Is America in decline? An honest review of the state of the union would show spiraling budget deficits, uncontrolled growth in government spending and persistently high unemployment levels. The impression of a once-great nation in eclipse is all too plain.
It doesn't have to be this way. It's not that these problems aren't real or don't pose serious challenges. They do. Still, those who insist that our best days are behind us don't have history on their side. Through all kinds of setbacks, from the Civil War to the Great Depression, the United States has always waged a valiant struggle and emerged stronger.
That's due in no small measure to the innate optimism that has always undergirded the American experiment. It may wane at times, requiring strong leaders to remind us of our birthright, but it's never far below the surface. That's why, when America was reeling from Watergate, Vietnam, "stagflation" and a militant Soviet Union, President Reagan was able to inspire Americans to believe in themselves again -- and turn the course of history.
There's no reason that a nation born in the unforgiving snows at Valley Forge can't solve today's trials.
Yes, they are considerable. As noted in a new report from the Heritage Foundation, "America's Opportunity for All," they include an expanding welfare state, a bloated and overextended federal government and an increasingly tangled chain of rules from unelected bureaucrats in Washington.
"Nothing about today's conditions is inevitable or irreversible," writes Heritage scholar Matthew Spalding. "We can reduce the size and scope of government and let the private sector restore economic productivity and opportunity. We can reform the core programs of government and provide assistance to those who need it because they have fallen on hard times."
Here are just a few problems and solutions from "America's Opportunity for All":
Problem: We face a flood of regulations from Washington. Some 50 commissions, bureaus and departments enforce more than 150,000 pages of rules. These take a heavy toll on the economy, leading to fewer jobs.
Solution: Congress needs to stop writing vaguely worded laws that leave the details to bureaucrats who aren't accountable to the voters. Laws should be specific, necessary and carefully written. And they should carry a "sunset" provision, or expiration date.
Problem: From public lands, offshore oil and natural-gas fields to domestic coal and uranium mines, the United States has enough energy resources to power its economy for decades. Yet we're the only nation that routinely blocks development of its domestic energy sources.
Solution: Open access to these areas -- and, in the process, create tens of thousands of jobs.
Problem: Labor laws actually prevent employers from giving workers more flexible schedules and prohibit many workers from getting performance-based raises.
Solution: Overhaul the 1935 National Labor Relations Act. The line between workers and management has blurred: Most workers want a cooperative relationship with their employers, not an adversarial one. Workers in the private sector should be free to decide whether they want to join a union.
Problem: Tax rates on individuals, families, businesses, investors and entrepreneurs are too high. High taxes discourage work and investment, which leads to less take-home pay, fewer jobs and slower overall economic growth.
Solution: Reform the tax code to eliminate the loopholes that lead to crony capitalism and unleash the productive potential of the U.S. economy. End the death tax, which destroys jobs, slows growth and lowers wages.
Problem: By the end of the next decade, almost half of all health care spending will be controlled by Washington. More government control over the financing of health care means that government will control more of our health care decisions.
Solution: Repeal Obamacare, which was passed with too much haste and too many closed-door deliberations. Restructure the tax code to allow individuals to own and control their health care. Reform health care entitlements such as Medicaid, now facing trillions in unfunded obligations.
These and all of our other problems are fixable, if we approach them with the right attitude. "One of the worst mistakes anybody can make is to bet against Americans," President Reagan once said. It's time to reject the "America is in decline" narrative -- and prove the naysayers wrong.
Ed Feulner is president of the Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).
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