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As I See It

Is independence still possible in the good ol’ USA?

Independence Day is our nation’s most cherished secular holiday. We celebrate the vision and courage of our forefathers who declared that this country wasn’t beholden to anyone. How incredibly brave they were to break ties with England, one of the most formidable military powers of the day, and strike out on their own!

No intelligent gambler would have given favorable odds for a poorly-equipped, barely-trained colonial militia facing off against England’s military might and prevailing. But, we did. The colonials beat those incredible odd, and all of us living in America today are beneficiaries of that bravery and vision. We owe much to those who have struggled to insure American independence over all these many years.

For a century or more America protected that independence by practicing an isolationist policy. We stayed out of the affairs of other countries and demanded that they stay out of ours. That began to change in the 20th Century, when we flexed our military muscle and found that we were a major world power — and we liked that feeling. Plus, through our involvement in World War II, we developed bonds with other countries that continued after the peace was won. Our days as an isolated nation were over for good.

Globalization rapidly advancing

American companies established foreign operations all around the globe. The technology revolution and NAFTA pushed America further onto the international playing field. These events opened communication and markets that made it easy to further intertwine us with other countries and become a little less independent every step of the way.

In view of how much things have changed and how rapidly change continues to impact our lives, it’s fair to ask just how independent America really is today? Do we still have the firm commitment to independence that burned in the hearts of our founders or have we given into the temptation of convenience over principle?

Let’s look at a couple of potential chinks in our independence armor.

A few of our costly dependencies

Clearly, we are dependent on the Middle East to supply our need for oil, particularly Saudi Arabia. Let’s face it, they’ve got us over a barrel, an oil barrel. Further, we have allowed our oil refining capacity to deteriorate past the point that even drilling more oil wells won’t provide independence in the short term. Our love affair with big, gas-guzzling automobiles, commuting from suburbia and overall disregard for energy consumption has chipped away at our national independence.

In a somewhat similar vein, our demand for cheap stuff has driven many of our American jobs to other countries with lower labor costs.

We preach the virtue of “Made in America” while we’re buying stuff made in China, Mexico and India. The net drain on manufacturing jobs in Mississippi has exceeded 45,000 jobs over the decade since NAFTA was signed into law. Those higher paying jobs have been somewhat replaced by decidedly lower paying service jobs. The impact on Mississippi has been particularly devastating since we had a larger percentage of our labor force engaged in manufacturing than almost any other state.

While we fawn over sweatshop conditions in third-world countries, we marvel at how much foreign stuff our dollar buys. In truth, if we embargoed foreign commerce and restored the American jobs that have been outsourced, our economy would fall into shambles as prices escalated through the roof. It’s great to criticize cheap labor as long as it doesn’t interfere with our enjoyment of cheap stuff.

We crave our independence, but it appears to be for sale if the price is right.

Keeping us strong and free

Is independence possible today? No, not in the way it was thought of in 1776. The world is transitioning toward interdependence where countries are dependent on each other more and more every day. A return to isolationism is not practical any more.

To keep America strong and free we have to find a way to share a bit of our prosperity with other countries while maintaining our position as the world’s beacon of freedom.

People who are truly free will always find a way to change with the times without sacrificing their right to self-determination.

In my view the strongest threats to our society is the foreign ownership of U.S. debt, our dependency on foreign oil and the diminution of the middle class.

We’re financing our huge federal deficit with bonds that are being bought up by foreign investors. Scripture and common sense warn us that the debtor is slave to the creditor. As unconservative as it may sound, we need to get the U.S. budget deficit under control by either cutting expenses or raising taxes. We’re engaged in an expensive war and we’re mortgaging our future to pay for it. Bad idea.

Through domestic exploration, expanded oil refining capacity and energy conservation we need to gradually lessen our dependence on foreign oil. In a sense, the higher gasoline prices are forcing us to be more aware of energy utilization and become increasingly conservation minded. I believe this trend toward energy responsibility will continue since there’s little hope of gasoline prices going much below $2 a gallon.

The third issue is much more complex.

In Mississippi and in other parts of the country, we’re losing high-paying manufacturing jobs and replacing those jobs with lower-paying service sector jobs. In truth, most service jobs won’t support a middle-class lifestyle.

As we continue to transition to a global economy, there is virtually no chance that the lost manufacturing jobs will return. We have no choice but to re-train our workforce to qualify them for higher-paying jobs. That effort is currently underway here in Mississippi and all across America and must continue indefinitely until skill levels are substantially raised. When the workforce is ready, the new jobs will come.

We will have achieved success when, once again, a middle-class family breadwinner can support a family with a modest lifestyle, provide for the children’s education and set aside a small nest egg for retirement.

These are big goals. However, once we pay off our foreign creditors, become energy self-sufficient and restore our workers to the middle class we will once again be free and independent. A struggle to be sure, but as a nation committed to success, we can do it.

Thought for the Moment

Goodness is the only investment that never fails. — Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

Joe D. Jones, CPA (retired), is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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