Fixing us, not them

America currently blames others for its own failings in at least four important areas.

Trade imbalances: obviously we should foster exports, encourage production, discourage consumption. Currently we complain incessantly about China’s unfair advantages in trade, yet ignore the obvious: our federal policies of encouraging consumer demand — which may have made sense 60 years ago, when America had a ton of savings and produced everything domestically — now simply drive the durable goods deficit. How many people here bother to learn a foreign language and attempt to export something? Far fewer, as a percentage of population, than in China. We fail because we’re not trying very hard.

Drugs: obviously we should cut demand, not supply. Currently we spend billions destroying poppies and coca in Afghanistan and Colombia. This is pointless, because cutting supply simply increases price, thus increasing incentives for impoverished people to produce more. If instead you cut domestic demand, the price falls, reducing incentives and cutting supply.

Crime: violent inner cities are “us,” not “them.” Walling off suburbs into gated communities, and building vast numbers of prisons, denies the fact that our fate is shared. It is a form of blaming the victim: we already know from New York’s success in the 1990s that crime control is mainly a function of police presence. (Duh.) Public safety is just a matter of accepting our shared fate and acting upon it.

Energy: the Middle East is utterly irrelevant to our national interest, except for its oil. Controlling the availability of that oil requires projection of military power, which makes enemies. We risk domestic terrorist cataclysm mainly because we need oil. Yet North America has sufficient natural gas reserves to power the continent for decades. Has it occurred to anyone how insanely risky it is to have our entire economy (including distribution of food) depend upon reliable shipments of an imported fluid? We’re simply using the wrong fuel. Changing to natural gas only looks expensive when you ignore the Black Swan of an oil supply interruption, which is almost certain to occur at some point.

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