OP-ED | Of Course, It’s All Related
Our political conversation is an old dog with no new tricks.
The party in power says the minority party has no solutions and the situation was worse when the other guys were in charge. The minority party smugly asks whether you are happy with the status quo. When power shifts, the red and blue folks nod, change playbooks and assume the strategy of the adversary.
It seems as if there is simply no way to agree — until you realize that we already do.
Everyone’s goals are to have full employment, a robust economy, and no need for social services. However, it always seems we are engaged in a false argument about whether we invest in people or the economy, as if the two don’t overlap.
I believe the root cause of the majority of our societal issues are economic and require economic solutions. Some would possibly argue that our issues are more human in nature and we should continue to invest in people.
The truth is that there is no difference.
Go down the list: education, housing, crime, unemployment. At the core, these are intensely economic issues. Yes, bad things can happen to rich people, but they are more likely to happen when you are poor.
Today, our social services are increasingly about attempting to recreate the advantages derived from financial security. Early childhood programming and workforce development being two obvious examples.
Even the most cynical acknowledge that children raised in poverty are raised with a distinct educational disadvantage. They also are increasingly raised in communities where there are no jobs. These two factors are related, as employers do not move to communities with no workers. This degrades the revenue base and taxes are raised, again making things worse.
In combination, people unprepared to work and the lack of jobs where they live are the seed and stem of the same poisonous vine. In tandem, the lack of preparedness and jobs will continue to grow and strangle the quality of life in our poorest communities. The big picture is that this will also inhibit our state’s ability to function because of the impact on state revenues.
Honestly, if you don’t care most about the economy, then you don’t really care about early childhood education, poverty, crime, and affordable housing — and vice versa. It is all related.
The challenge to improve our economy should provide the focus that comes with a crisis, like war or silly comments from a college writing professor. If you view our economy as the central issue, it should unite us. The failure of this core issue to unite is a failure of a political system that so clearly feeds on divisiveness. The only solution rests with the electorate.
What is missing is an intense — and honest — analysis of how we invest taxpayer dollars and a dissection of how our present $20 billion annual investment is performing. We have started to see some of this work from groups like CT Voices, CBIA, CT21, and CCEA. It is surprising how often these groups agree, even though they purport to represent different constituencies. Simply stated, we are all connected. The resources exist in our state and voters need to pay attention to data and analysis.
Over a year ago, I wrote an editorial that referenced the effort of six states that combined resources to examine the revenue crisis sweeping our nation. The State Budget Crisis Task Force represents more than one-third of our nation’s population. The states represented have economies larger and more diverse than Connecticut. The task force concluded that the revenue/need crisis is “a threat to social order.” I was comforted to see recently that a senior member of the task force was in Connecticut on a panel talking about the issue of sustainability, the topic of my last editorial.
The core of the problem is that a bad economy generates a need for services and a deficiency of revenues. When a state’s revenue structure no longer supports the obligations we reasonably expect, that state’s government is arguably not sustainable. Added to this problem is the political fact that a poor economy undermines the public’s belief that tax dollars are being spent efficiently. As a result, there is an overwhelming belief that increased taxation would be funding a failed system.
Finger pointing feeds the problem. Red blames blue, switch positions. Nothing changes. In the words of the great American philosopher Donald Draper, if you don’t like the conversation, change it.
Brian O’Shaughnessy of New Haven is a principal in the firm Community Impact Strategies Ltd. The mission of CIS is to facilitate the investment of public and private capital for the purpose of creating measureable improvements in human productivity and living conditions.