Empires die due to a lack of ambition. With no more worlds to conquer, lassitude and infighting stymie real discourse and a willingness to take chances. Our flat economy is symbolic of our collective will, and the U.S. is a B- nation in a world of flunkies. "Good enough" is the new upward mobility.
Ben Stein joined Breakout to discuss two recent fistfights that nearly shut down D.C. The first had to do with relatively minor tax increases for the wealthy. The other had to do with a proposal to raise the minimum wage, which would increase the price of doing business without improving the lot of the supposed beneficiaries.
"We have gotten to the point that the discussion of taxes is just a joke," Stein scoffs. In his lifetime he's watched the top tax rate fall from 90% (when he was a kid) to 70% (when he was writing speeches for Nixon) to a situation where no one actually pays the listed tax rate — but the government still shuts down over the prospect of a 3% or 4% hike for the wealthy.
"Really, high-income people can afford to pay a lot more taxes," he shouts, in a naked betrayal of his class. Of course they could, but no one is willing to dump cash into a system that never seems to kick anything back in the form of services.
Our conversation over an appropriate minimum wage is just as absurd. For a second-term, liberal President to say with a straight face that he's seeking a minimum wage that "lifts families out of poverty" and then propose a rate that does nothing of the sort, isn't just oily governance, it's evidence of a rotting society.
The question isn't whether minimum wage should be $8 or $9. The conversation should focus on whether or not menial labor warrants a living wage or if the purpose of such jobs is to serve as the first rung on a professional ladder. A country needs to either dedicate itself to providing socialist-like benefits to the downtrodden or come up with another plan.
None of which addresses education, which has been largely absent from political debate for the last five years. The point of "public school" is to provide a system through which the public can ready themselves to contribute to society. Does our school system succeed in doing this? That depends almost entirely on your ZIP code.
We're failing ourselves by not demanding honest conversations about antiquated problems in our own backyard. As a whole, America's school system is a tragedy. There's no upward or downward mobility except in extreme cases. Democrats and Republicans are not willing to discuss anything that will change that fact. If either side got everything they wanted, the country would look more or less like it does today.
Longtime Republican Stein summarizes the lack of ambition in a bi-partisan bow: "President Kennedy said, 'A rising tide lifts all boats.' But it doesn't lift the boats that are underwater. There's too much of America that's underwater, and that's the real problem."