Before the first yellowed leaves of fall, about this time every four years, a world-renowned American intellectual will throw in the towel: this election is a hopeless distraction, a gaudy sport for those without the guts to give up on America.
With the two presidential tickets complete and after barely one week on the road, Jeffrey Sachs tells the world: “America has lost the Battle over Government.” His case in the Financial Times against his home base rests on its fiscal aggregates and it’s two-party system:
“Mr Ryan’s budget is nothing short of heartless in the face of the dire crisis facing America’s poor. It is also reckless, guaranteed to leave millions of children without the quality of education and skills they will need as adults. Yet the sad truth is that the Democrats offer no progressive alternative. Both parties are accomplices to the premeditated asphyxiation of the state.
“Viewed from an international perspective, the constricted range of the US fiscal debate is striking. Total US government revenues (combining federal, state and local governments) in 2011 came in at about 32 per cent of GDP. This compares with an average of 44 per cent in the EU and 50 per cent in northern Europe.
“Only a big political realignment, perhaps spurred by a third party bold enough to campaign on free social media rather than expensive television advertising, is likely to break the status quo. Until then, the demise of public goods and services will continue apace.”
The man’s pessimism is highly selective.
Sachs found it worthwhile to make a living through the 90s advising post-communist Poland and Russia—and their entrenched bureaucracies—about how to create modern capitalist democracies.
He’s doing the same today in nearly a dozen states in Africa.
America, somehow, is different.
It’s strong enough to keep being poorly governed and too stupid to do anything about it. It’s progressives—Sachs and his unaligned and uncontaminated students—might as well wait for Ryan’s reckless promises to make matters work. After all, there’s no worthy progressive alternative asking for my help.
Sachs’s macro numbers on public spending prove next to nothing and offer no excuse to give up. Progressive Canada can run an enviable public health care system with almost exactly the same level of public spending as in the US. Furthermore, spending in government (plus or minus a percent or two) a third of the biggest economy in the world still matters, desperately.
Each spender and each decision-maker elected by the people still makes a serious difference.
If numbers bore you and leave you depressed about the USA, recall what happened yesterday in Chicago. Tens of thousands of young people joined a mile-long line to enter the Obama government’s temporary and limited amnesty program for illegal immigrants.
The status quo for those young people still includes the American Dream and terrible dangers.
Sachs, with his consultant’s notebook, should ask a few of those kids, and a few public health care providers as well, whether the 2008 presidential election mattered and whether this November’s will matter too.