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2011 New Years Political Resolutions

Sean Evans, Chair and Associate Professor of Political Science
Jan 8, 2011

As we begin a new year, we traditionally take stock of the past year and make New Year's resolutions to improve ourselves. Here are some societal resolutions I hope we make.

First, conservatives should resolve not just to reduce government but to make government work better. The large deficits, national debt and our unfunded liabilities in entitlement programs ensure that we must scale back entitlement programs, reduce spending and raise taxes sometime soon to balance our budget.

Conservatives, especially tea partiers, in their haste to reduce the size of government, ignore the critical role that government plays in our lives. Our economy is sluggish, schools are failing, families struggling and we continue to fund those who hate us and try to kill us by remaining dependent on foreign oil. Yet government can promote economic growth and stable families, reform schools and increase energy independence through better regulations, legislative reforms and changing incentive structures for individuals, faith-based organizations and corporations.

Second, progressives should resolve to balance the budget to save the progressive vision of a fairer, more just society. This vision requires greater regulation of business and government investment in education, health care and the environment. This government intervention also requires high public confidence in government to solve problems.

The typical progressive suggestion of raising taxes on the rich and reducing defense spending is insufficient. The added revenue from higher taxes (approximately $40 billion for 2011) and additional expenditures from a 25 percent cut in defense spending (approximately $137 billion) is a drop in the bucket of our $1.3 trillion deficit.

We must focus on entitlement spending, which makes up 63 percent of the budget. The growth in the budget is also in entitlement programs, such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and will increase from about 8 percent of gross domestic product in 2006 to 12 percent in 2012 and 17 percent by 2035 due to the retirement of the Baby Boomers and increasing life expectancy.

Moreover, spending on interest on the debt leaps from $251 billion in 2011 to $840 billion in 2020. That is wasted money that could be spent on investments in education and training, infrastructure, health care and greening the economy. Balancing the budget, though, will require progressives to propose raising the retirement age, raising Medicare premiums, changing benefit formulas for Social Security and possibly means-testing entitlement programs.

If progressives fail to reduce government spending now, how can they expect the public to trust them in the future when failing to eliminate the deficit leads to slower economic growth, higher interest rates and a lower standard of living?

Finally, let's resolve to participate more and participate more civilly. The quality of our representation is directly related to the quality of our participation. The more we participate, the more government reflects our priorities. Just as important, let's be more civil. Those who disagree with us are neither evil nor stupid, but people with different values.

The change we all want is there — if we are willing to make it.

This column originally appeared in the Jan. 7 edition of The Jackson Sun