A fierce battle is being fought between the economic interests of those who have monetized health care - the pharmaceutical companies, the health insurers and health care providers like doctors and nurses - and millions of Americans who are teetering on the edge of economic insolvency because of our country's unsustainable rise in the cost of health care. The stakes are undeniably high, as are the emotions of those who argue both sides of the issue.
On one thing we can all agree. To fail to address this issue is to destroy the long term health of our economy.
In addition to that issue, however, we are also emerging from the worst recession since the Great Depression. Because financial markets ceased to function at the end of last year, an enormous amount of money was provided to commercial banks (and investment banks who changed their charters to avail themselves of this money) in order to prevent a financial disaster. This disaster was caused by securitizing and selling the risk of poorly underwritten mortgages, and the sales - and disastrous effects - were worldwide.
This problem began in the late 1990s, with the dissolution of the Glass-Steagall Act, that separated commercial and investment banking. It appears that we expect, however, that this decade long problem-in-the-making is solved immediately.
"What is taking so long?" is the predominant economic question.
We have, apparently, become a nation convinced that there are simple, quick solutions to everything.
We continue to face declines in manufacturing, rising unemployment, plummeting housing prices and a distinct lack of consumer confidence. On the bright side, inflation is almost non-existent, interest rates are at decade lows, and capital markets show unmistakable signs of predicting an end to our recession. We are working on financial reform and the excesses of the past seem, at least for the present, to have subsided.
It's a mixed bag. We will not suddenly pop out of this quagmire in a month or two. That is clear.
It is also clear that we will politicize economic issues. We will criticize the Economic Team, point to rising deficits, scream about banker's bonuses and wonder why we're not back to normal seven months from the inauguration of the new administration.
Yet, not one of these issues is directly relevant.
Rising deficits? Yes. Was there an alternative to a huge cash infusion into the economy? No.
Banker's bonuses? Yes. Are they a significant percentage of the "bailout money?" No.
What, then, should we be discussing?
- Financial Regulation - Plug up the holes that caused excesses without unduly burdening the financial system
- Long Term Employment Growth Policy - Some jobs, including much manufacturing, are gone forever. Reeducating the work force for long term employment is vital
- Deficit Reduction and National Debt Repayment - Once we've stabilized the economy and gotten back to work (in about a year), we need to raise taxes. Yes, we all need to pay more taxes to reduce the current deficit and repay the national debt. It is as big a security issue as reliance on foreign oil.
There you have it. It's not a pretty story, but at least we're talking about the real issues.
As always, your comments are most welcome.