The best-laid plans
The future is not the realization of our hopes and dreams, a warning to mend our ways, an adventure to inspire us, nor a romance to touch our hearts. The future is just another place in spacetime. -- Robin Hanson
There is much to be said about the Simpson-Bowles Fiscal Commission Proposal. I’d like to start at the beginning. The co-chairs begin – rightly so – by stating their values. Front and center is the notion that:
- We have a patriotic duty to come together on a plan that will make America better off tomorrow than it is today
- America cannot be great if we go broke. Our economy will not grow and our country will not be able to compete without a plan to get this crushing debt burden off our back.
- Throughout our history, Americans have always been willing to sacrifice to make our nation stronger over the long haul. That’s the promise of America: to give our children and grandchildren a better life.
- American families have spent the past 2 years making tough choices in their own lives. They expect us to do the same. The American people are counting on us to put politics aside, pull together not pull apart, and agree on a plan to live within our means and make America strong for the long haul.
Do we have a patriotic duty to come together on a plan that will make America better off tomorrow? Is such an endeavor even wise? Strategic planning stormed on to the scene in corporate America during the sixties. However, as Henry Mintzberg wrote 15 years ago:
Planning systems were expected to produce the best strategies as well as step-by-step instructions for carrying out those strategies so that the doers, the managers of businesses, could not get them wrong. As we now know, planning has not exactly worked out that way.
While certainly not dead, strategic planning has long since fallen from its pedestal.
We should have a national conversation on what, broadly speaking, we expect of our government in terms of Social Security, health care, defense and the plethora of smaller government services. We’ll want to sketch out how much those expectations might cost, and it’s even prudent to throw around ideas about how we might pay for those things.
What’s almost surely folly is the idea that we can choose specific fiscal proposals today that will safeguard prosperity tomorrow. It’s even worse to drape such notions in the flag and the notion that our grandchildren’s tomorrow turns on whether we choose the right plan today.
Karl Smith is an assistant professor of economics and government at the University of North Carolina and a blogger at ModeledBehavior.com.
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