When I'm home on Sundays I try to watch The McLaughlin Group on PBS, which I find to be the most enlightening discussion on television. My daughter refers to it as my "shouting program" and invariably leaves the room. It's a 25-minute discussion on current events sponsored by The Financial Times, one of the world's most prestigious newspapers.
One of the regular contributors is conservative columnist and former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan. On a recent program when the Gulf oil spill was being discussed, he made a profound and insightful comment. Paraphrasing his words, he observed: "Just look at us. We can't cap an oil spill in the Gulf, we can't balance our budget, we can't police our borders and we can't win our wars! How can the world take us seriously?"
Clearly something has gone seriously wrong in the United States, and Americans are increasingly aware of it.
The big issue—the economy
The economy remains the number one issue. As I write this, TV news programs are highlighting the fact that consumer spending is going down, meaning that people are worried about the immediate future. Also, GDP growth slowed in the second quarter of the year to 2.4 percent. This rate of growth is not enough to put a dent in the increasingly worrisome unemployment figures.
Whereas the official unemployment rate is under 10 percent, the real figure is closer to 16.5 percent, according to various financial and economic sources. The reason for the discrepancy is the way the unemployment figures are calculated.
The long-term unemployed are dropped from the figures after they stop reporting that they are looking for work. These so-called "discouraged workers" may still be looking but have no reason to report it after their benefits run out, or they may have taken part-time work to try to get by, and so could be called underemployed.
The most widely reported figure from the Bureau of Labor Statistics counts as unemployed only those who have reported actively looking for work in the previous four weeks, leading to systematic undercounting.
Making things worse is that many of those who are employed are working shorter hours, suffering through a prolonged period of reduced pay. There's little wonder consumers are not spending as before.
Illegal immigration a major issue
This stubbornly high unemployment rate is no doubt a contributing factor to increased fears over illegal immigration. When unemployment is high in any country, citizens will turn against immigrants who are seen as taking their jobs at lower pay. Reality is not as simple as that, since many immigrants, especially those who are in the United States illegally, will do jobs most Americans are not inclined to do.
Arizona's new law giving police the right to check whether a person is in the country legally is being fought by the federal government, sending a clear signal to Americans that Washington lacks a serious commitment to securing America's borders. The president has made statements expressing support for the 12 million illegals' desire for full citizenship, and cynics sometimes refer to "illegal aliens" as "undocumented Democrats," as conferring citizenship on them and allowing them to vote would considerably sway elections.
It should also be pointed out that the Republicans are not blameless, as many of them want the illegals to stay since they keep labor costs down for businesses. Either way, nothing is likely to be done.
What's wrong with the economy?
In the same year that the United States declared itself independent from Great Britain, the Scottish economist Adam Smith wrote his book The Wealth of Nations. Smith was an advocate of free enterprise. He believed that when individuals pursued their own personal interest, society as a whole benefited. He strongly supported free-market competition, which helped everyone by keeping prices low while at the same time providing incentive to produce a broad range of products and services.
The wealth of both the United States and Great Britain was built on the free enterprise system promulgated by Smith and his followers. After World War II, Britain turned increasingly away from those principles, advancing the power of the state at the expense of the individual. Consequently, Britain lost its preeminent position and its empire, succumbing increasingly to foreign competition where Smith's principles are increasingly making inroads. India and China are two notable examples.
The United States, regrettably, seems to be following in England's footsteps. The government sector is growing by sucking wealth and resources from the private sector.
Federal government jobs, according to several recent reports, now pay on average double what the private sector pays. Almost 50 percent of Americans depend on government for their livelihood in one way or another. The present administration seems set to increase the role of the state sector further.
Ironically, at the same time a communist country on the other side of the Pacific—China—moves closer to free enterprise principles to promote economic growth.
It's not too difficult to see why the United States is in serious trouble. Nor is it hard to see the solution. Quite simply, the government sector (both federal and state) needs to be downsized, thereby enabling taxes to come down and giving a boost to private enterprise.
More than 3,000 years ago, God warned the ancient Israelites about the tendency of government to keep on expanding at the expense of the private sector, increasing the hardship on businesses and the general public. When the Israelites asked for a human leader like the other nations (1 Samuel 8:5 1 Samuel 8:5And said to him, Behold, you are old, and your sons walk not in your ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.
