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What works and what doesn’t

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Here is a provocative piece [2] by William Deresiewicz in the New York Times (HT: Dan Pink [3]) on the symbolic power of a military uniform in today’s America. Toward the end of the piece, Deresiewicz writes:

As the national narrative shifts from the war on terror to the specter of decline, the uniform performs another psychic function. The military is can-do, the one institution — certainly the one public institution — that still appears to work. The schools, the highways, the post office; Amtrak, FEMA, NASA and the T.S.A. — not to mention the banks, the newspapers, the health care system, and above all, Congress: nothing seems to function anymore, except the armed forces. They’re like our national football team — and undisputed champs, to boot — the one remaining sign of American greatness.

I would suggest that the institution that gave us FUBAR and SNAFU doesn’t really perform anything like we might like to think it does. We do more than romanticize the uniform, we romanticize the armed forces generally. But what is more interesting to me is Deresiewicz’s list of stuff that doesn’t work very well:

The schools, the highways, the post office; Amtrak, FEMA, NASA and the T.S.A. — not to mention the banks, the newspapers, the health care system, and above all, Congress

Except for the newspapers, they have one thing in common, they aren’t very competitive. They are either run by the government or they are ruined by government intervention–government intervention that removes the power of competition.

But newspapers are the exception that proves the rule. Yes, newspapers don’t function very well any more. With the exception of a handful of papers (WSJ, NYT, WaPo) they are mediocre. But who cares about newspapers? I care about information and being informed. There has never been a better time to be alive than today if you’re interested in information.

What is working well? The Apple Store, access to food and clothing, private high schools, Amazon.com and everywhere else that there is competition.

As the economy slinks along or dips down, we’re going to hear continued talk of the decline of America. But what has always made America great is its economic system–a system that let’s competition work. If we want to be great again, all we have to do is remember what made us great before.

Our biggest challenge as a nation is our political system. We have overpromised and a democracy that ignores its Constitution isn’t very adept at taking away goodies from the masses. I am very worried about how that is going to turn out. We need to share the pain very widely and that too is not the strong suit of democracy.

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