WILLIAMS: Austerity new reality of ‘11

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

We are a week and a few days into 2011, but it’s not simply a new year. The end of 2010 marked the passing of the first decade of this new century. It’s only fitting we look back and look for lessons learned.

There’s no question this nation and the world were rocked early on. Sept. 11 caused many to question just what age of man we were truly entering. A new era of fear? An era of power centers shifting to meet this terrorist scourge?

In the wake of that horrific day came a simple yet powerful thought — a motivation to prevent another attack on American soil, no matter the cost. Quickly, that mindset spread to other sectors in our government, and our own way of life. Not surprisingly, the U.S. and, indeed the world’s, economy was turned upside down. President George W. Bush and opponents alike were quick to reassure the public. The calming words? “Whatever it takes.”

When airlines were reeling because of new security guidelines; when states were forced to post state troopers at capital buildings and major landmarks; when our leaders vowed to hunt down the enemy, even if it meant fighting two wars, at every turn, the answer was the same — whatever the cost.

It was easy to say such a phrase. Yes, our nation was in supreme debt, but security knows no price tag, or so the line went, and we needed to take these extraordinary steps to return to normal.

Fast-forward a few years to the fall of 2008; the mortgage and credit markets crashed, piling on more fears and concerns, especially of a sector that promised a return of American domination on the world stage.

To hear then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson put it, we were on the verge of a financial meltdown that would reverberate throughout the globe. We would need to fix this mess, whatever it takes.

And so, after a decade of “whatever the cost” and “whatever it takes,” it is now time for a different frame of mind, for no other reason than we simply cannot afford to say these words and not feel the consequences.

Our nation and the world are not teetering, but rather we are in the beginning stages of a global default on our financial obligations. I don’t need to recite the statistics to prove to you the shadow of debt and its punitive consequences are at our nation’s door.

As we enter this second decade of the 21st century, it is time for the United States to embark on a new path. Call it the Reality of Austerity — a new deal of sorts in which policy makers, voters and workers alike wake up from the fitful spending we’ve mindlessly pursued in these gluttonous years and return to some semblance of living within our means.

Other nations are not waiting for the world’s lone economic superpower. Greece, Germany, Ireland, France, Britain, each of these nations is facing the reality of austerity with their own unique approach. Some are working better than others. All have riotous villagers storming the castles. But austerity has come, and it’s here to stay.

For the first time in generations, our children and grandchildren will know firsthand what it means when government can no longer meet its obligations. Until now, such talk was the subject of government bean counters and doomsday economists.

We can no longer convince ourselves that such calamity is only “on paper.” No, this threat is real, and it will rock the very foundation of our country more powerfully than any terrorist or enemy of the state could ever hope or imagine.

This reality of austerity will have an impact on each of us, and we must prepare for it and recognize it is for the greater good of our nation.

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