Ron Kaye: Being the solution, rather than the cause

A few years back, a profile in LA Magazine described me as an “accidental anarchist” — a label that I never really understood until now.

As I look at what is going on in the nation’s capital, the state capital and in Los Angeles, I am starting to wonder how government ever worked at all.

In Washington, Democrats and Republicans are playing a game of “chicken” that is pushing the country to the brink of defaulting on our staggering $14 trillion in debt, a sum that grows by $125 billion a month and will reach the cap on borrowing next month.

That makes California’s mere $25-billion budget deficit seem like chump change, but the impact of Sacramento’s perpetual political gridlock and gamesmanship is big time in terms of dangerous felons freed from prison, tens of thousands of teachers fired, aging infrastructure deteriorating.

Cities like Burbank and Glendale have their own financial problems and are at least trying to develop long-term strategies — unlike the mega-city next door, where Los Angeles officials still believe in the fantasy that good times are just around the corner.

It isn’t going to happen.

We don’t generate wealth anymore. We consume it in the form of manufactured goods made in China and India and Argentina and dozens of other faraway nations.

We don’t create good jobs anymore. We create low-paying service and retail jobs.

For the last two decades, middle-class people of every race have been exercising their power to exit the L.A. region for better lives in communities with better schools and healthier neighborhoods, even as the cities compete ferociously to steal business from each other to bolster their own economies.

It is a futile exercise that doesn’t create more jobs. It only moves them around, leaving the regional unemployment rate far higher than that of the nation or state.

Nearly 10% of stores in malls and strip malls across the country are vacant as major retail anchors like Circuit City, Blockbuster, Borders and many others fall into bankruptcy and close their doors.

For the last decade or longer, many people have preserved their standard of living by living beyond their means with credit card borrowing and home equity loans. The bills have come due, resulting in vast numbers of people being under water on their mortgages and a housing market hopelessly glutted by foreclosures and short sales.

The bills soon will come due for all of us if the suicidal political war games go on much longer.

Economic chaos will result if we default on the national debt.

Failure to fix the state budget deficit will tumble California into decline and cast a dark cloud over the future of even better-managed cities like Burbank and Glendale.

The truth we are so resistant to facing is that the era of endless growth that started with World War II is over.

We must recognize the new realities and adapt to them. We don’t just need cleaner and greener sustainable energy sources. We need to create sustainable communities.

It is not an accident that I have lost my faith in government to solve our problems. It’s the performance of government at all levels over a long period of time that is responsible.

The government I believe in is government of, by and for the people. It isn’t government that has failed us, so much as it is we who have abdicated our responsibility to participate.

We are locked into political belief systems that are no longer appropriate to the changing realities. We must take a hard look at what is happening and open our minds to change instead of resisting it.

We don’t need an economic calamity to awaken us. We just need to look around us and see how our families have scattered, how we barely know our neighbors, how we have lost touch with the community life around us.

The politicians have the power to bring us to this impasse because we have allowed our voices to be silenced. The moment we start speaking up and demanding real change, they will become part of the solutions instead of the cause of the problems.

RON KAYE can be reached at Share your thoughts and stories with him.

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