Originally published in the Deseret News.
After this bitter election season, America would do well to reflect on this ancient Chinese proverb: “Out of the hottest fire comes the strongest steel.” It is our low points that often create our greatest opportunities to move forward and become stronger. This is especially true in the area of jobs and the economy: Hard times refine businesses, family budgets and economics, making them stronger over the long term.
This is the opportunity we have before us. We can move beyond the divisiveness of this election season toward a new, elevated economic dialogue on economic issues in our communities — the kind of dialogue that produces practical solutions to real problems. This community-driven dialogue should be grounded in the American economic principles of earned success in the free market, and the values of work, education and family.
Among Americans who graduate from high school, obtain some form of full-time employment, wait until 21 to marry, and have children only after marrying, the poverty rate is only 2 percent, according to research published by the Brookings Institution. And nearly three-fourths of this group achieve middle-class status. In other words, the values of work, education and family are guideposts toward financial security.
When these values are combined with free market principles, they become an engine of economic prosperity. When the market is not tilted toward the politically connected by corrupted government regulatory and subsidy schemes, then hard-working and educated employees and entrepreneurs, motivated by those they love, are driven to tirelessly produce and innovate by the natural moral imperative of the free market: Financial and economic rewards go to those who serve the needs of others.
This dialogue will require political and thought leaders who offer something more than a sentiment of “tough luck” to the millions of working Americans who have spent decades contributing to their country, only to be left behind by their nation’s economy. They have watched as leaders have scrambled to bail out jobs in failing multibillion dollar corporations, banks and government-subsidized organizations, while they lost their access to the American Dream and were offered welfare programs and told their jobs were not coming back.
What does this dialogue mean for Americans?
For working Americans, it means policies that promise to return America’s traditional middle-income jobs — manufacturing, construction and natural resource development — to a level playing field nationally and internationally. It also means new, affordable pathways to stable employment that avoid the mountain of debt that comes with typical higher education. Utah’s system of “stackable” credentials and Sen. Mike Lee’s proposal to expand accreditation options are promising starts.
For those in poverty, it means welfare policies that offer the promise of a better life through the “success sequence”: graduate from high school, find full-time employment, get married (and stay married) and have children — in that order. It also means recognizing that solutions to poverty come from individuals and communities, not distant governments and bureaucratic rules.
Individuals in poverty have innate and unique economic talents and abilities, and they deserve freedom from nonsensical professional licensing regimes crafted by industry insiders with an interest in making a license expensive and difficult to obtain. Similarly, community-based organizations and institutions — private and public, religious and secular, nonprofit and for-profit — should be freed from one-size-fits-none welfare regulations and programs that prevent them from customizing welfare resources to the needs of real people in poverty. Because they are closest to the situations of those in poverty, community-based groups are better situated than distant governments and bureaucracies to know the sources and solutions to poverty.
By elevating the economic dialogue within our individual communities, we extend not only the promise of political and societal renewal to ourselves, but we extend hope of a better life to the millions who have lost or never had access to the American Dream. A polarizing election season can instead be remembered as the moment we chose to cast aside the Pyrrhic victories of status quo politics and rhetoric, and found strength through one of our hottest political fires.