on Change
By Robert Ross



What’s the old saying? “Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it.” Today, watching the presidential candidates, the word d’jour is “change.” Both political parties are hastily framing their campaigns around this vague slogan. Tax hikes — on someone else — declarations that conflicts will be no more, and mutterings of an ambiguous “new day” are echoed by the presidential hopefuls. “It’s time for a change,” and “I’m the change candidate” are heard nightly on the cable news shows.

Change undefined, can be deceptive. Webster’s defines change as: “to undergo transformation, transition, or substitution.” For our presidential campaigners the word change implies newness, a new beginning, and “out with the old ways.” It’s hard to argue with an undefined idyllic “new beginning.” But change left undefined, can also be a recipe for disaster.

We are at a major economic turning point in our society, an inflection point, perhaps the Mother of all Economic Inflection Points. Change is being imposed upon us without much warning. Unfortunately it’s not the “new day” change for which we yearn.

* April 2008, Jefferson County, Alabama. Officials have laid the groundwork for the largest municipal bankruptcy in the nation’s history.     
* May 2008, the Case-Shiller Home Price Index indicates that housing prices have dropped for 30 straight months.       
* May 2008, the city of Vallejo, California, declares bankruptcy; rising cost and lower revenues are the reasons given.
* May 2008, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declares that the best way to solve the state’s budget deficit, is to go deeper into debt by floating a bond issue.
* 2007 — David Walker, who recently resigned as Comptroller General of the GAO,  compared the present-day United States with the Roman Empire in its decline, saying “the U.S. government is on a ‘burning platform’ of unsustainable policies and practices with fiscal deficits, expensive over commitments to government-provided healthcare, swelling Medicare costs, the enormous expense of a prospective universal health care system, immigration . . .”

David Walker spent much of his time as Comptroller General, crisscrossing the nation (including a 60 Minutes segment) in an attempt to warn of the consequences of an irresponsible fiscal policy.
Frustrated by lack of concern by politicians and the public, Mr. Walker recently has taken the position as CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation (
The mission of this foundation is to bring attention to the following areas:

* “Unsustainable entitlement benefits. As 78 million baby boomers retire, America’s unfunded entitlement promises (i.e., Medicare and Social Security) exceed three times the annual GDP of the country”      
* “Unsustainable current account deficits, primarily accounted for by unprecedented trade deficits. Now at twice previous record levels, these leave America dangerously dependent on foreign capital and require America to save much more both at the national and personal levels”  
* “Unsustainable and ballooning healthcare costs. These costs are now more than twice as high per capita as the rest of the developed world with no appreciable differences in health outcomes or longevity. And, this healthcare system leaves 47 million Americans uninsured”
* “Unsustainable and gluttonous energy consumption . . .”
* “Unsustainable competitive gaps in our educational system. America’s economic leadership in an increasing competitive global economy is not sustainable when half of the young in our urban areas and 30 percent of all young Americans do not graduate from high school...”       
* “The undeniable, transcendent threat to our collective future: The potential for nuclear and biological warfare materials falling into the hands of terrorists.” David Walker and the Peterson Foundation have focused, like a laser beam, on the pertinent issues of our time; the issues that need immediate delineation by our presidential candidates. These are the real “change” issues.

Whistling past the grave yard
As the financial underpinnings of our society erode, our attention seems to be focused, not on defining the change that is necessary, but on American Idol, Indiana Jones and the implied change — the happy days — that will be ushered in with a new president.

On January 20, 2009, a new President and Vice President will take the oath of office. The week of inaugural balls and parties will begin on approximately January 15, 2009 and end the evening of January 20.

Along with the smiling faces, there will be banners and balloons proclaiming “change is here!” and “a new day has arrived.” But, in the weeks following the grand celebrations, the changes that David Walker eloquently spelled out to the nation will undoubtedly go unacknowledged.

The problems confronting the 44th president will be the issues that are currently confronting the 43rd president: the economy and deepening recession, deficit spending, unfunded government commitments like Social Security and Medicare, inflation and the struggle against terrorism.

Under any ordinary circumstances, these challenges could be resolved by time, a willing Congress, strategic thinking and constraints on monetary spending. Unfortunately, we do not have the luxury of time, a willing Congress, strategic thinkers in positions of influence nor the discipline to constrain monetary spending.

The nation has become dramatically polarized and impatient. We’re fatigued over the war in Iraq, and flummoxed by sound bites coming from our politicians. We want something new, something different, and appear to be willing to accept candidates with undefined slogans of “change,” regardless of the consequences.

What’s the old saying? “Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it.”

Robert Ross can be reached at:

Copyright  2008 by Robert Ross, all rights reserved


Return to the July/August Index page