Nov/Dec 2009

State News: August 2009



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Moving Past ‘Dead Ideas’

By Mary Branham, CSG Managing Editor
If you had asked anyone in 1928 whether the federal government should try to help families alleviate poverty or help tide them over when the breadwinner lost his job, the answer would have been no.
Just a few short years later, most people considered those ideals just common sense, author Matt Miller told members attending the closing plenary session at The Council of State Governments’ Spring Conference in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, Monday.
That’s an example Miller used to illustrate how ideas change over time and how society moves past “dead ideas” and onto new ways.
Miller argues in his book, The Tyranny of Dead Ideas: Letting Go Of The Old Ways Of Thinking To Unleash A New Prosperity, that the U.S. is in a position now that will force us to deal with these changing times.
“We’re not going to have anything like the Great Depression,” said Miller. He’s a believer in “spaghetti economics,” the term used to describe the government’s creative bag of tricks to keep the recession from becoming much worse. “We are literally throwing trillions of dollars up against the wall … enough of it will stick to avoid a 1930s style calamity.”
But he said Americans will be forced to bury the dead ideas he identifies if the country is to move out of the current recession and on to more prosperous times.
“I believe the battle to save the economy and our future really does start inside our heads,” he said.
The six dead ideas Miller focuses on in his book are:
  • Our children will earn more than we do. Miller said this idea speaks to today’s economic situation and the problem it poses for advancement of many in our society.
  • Free trade is good no matter how many people get hurt. Miller said economists in both political parties hyped the benefits of free trade and downplayed the costs and the number of people who would lose out because of it.
  • The company should take care of you … employer-based health care is best. Miller said this concept made sense 50 years ago when families had a single breadwinner who stayed in a job for 35 years and health care costs were 5 percent of gross domestic product. But now—with health care costs headed for 20 percent of GDP and people changing jobs regularly—that doesn’t work, Miller said. “Health care costs are killing business competitiveness,” he said.
  • Taxes hurt the economy and they’re always too high. Miller said while the federal government has cut taxes in the short-term, no matter who is elected, taxes will rise in the next decade. With the number of baby boomers retiring, he said, and the Medicare and Social Security programs facing a $50 trillion unfunded liability, “the math doesn’t work with current levels.”
  • Schools are a local matter. Miller said the federal government needs to be more involved in funding schools and setting standards for education. That will give everyone an equal chance at success, he said. “Local control and funding perpetuates a grave injustice to the poorest kids in the country,” he said.
  • Money follows merit. Miller said many people believe people end up in the economic situation they deserve. But he points out the Wall Street bankers who contributed to the current economic situation walked away with million dollar bonuses illustrating “rigid systems that are set up to reward mediocrity and even failure.”
Miller outlined a three-step process to move forward: Identify the dead ideas that matter, understand the story behind each idea and make an effort to reach for new ways of thinking. Miller also includes seven “destined ideas”—those things that will help move the country forward.

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