Jared BernsteinI’m very excited about visiting the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute next week and just wanted to quickly highlight the things I hope to talk about.

I plan to start with some of the usual stuff: what’s up, what’s down with the economy, both nationally and in Georgia, the interactions between federal and state budgets, some important upcoming events, like budget sequestration and a lame duck session that’s fraught with portentous issues (what’s going to happen to the Bush tax cuts?!).

But frankly, I’d like to get through that stuff pretty quickly, because what I really want to talk about is politics.  Not, however, in the way you might be thinking.  Not partisan politics, not this candidate vs. that candidate.  The politics I want to talk about has to do with a great nation that has lost its way.

Our national arguments have become terribly small, cramped, and reductionist. They insist that you decide whether you’re for or against “big government.”  Whether you’re for Keynesianism or supply-side economics. Whether you’re for capitalism or socialism. For America or Europe. For safety nets or self-reliance. For the 99% or the 1%.

But at the end of the day, the vast majority of us are neither wholly for nor against any of those dichotomous choices. And that’s not because we’re wishy-washy, indecisive, middle-of-the-roaders.  It’s because we’re “for” our kids, for our communities, for our schools, for our parents, for our health and that of those around us, for our friends and neighbors.

I mean, really, which makes you happier: watching the Presidential candidates debate, hearing the debates dissected and spun the next day on TV…or is it watching your kid master a new skill in school, going to a summer concert in the town square, seeing your local high-school football team giving it their all, the security of knowing your families’ environment is safe or that your aging parent is well cared for and economically secure?

This is what I mean by politics.  Let me explain.

Politics can’t be an end in itself.  It mustn’t be a contest to see who can filibuster the most legislation or who can preside over the largest budget and tax cuts.  It most certainly cannot be about Mitch McConnell’s incredible admission that his party’s goal is to defeat the President.

Politics must be about the way we arrange our society and our economy so as to most efficiently achieve those fundamental goals noted above, the ones that allow us and our progeny to realize our intellectual and spiritual potential.

But do you hear politicians talking about those goals?  If so, please tell me what channel you’re watching.  All’s I hear them doing is ranting about how all that’s out of our reach now, and how we all have to sacrifice, except if you’re really wealthy…then what you need is a big tax cut.

Fact is, we have gotten further away from what politics should really be about than many of us have ever seen in our lifetimes.  My talk next week will be about the way back.

See you there!


About Jared Bernstein

Jared Bernstein, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities Senior Fellow and former Chief Economist and Economic Policy Advisor for Vice President Joe Biden

Jared Bernstein joined the Center in May 2011 as a senior fellow. From 2009 to 2011, Bernstein was the chief economist and economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, executive director of the White House Task Force on the Middle Class, and a member of President Obama’s economic team.

Bernstein’s areas of expertise include federal and state economic and fiscal policies, income inequality and mobility, trends in employment and earnings, international comparisons, and the analysis of financial and housing markets.

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