced into the councils of government.

With regard to foreign affairs the challenger’s position on questions of world policy may seem outdated, overly bellicose, even reminiscent of the Cold War. Yet in fact, they may not be so different from the murky ruminations of the incumbent, except in that they are stated more explicitly and emphatically.

Nonetheless, my expectation is that, right or wrong, his views will be no more dangerous in their execution than those existing under the indecision of the current administration. There are obvious advantages to having a leader who can be understood with clarity by all sides. If there will not be agreement, there might at least be respect.

For me, the importance of the moment can be summarized in a few sentences: It is laudable to espouse high purpose and aspirations. It is good to advance the benefits of prosperity and hope around the world. It is good to have the capacity to act on behalf of all peoples. However, we must always recognize priorities. We must have our own house in order and take care of our own people before we can take on the perplexities that face the world.

Even those of us with a philosophical inclination must put first things first. Only then can we move on to the larger matters, of which the realm of politics is only an incidental part. Within a nation that is so predominant in the affairs of the world, reflection on larger purposes is a very important thing. Yet, even the loftiest plan to improve the human condition requires a foundation of practicality established deeply in the terra firma of earth.

We live in a world being reshaped by technology–when government is being redefined in a process of Globalization. It is a world undergoing profound changes in the ordering of human life—what social scientists call Postmodernity. At such a moment it is supremely ironic that America, the single Great Power of the world, is buried in a morass of ineptitude and is powerless to act even to straighten its own affairs. The present administration has squandered its opportunity. It is time for a change.

NO CHARACTER, NO CULTURE

Mr. Joseph P Garske is a retired private investor. He is an invited contributing writer to the www.BusinessThinker.com
He holds a bachelor degree in history from Harvard.

The title of this brief essay, “No Character, No Culture,” is of course an overstatement of the prevailing atmosphere in American life today. However, there are many Americans from all age groups, all economic and educational strata who would agree there is much truth in it.

In fact, it is likely that many people, if probed beneath the outward confidence they project in everyday life, would agree: America, for whatever reason, is in decline. They might express this concern in moral or spiritual or religious terms. But the malady they refer to would be the same for each of them.

The symptoms of this decline are abundant and obvious. The obesity epidemic, the bloat of public and private debt, a corrosive dependency on mind altering drugs–both illicit and prescribed, an astonishing homicide and incarceration rate. America, after all, has a far higher percentage of its population in prisons than any other country in the world.

Even actions of the national government are reflective–and even precipitous–of this decline. It can be seen in the extent to which elected officials have become the captive of highly influential and well-funded interest groups. Decline is also apparent in the general tone of policy in both domestic and foreign matters.

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