About 12 years ago I was on a train in Tunisia, traveling from Tunis towards El Jem, site of a perfectly preserved Roman colosseum. Passing dusty towns and rolling hillsides of olive trees, there was the occasional stop at a small station.
The visage of strongman Ben Ali, Tunisia’s president, stared from portraits hung in each stop.
It was not far from one of these stations, in the small town of Sidi Bouzid, that a spark ignited that has roiled the world, taking down Ben Ali and in all likelihood other Arab despots.
It was there that local officials, enforcing various bureaucratic regulations, manhandled and humiliated a small produce vendor. After efforts to seek redress, the vendor doused himself with solvents and set himself on fire.
In our country we see business interest whining about “too much regulation”. But in Tunisia we saw reaction to regulation that had become oppression.
And now we see Egyptians, said to be earning $2 a day, taking to the streets to express their rage at their economic and political stagnation. The end to the Cairo standoff may or may not be peaceful.
But whatever happens in Egypt in the short term, it’s another wakeup call
for us in the USA, as old alliances are called in question and as talking heads on TV debate the delicate balance between our national security partners and those who seek true democracy.
My concern is that we are drifting.
We need to reinvent ourselves. My boomer generation eschewed entreprenueurial pursuits and manufacturing. We were counseled to go into professions or financial services. That served many of us very well, but the limitations are now becoming apparent.
What to do now?
If you want to see what we need, check out “Serious in Singapore”, an op-ed by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times:
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/30/opini … amp;st=cse
Neither of our political parties have it right. Unfortunately, too many Democrats and Republicans believe we can just tax or cut our way to worker prosperity. Neither party is focusing sufficiently on developing a comprehensive policy to support manufacturing and to address job-outsourcing.
Friedman notes that: “Republicans favor deep cuts in government spending, while so far exempting Medicare, Social Security and the defense budget. Not only is that not realistic, but it basically says that our nation’s priorities should be to fund retirement homes for older people rather than better schools for younger people and that we should build new schools in Afghanistan before Alabama.”
The Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions are fueled by young people, mostly under 30.
When will our country’s young people get involved to push for their priorities? Largely non-union, often weak in their grasp of civics, political science and history, what do our young expect of their economic future, and how do they want to prioritize the country’s needs?
Category: Political developments