Small World: Confronting a gloomy future

Henry Precht

By Henry Precht

BN Columnist

At this writing, no one can say with certainty who will be elected president. But we can say — or ought to be able to predict — that the man elected will face an impossible challenge in dealing with our beleaguered economy.

We know through our experience and common sense that the America that easily churned out jobs is never coming back. When my wife and I came to Bridgton, I remember a shoe factory and a textile plant. Nobody thinks they are coming back. Much earlier, the town was the site of numerous mills and was surrounded by farms. The world marches on; we call it progress.

“Progress” has normally meant something new added to the mix of opportunities. In the 19th century, there was steam power giving us new factories and railroads. The availability of abundant new land and resources followed. Then in the next century came new technologies: automobiles, home appliances, radio — we made them and sold them to the world.

When the economy faltered in the Great Depression, the heavy outlays of cash in World War II produced a post-war boom in housing and many other sectors. Still, the ups and downs and up-again continued. Most recently, we have had the Internet/communications revolution that created expansion — and great bubbles, including unhappily the uncontrolled, wild ride in finance.

Now, this three-paragraph history of America at work and out of work has reached a terrible dilemma: Our wild ride, our eagerness to make war and our domestic needs have created a mountain of debt. That means if we expand government stimulus we will add to the mountain. If we cut expenditures and increase taxes we may lower the height, but we can expect a slowing economy.

To complicate the picture of the coming years, baby boomers will be lining up for the benefits of Medicare and Social Security they have been promised. They will leave a work force that is less well educated by a decaying national school system. Will we welcome immigrants to pick up the slack?

Which reminds us that we are not alone on this planet. China, Germany, India and Brazil will be sure to compete with us as we attempt a recovery. Meanwhile, the instability of Europe’s indebted economies will be a drag on their banking partners in this country. To top it all, the risk of war in the Middle East threatens our energy supplies and recovery.

Returning to the homeland, I have not painted in all of our potential woes. When the election results are published, we can be pretty sure that the divisions in our politics will remain or will be even sharper than during the past four years. If there is a continuing split between the Executive and Legislature, there will be continuing conflict. Austerity measures in the worst afflicted European nations are marked increasingly by the public taking to the streets. Will we see stone-throwing students and the unemployed marching down our streets — if not our own Main Street?

I apologize for this depressing catalogues of troubles ahead.  Over a lifetime of pessimism and doubt, I should have learned that something or someone often comes to turn on the light at the end of the tunnel. But, it will take leaders of exceptional intelligence, skill and good will to manage that feat. Please bear that in mind in this most important of elections

Henry Precht is a summer Bridgtonian and retired Foreign Service Officer.

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