Recent events in Iraq, Syria, and Eastern Europe have sparked a renewed public conversation on the topic of national security. Extremism abroad and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction should be a real concern. However we cannot allow ourselves to become distracted from the very real concerns we are facing on our own doorstep.
The greatest threat to our national security is not a foreign enemy. The greatest threat to our security is the growing economic gap between the richest and poorest Americans. The crumbling of our infrastructure and growing social imbalance is weakening the foundation of our Republic.
Studies have shown that wealth inequality in America is at its greatest level since 1928. We are not in a great depression; but it is dubious to believe that we have fully recovered from the great recession of 2008.
At a recent economic conference Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen stated the following: “By some estimates, income and wealth inequality are near their highest levels in the past hundred years, much higher than the average during that time span and probably higher than for much of American history before then.”
History has shown us that wealth inequality creates instability and possible collapse. At the very minimum it erodes internal security and freedom. If the Roman Empire could not sustain itself, its naïve and possibly arrogant to believe we are any different than past great powers.
Modern day Brazil serves as a warning of what could happen in a society where wealth inequality persists for generations. Brazil has one of the largest disparities of wealth in the world. The diminished middle class of Brazil has become the target of criminal gangs, muggings, and kidnappings in exchange for money on a daily basis.
A robust middle class is the cornerstone of national security. Our nation must begin the long process of addressing the systemic problems that plague our financial and educational system. For decades we have given up sustainability for short-term comfort.
The Student Loan Bubble
Affordable education should be our first priority.
The President has put an admirable emphasis on young people going to college. But words are empty if we do not have an honest conversation concerning the exponential cost of tuition, and the lack of full time employment for graduates.
Although well intentioned; the increase in federal subsidies has contributed to the exponential cost in attending college. Instead of providing success, it has led toward a neo indentured servanthood for many adults.
For-profit colleges that provide dubious value for students must be scrutinized with a greater level of oversight.
Economic events have brought about an unprecedented amount of government stimulus in order to expand credit in hopes of kick starting the economy. Quantitative easing may have temporarily delayed any economic collapse, but much of our resources have been squandered through a perpetual state of war.
The current low interest rate environment is the ideal time for our nation to begin a massive investment strategy in order to propel us forward into the future.
Economist Richard Duncan suggests that the only way out of our current solution is massive investment in transformative 21st century technologies. Richard Duncan points out that government spending isn’t the most pressing issue. The real issue is squandered opportunities and wasteful spending.
Sustainable growth through investment in solar, nanotechnology, infrastructure, and clean energy might be the only path forward. The Achilles heel of American policy is our dependence on foreign oil from unstable regions of the world. This puts a tremendous burden on our military. Furthermore, the environmental destruction and geo political tensions will eventually outweigh any marginal benefits we may receive in the near future.
Modernization of our transit system is a key building block in moving towards an energy efficient society.
It is a national tragedy that countries such as China are capable of building high-speed rail, while we rely on subpar transit. Modernization must include high capacity rail lines connecting regions. Such a program would not only fuel economic growth; it would employ thousands of engineers, contractors, and manual laborers. The economic dividends would be tremendous.
It is time we reinvest in space exploration.
Congress appropriated $17.5 billion for NASA’s 2015 fiscal year budget. In comparison it costs an estimated $212 million per day for military operations in Afghanistan, and $10 million per day for operations against the Islamic State in Iraq. Trillions of dollars have been thrown at the failed State in Iraq.
It is time that we are honest with ourselves. The prolonged military presence in the Middle East has been counterproductive. The amount of money we spend on our space program is paltry in comparison with our defense budget.
The Apollo program brought tremendous dividends to our society in terms of technical and scientific advances. Multiple spin-off inventions were a direct result of our commitment to NASA. More importantly, it inspired a generation of Americans to pursue science and engineering. As a nation, we have lost collective pride in something bigger than ourselves. Future missions to the Moon and Mars would provide inspiration for the 21st century.
Coming together to Solve the Problem
The Government is only part of the solution.
Collectively we have forgotten the definition of shared sacrifice. Many negative traits have been attributed towards the Millennial generation. However, recent studies have shown that Millennials tend to be more interested in cooperative work environments, are team oriented, and volunteer at much higher rates than previous generations.
Cooperation despite differences will prove to be the greatest asset in coming decades. Private entities should make a renewed commitment towards providing a work environment that values employees. Corporate profits are at record levels; yet unpaid internships and job insecurity is rampant in the private sector.
Redistribution of wealth is not the answer, but private entities must step up their commitment to workers by providing livable wages, benefits, and paid internships for the appropriate level of work.
Renewed commitment to affordable education, transformative technology, reliable transportation, and secure jobs are paramount.
Leaders must not merely manage crisis; they must cast a vision for the future. As a nation we can no longer afford to kick the can down the road for future generations.
The misallocation of resources is the greatest threat to our national security. We risk losing the core of what makes America the land of opportunity.
What will future historians write about us? That choice is in our hands today.