Friday, November 27, 2009

Summoning America's Creative Will

One of the things the current health care debate has shown is the depth of denial regarding our country's economic problems.

Rather than understand last year's near financial collapse as a clarion call to rethink our economy, health care has shown a near irrational commitment to the idea that America's fiscal house simply needs minor home repair. There are those, however, who see the financial disaster cum distress as an opportunity.

A recent column by the New York Times' Bob Hebert tells of a creative inventor in Detroit sees it just that way.

"...a gentleman named Stan Ovshinsky took me on a tour of a remarkably quiet and pristine manufacturing plant in Auburn Hills, which is about 30 miles north of Detroit and is home to Chrysler’s headquarters. What is being produced in the plant is potentially revolutionary. A machine about the length of a football field runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, turning out mile after mile after mile of thin, flexible solar energy material, from which solar panels can be sliced and shaped."

"You want new industry in the United States, with astonishing technological advances, new mass production techniques and jobs, jobs, jobs? Try energy."

"“Now,” Mr. Ovshinsky told me, “is when we have to build the new industries of the future.”"

While critics of President Obama stimulus are busy revising the history of the last time the country's economy cratered - the Great Depression - they ignore a seminal fact: while true, the work programs of the New Deal, in and of themselves, didn't completely pull the country out of its economic ditch, World War II was such a catalyst. America's manufacturing industries became a part of the national war effort, creating the bombs, tanks, airplanes and guns which supplied the military and brought the economy back.

Our current military misadventures are drains on the country's coffers. One reason for the United States' huge deficits is the correction of the sleight of hand by which the 'books were cooked' and the cost of these wars weren't included in the federal budget. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cannot contribute to the restoration of our economy. Prolonging these engagements prolongs our financial suffering.

However, we do have an opportunity to create new economic engines and energy represents one such opportunity.

Hebert's conclusion is also a guantlent thrown down to our country's political and corporate leaders:

"The U.S. has the opportunity, the intellectual resources and the expertise to lead the world in the development of clean energy. What we’ve lacked so far has been the courage, the will, to make it happen."

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