Columns » Warwick Sabin

Dependence day

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Last weekend our nation celebrated the 229th anniversary of the day our Founding Fathers declared the independence of the original 13 continental British colonies. Of course, those men merely signed a document confirming their intentions and cataloguing the reasons for their decision. They still had to back up their words with a revolutionary war that would cast out their imperial masters once and for all. These days we seem to be retreating from that accomplishment, putting more space between the concept and reality of independence, and my generation is going to suffer the consequences. Usually we think of independence as a disassociation or separation. But its more powerful meaning is its literal one: a lack of dependence. Being truly free involves not having to depend on anyone else for anything. And yet our nation is becoming more and more dependent on other nations in a variety of fundamental ways. First, and most troubling, we are becoming indebted to China in exchange for short-term economic health. Instead of making the difficult decisions necessary to responsibly correct our federal budget, we are selling our future to our most threatening competitor. Chinese holdings of U.S. Treasury securities currently total $230 billion, and are growing every month. Only Japan owns more. This makes us doubly weaker, because it puts us further out on a financial precipice while ensuring that our enemy is the one holding our hand, making sure we don’t fall off. Furthermore, as we make payments on that debt we are financing China’s growth, helping them build infrastructure, invest in their military, and (as happened two weeks ago) bid to purchase American companies. A similar dynamic exists in our approach to energy policy, which is another significant way we are eroding our independence. Our domestic oil sources can’t meet our current consumption demands, so unless we reduce those demands or find another energy source to replace oil, we will have to rely on other oil-producing nations. As we have learned, that makes us extremely vulnerable. The price of oil has a direct effect on our economy, which we are feeling right now. But last month the Congress passed an energy bill that included few meaningful conservation and alternative energy provisions. Our desperate need to maintain a steady oil supply has precipitated wars and leaves us beholden to despotic regimes that would like to do us harm. We know that money we spend on oil eventually makes its way to terrorist networks. So, as with China, we are financing the very forces that we are fighting. And then there is the subject of our overall debt, which is ballooning as a result of war, rising health care costs, and frivolous spending and tax cuts. It is hard to imagine how we are going to shed the burden without painful sacrifices. The huge increase of debt means that my generation’s most productive years will be spent making payments to other countries. (Foreign holdings of U.S. Treasury securities total almost $2 trillion, which accounts for about 41 percent of the public debt.) It also means we will have less flexibility to meet the challenges posed by future wars or financial and health care crises. Why would our leaders — who are our parents and grandparents — leave us in such a vulnerable position? What will be their legacy if our nation loses its independence by effectively giving control over our economy to China, oil states, and other nations who do not have our interests in mind? It will be a legacy of misguided ideology and short-term selfishness. The politicians running our government today would rather cede control to China than roll back tax cuts and spending. They would rather jeopardize our economic and national security than challenge the oil companies and other business interests that profit from our irrational energy policies. In short, they are selling out the independence of our nation. For all of their talk of liberty and freedom, they are undermining the foundation of both. That is worthy of protest in the strongest terms — call it a declaration — that insists our leaders protect the right of economic independence for future generations. Today’s young people should not have to bear the burden of insurmountable debt and become no better than indentured servants to other nations. This would require a budget-balancing plan that requires everyone to make sacrifices for the good of the nation, as well as an energy independence strategy that sets concrete goals. If we could find a way to land a man on the moon less than 10 years after President Kennedy’s challenge, we can marshal our resources to achieve this even more important mission. It would be the surest way to maintain our independence in an ever-changing world.

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