Guest Column

Don’t count on government for the American Dream

June 26, 2015
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Although the 114th Congress is active, the looming fiscal crisis is one-half-year closer.

There is no better solution to address this mandatory spending crush than a robust economy. And there is no better solution to a shaky economy and aggressive trading competitors than an energized, educated workforce.

Yet, the recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows us part of the reason why footage of riots fills our media.

Our national ethos of self-reliance demands we make the most of every human resource. I admire the works of 18th century statesman Edmund Burke, and he was mostly correct in claiming it was not the government’s responsibility to provide for the necessities of life and “labour is a commodity, which will rise and fall according to the laws of supply and demand.”

But could he explain the BLS indicating rising African-American unemployment amid overall falling U.S. unemployment?

We should all understand the implications of higher minority unemployment: more welfare, international trade disadvantages and its impact on our national psyche. Moreover, these numbers are unlikely to improve unless we re-think our policies.

Are we even absorbing these implications? The welfare dollars alone are a drain on potential R&D and other investments, but the lost human capital is also morally tragic for this nation.

Across America our cities are rife with frustrated, angry youth who are languishing. Television highlights the divisions of those of us who have a chance at the American Dream and those who feel left out altogether.

Disaffected, fatherless, urban youth don’t believe they can access this dream. Government-sponsored aid/education programs leave them short of the skill set they need to succeed in the workplace. On the left, fingers point to the animus of the police force and predatory businesses. On the right, fingers point to a culture steeped in gangster rap and destructive messages. Whichever side is right, current policies are failing.

Rejecting status quo policies and continued federal funding is the critical first step to reversing the cycle.

The role of government in this effort has shown dubious results. LBJ’s 50-year-old Great Society programs ($20 trillion has been spent since 1965 for 80-some federal aid programs and social services to low income people) have not solved the problems.

While government provides some basic needs through its food, housing and medical programs, these programs have not effectively enabled people to compete in the job market and achieve self-sufficiency through work. Most importantly, no government program can replace fatherhood and a stable home front.

On the other hand, we cannot always rely on the goodness of others necessitating a government security net that guides and protects but does not circumvent our need for self-sufficiency.

Significant entrepreneurial and industry involvement with government could be the solution. Congress should make it easier for small business creation in low-income communities — too often, the smaller the business the higher the degree of difficulty to benefit from federal programs. Moreover, policies that promote locally owned businesses create more community jobs and better wages and benefits than some national chains. The Small Business Administration calculates small businesses pay an effective federal tax rate that is several points higher on average than that paid by national companies.

Self-reliance, hard work and the entrepreneurial spirit are fundamental to job creation and healthier communities. It is this work ethic and lack of faith in centralized authority that gave rise to the success of Grand Rapids, from the early fur-traders to modern-day furniture makers and the economically diverse sectors today.

West Michigan may not provide the only model for cities in turmoil, but it serves as a great example of a place where children, youth, adults and families can succeed.

If we are to compete internationally, we need to consider Burke’s words. Government programs aren’t completely effective. Only through robust interest and action from community entrepreneurs and industry leaders can we convince today’s youth they have a chance at the American Dream.

Recent riots cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars and a 10 percent African-American unemployment rate costs us billions in welfare and adversely affects our international competitiveness. So when the rioting starts, if our heart doesn’t induce us to be a part of the solution, remember it makes financial sense to do so.

Adam Smith, another admirer of Burke, wrote, “The real tragedy of the poor is the poverty of their aspirations.”

Grand Rapids native Steve Carey is president of Potomac Strategic Development Co. in Washington, D.C.

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