America The Business Plan

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Imagine actually having a business plan for America instead of a series of wedge issues designed solely to make your party look better than the other. True, this would require elected officials actually to care about doing their jobs rather than solely about themselves and their party, but we can dream can’t we?

Where would you begin to formulate such a plan?

You could call McKinsey or one of the other top shelf management consulting firms. If you had the money they would deploy millions of IQ points in pursuit of your goal. For quite a bit less, you could read a special section in The Economist entitled Cheer Up or you could call Richard Haass, Chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of Foreign Policy Begins at Home: The Case for Putting America’s House in Order.

Lacking the resources to hire McKinsey (and intimidated at the prospect of discussing such a big problem with all those IQ points), I recently tried the other two. They were remarkably similar raising the question: “why are we not already taking these steps?”

The Economist is reliably practical and anti-politician so its thoughtful prescriptions were unsurprising. The surprise came in the remarks of career internationalist, Haass, at a recent lunch followed by an airplane read of his short book.

Described as having a “passion for solutions” and “expecting arrows from both left and right,” Haass argues that America has over reached abroad and under performed at home. He suggests rebalancing these priorities and distinguishes rebalancing from isolationism.

Now is the time because we face no threat of the magnitude of either Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia. Our efforts should be devoted to rebuilding domestic capacity to enable us to respond to such a threat in the future.

Keep Europe boring. At least nothing bad is happening.

Do less in the Middle East because we have nothing to show for our investment in remaking other countries in our image.

Watch for rising nationalism in Asia as economic growth slows.

Arguably, the biggest international threat is our ally, Pakistan – the world’s nuclear Walmart.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch,

  1. Fix our long-term fiscal trajectory before the markets do it for us. (To us?) Entitlements and interest cost could crowd out everything else.
  2. Rethink education especially the idea that for most it ends at age 22. We can no longer afford to under perform as we are.
  3. Rebuild shabby infrastructure especially though public/private partnerships and, yes, user fees.
  4. Make proper distinctions in government budgeting between investment and spending. Manage the two differently. The sequester is public policy at its dumbest.
  5. Redesign immigration as a recruiting process not an excluding process. Our border security problem is a fiction because net migration is zero. That is what happens when Mexico’s economy is growing faster than ours.
  6. Fix the political mess in Washington where special interests crowd out general interests.
  7. Try Presidential leadership instead of Presidential partisanship.

Why is this important? Because the stakes are high.

Borders are no longer barriers against inflows of people, disease, cyber warfare or a host of other threats. Unlike Vegas, what happens “there” no longer stays there.

If America does not lead the world, nobody else will. The alternative is chaos and that chaos will cross our border as well.

We have a welcome international respite and we should use the opportunity to strengthen ourselves before it ends.

Want to know a secret? If we did ask McKinsey to undertake the project, odds are they too would begin with The Economist and Richard Haass. Both offer a good start.

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Haven Pell

At the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Without hesitation, Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

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