When Do I Prosper?

07/19/2010 09:26 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

We Americans may be entering (or have already entered) a period of national re-evalution. It was fashionable a few years back for "values" to be a political buzzword, meaning if you believed in "values" (undefined) you voted in a certain way. But now, we may actually be forced to define what our true values are.

In the past three decades or more we have all become consumers. Bigger houses, bigger cars, more things. At the same time we were producing less, importing more, and basing our economy on manipulating money to make money. The results were predictable. Huge trade deficits. Selling US bonds to finance the deficits and to buy more things.

It's pretty obvious we can't keep doing this forever. This pattern has brought us to the mess we are in today. The question is whether we'll find a way to pick up where consumption, money manipulation, and unproductivity left off, or whether we will restore a national economy that produces, saves, invests, makes things, and pays its way.

Ottawa, Kansas, in the 1950s was not a bad place. We didn't have the luxuries of today and we didn't buy things we couldn't afford. But we had a roof over our heads, adequate nutrition, and affordable health care. Everyone worked, in my case starting at the age of eleven. (I don't think there were child labor laws then.) We didn't spend money we didn't have. There were no credit cards. And my parents would have been embarrassed to go to the bank and ask for a loan to buy more gadgets. The Depression taught them, and they taught me, don't go into debt.

Paul Volcker is an economic statesman. He has been saying exactly these things for more than thirty years. The president should ask him to write this speech and should give it several times as fireside chats. I would be amazed if Republicans (or Democrats) found a way to criticize it. What could be more conservative than restoring America's fundamental values.

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