The recent release of the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation’s 2013 Index of Economic Freedom should be a real eye opener for conservative politics. The index “evaluates countries in four broad areas of economic freedom: rule of law; regulatory efficiency; limited government; and open markets.”
The rankings put Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia at numbers one, two and three. The U.S. did well but came in only at number ten. More interesting, however, is the fact that all of the countries ranking ahead of the U.S. have universal health care.
This data should not necessarily serve as an endorsement for Obamacare, as most who study the law recognize that it is imbedded with many flaws as it stands. What it should do, however, is to break the ideological lens through which conservatives juxtapose an increasingly complex world into a narrow perspective of black and white.
The problem is that since 9/11 we have watched an era of outward engagement that was brought about after the Cold War defeat of Soviet communism be replaced by a political climate of fear. Such an assertion is not made to delegitimize the War on Terror, but to merely put into perspective the consequences that have resulted from a focus that with time has become an increasingly misguided.
These consequences have been created by the morphing of the contemporary America conservative movement today into a drive that has increasingly come to focus neurotically inward. This toxic brand of conservatism brought forward by the Tea Party has created a “hunker down” mentality.” It is a narrative that says our values are under attack by our own insidious government and anti-American cultural warriors whose ultimate aim is to annihilate our individual rights and values.
When Senator Ted Cruz says for example, that “we have a couple of years to turn this country around or we go off the cliff to oblivion,” he is rendering an apocalyptic message.
Conservative American politics have always sought to promote the notions of low taxes, lesser and more efficient government, individual rights and such. But what is different this time is the messianic fervor that accompanies their message. When coupled with a portrait of a world that is sharply divided into mutually exclusive categories, Americans should not help but be disturbed.
It is a misguided mindset that is akin to focusing on an ailing heart when the real issue is the body that is being deteriorated by cancer.
Meanwhile much of the rest of the world keeps moving ahead. In Asia economic growth has been breathtaking. The Chinese economy continues to grow at 7-8 percent annually. South East Asian countries have witnessed the most rapid growth. In just 30 short years the world has seen the economies of South Korea and Taiwan become first world competitors.
Many other countries as well, such as Singapore, Switzerland, and Finland, Germany, and New Zealand rank well ahead of the U.S. in the Human Capital Index (World Economic Forum) , which measures the ability to develop and nurture human capital. The U.S. comes in at number 16.
What has to happen in the conservative movement is a paradigm shift. The very ideal of American exceptionalism has to be broadened in order to be re-energized. Conservatives will have to accept that other countries might produce some good ideas that are worth of study and consideration.
The notion that by adopting Universal Healthcare, for example, we will somehow be spiraling down the dark path of oblivion and into socialism or even communism teaches a nation and its people nothing except how to not think outside of the box. One would have to have a rather broad imagination to say that Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and South Korea are communist nations.
Furthermore the belief that a country cannot afford to pay for universal health care is also a myth. It can be made to work because it works all over the world and economies in South East Asia are thriving in spite of it. As such, ‘Obamacare’ should be viewed as a flawed mechanism that represents a poor attempt to reach a worthwhile end.
So while post 9/11 America seeks to shut out foreign born talented engineers and scientists with restrictive visa requirements, (most are now choosing Australia and Canada over the U.S.) South East Asian countries have been investing heavily in public education and hence improving upon the levels of their already highly skilled and productive workforce.
America’s and many states’ solution to economic worries has been to view Human Capital as simply another “fair game” category for the fiscal chopping block. The State of Texas, (a national center for Tea Party activism) for example, has nothing to show for it except for consistently low national rankings in its quality of education. Its’ ranking in the number of uninsured children is an abysmal 49th in the nation for 2012.
And while conservatives heatedly argue over Universal Health care and threaten to shut down the government because of it, (a debate that has unfortunately elevated to the level of a cultural war by Tea Party activists) South East Asian countries are discussing how to carefully guide select capital investments into key technology industries.
Finally, while America conservatives are awkwardly consumed and preoccupied with the fear that the government will take away their gun rights (a right which is of course constitutional); other developed countries’ children are learning two or three languages.
So where is our breaking point?
A nation’s resources and political energy are limited. Eventually, conservatives will have to ask themselves, “does my passion for gun rights teach my child math and science, or make him or her more globally competitive?”
They have reached the point where they must question themselves whether their current political preoccupations are even worthy of so much consideration. Otherwise in the end, maybe Ted Cruz will be right about America “falling off the cliff into oblivion.”
But for all of the wrong reasons.