American King James Version×), God warned them that the king would take more and more from them in the form of taxation until "you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the Lord will not hear you in that day" (verse 18).
Until the United States reduces the size of government and encourages private business and individual initiative, it will not solve its economic problems and will continue to decline.
Why can't the United States win its wars?
Aug. 15, 1945, was the last time the United States conclusively won a major war. That was World War II, and the United States was in alliance with the British Empire and the Soviet Union.
A few years later came the Korean War, which, as evidenced by the recent sinking of a South Korean warship by a North Korean submarine, ended in a dangerous and uneasy stalemate that remains unresolved to this day. On the heels of the Korean War came Vietnam, a war that the United States gave up on.
More recently we have seen two wars against Iraq. The first Persian Gulf War left Saddam Hussein in power, with the result that the second war there was fought over a decade later. Saddam was deposed and later executed, but the struggle in Iraq against insurgents is still ongoing. Furthermore, the toppling of Saddam has allowed Iran—for a long time held in check by Iraq—to become a regional superpower and a major threat to the United States, Israel and its neighbors.
Meanwhile, after nine years the war in Afghanistan continues, with the Taliban seeming to gain the upper hand more recently. The world watches puzzled as the greatest military power cannot defeat ill-equipped zealots holed up in caves!
What's wrong with this picture?
Why has the United States not been winning its wars? Part of the problem is that the United States has misread some of these conflicts.
For example, Vietnam was not so much about democracy versus communism as about nationalism versus colonialism. The Vietnamese defeated their French colonial rulers in 1954. After more than a century of foreign domination, they did not want another group of foreigners telling them how to run their country.
The American war there was simply a continuation of the wars the Vietnamese had fought against both the Japanese and the French. Ironically, 35 years after America's defeat, Vietnam is a nation that, like China, is venturing into free enterprise as the way ahead.
A similar error in American judgment has taken place in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Clearly there was little enthusiasm for Western-style democracy in either nation. Meanwhile, tribal and religious loyalties have complicated conflicts that go back centuries and are not likely to be resolved by America and its allies.
At the same time, the financial cost has been horrendous and has contributed greatly to America's current fiscal deficit. America urgently needs a new and effective strategy.
The problems come back primarily to America's biblical name, which is Manasseh, meaning "forgetting."
Americans in recent decades tend not to know their history and repeat the mistakes other nations made in the past. For example, Afghanistan has been called "the graveyard of empires" for obvious reasons. The last major power to fight a war there, the Soviet Union, collapsed after more than a decade of fighting.
It was the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that led to the current war in Afghanistan. There are other ways to prevent another 9/11. Remembering that all 19 suicide hijackers that day came from the Middle East, changes in the country's immigration laws—or even enforcement of the laws already in place—would seem a logical place to start!
From blessings to curses
It wasn't so long ago that Americans could boast that they had never lost a war. Why has this not been the case in recent decades? The Bible gives us the answer.
Two chapters in the Old Testament, Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, are often called the "blessings and curses" chapters. These chapters promise blessings for obedience to God's law and negative consequences or curses for disobedience. In Deuteronomy 28:7 Deuteronomy 28:7The LORD shall cause your enemies that rise up against you to be smitten before your face: they shall come out against you one way, and flee before you seven ways.
American King James Version×the Israelites were promised victory as a result of their dedication to God. But in verse 25 they were told they would suffer defeat due to turning away from God and His laws.
This has been the history of the United States, one of the modern nations descended from the ancient Israelites. The nation was founded on Christian principles by a deeply religious people. In the last 50 years, however, it has become increasingly secular, rejecting and even denying its Christian roots. Now we are increasingly seeing the negative consequences mount up.
The prophet Isaiah put it well when he wrote: "The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faints. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it" (Isaiah 1:5-6 Isaiah 1:5-6  Why should you be stricken any more? you will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.
 From the sole of the foot even to the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment.
American King James Version×).
Today it seems that America's leaders make few, if any, sensible decisions—that when the United States is confronted with a challenge, any challenge, the wrong decision is made. Moreover, it seems increasingly clear that the decisions these leaders make are the exact opposite of what earlier generations of U.S. leaders would have said or done. Thus it seems as if the country really has reversed course.
America has truly lost its way as it enters dangerous and uncharted waters! GN