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Reflections for 2016

The last couple of weeks for 2015 went by fast, but the spirit of this season was most welcome.  It was a chance to renew one’s perspective, and focus on those things that mattered once again.  Faith, friends, and family.  It also gave me an opportunity to think about things from a little different perspective.  In looking back at the world once again, things seem to be a mess.  Judging from the content that was returned after googling the terms ‘right track wrong track survey’, I am not alone.  The list returned included the following:

  • Only 26% think that we are on the right track.  This is up slightly from the 24% in October of this year, but overall the figures have generally been below 33% for almost all of 2015.[1] 

  • 69% say big government is a bigger threat than big business or big labor.  This is only down slightly from the 72% figure in 2013.[2]

  • 75% see widespread corruption within our government.[3]

We see a government that has become so big and so corrupt that most of us now view it as a threat to our future, with 49% saying our government has become an immediate threat to our freedom and rights.  This latter figure has increased steadily since 2003, under both political party’s leadership.

The greatest issues that our next president will face, from a recent Washington Post-ABC poll,[4] include the following:

  • Economy 33%

  • Threat of terrorism 28%

  • Health care 13%

  • Immigration issues 10%

There is a relationship between the economy and health care, as there is between terrorism and immigration.  The economy and health care are both internal issues, and health care requirements associated with the new law have had a debilitating effect on job growth and the economy.  The other two issues reflect both internal and external security concerns.  With the Syrian immigrants there is also a relationship between terrorism and immigration, as we are worried that a terrorist group such as ISIS could insert themselves into the immigrants. 

For the economic issues, I looked at the civilian labor force numbers from 1970 to 2014 over the weekend.  The results were pretty enlightening.  A chart with the usual data for the entire population above 16 years of age is shown below.  Those above 16 years of age make up the ‘Civilian noninstitutional population’ (CNP).  The civilian labor force consists of those in the aforesaid population who are either employed or unemployed.  The employed line represents those working, and the gap between it and the civilian labor force line represents the government’s measure of those unemployed.  Finally, the not employed line represents the total of those both unemployed and those not in the labor force.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines those not in the labor force as ‘People who are neither employed nor unemployed.’  To be unemployed, the government has revised the measure so that one must now continue to look for work to be included in that group.

Figure 1:  Total Civilian Labor Force[5]

During this forty four year time period the CNP grew by about 80% and the civilian labor force by 88%.  Significant increases in unemployment are noted by the dips in the Employed line that occurred during 1975, 1982, 1992, 2002, and 2009.  The unemployment increases during 1982 and 1992 both returned to their pre-increase level within a few years; the other increases in 1975, 2002, and 2007 never did – they became, for all practical purposes, permanent shifts.  During this time the number of people not employed increased by only 74%, indicating that much of the population increase found work.  Finally, the growth in the civilian labor force has leveled off since about 2008.  There has been much said about the effects of the baby boomer’s retiring from the labor force, so I adjusted the above numbers and removed those 65 and over from all four categories.  The results are shown below.

Figure 2:  Civilian Labor Force 16 to 64 Years of Age

While the CNP for this population segment grew by 74%, the civilian labor force and number of employed grew by 86% and 84% respectively, indicating that job growth more than absorbed the population increase.  The number of individuals not employed grew by only 47% during this time period.  More interesting is this segment’s not employed group was essentially flat from 1970 through 2002, increasing by only 11% during that thirty two year period.  That is a remarkable achievement.  Most of the increase in the not employed segment has occurred since 2009.  I would also assert the flattening of the civilian labor force line is not due to a demographic shift, but instead related to the unemployment measurement change as there is no other reason for only the slope of this line changing – especially as the flattening of this line corresponds to an increase in the not employed figures.  These should not occur for this segment as it excludes those 65 and older.  One other interesting fact is that while the labor participation rate for those 65 and older has been steadily increasing since 1999, this is not a new trend but instead a return to levels comparable to those that existed in about 1970 – and well below prior historic rates.  The data used for the above charts is provided in the file at the bottom of this post.

If the changes weren’t driven by a demographic shift, then what did happen?  In the period since 2002 we have had both Republican and Democratic leaders and majorities in both houses of Congress.  We had 9/11 in 2001 and Obamacare enacted in 2010.  With the first event came a reaction to terrorism and the second was reflected a new administration’s goals.  What they both have in common is that they represented changes in the country’s priorities; changes where both parties irresponsibly further increasing spending without paying for these changes.  It is as simple as that.  See the change in the national debt in the chart below.  For much of the first thirty two years, the increase was less than $300 million per year.  There hasn’t been an increase of less than $400 million in the last twelve years shown.

Figure 3:  Change in US National Debt by Year[6]

Let us now shift to the topics of terrorism and immigration.  Concern about Islamic extremism has increased in both Western and Muslim countries as discussed in a recent Pew Research report.  A response to one of their questions is shown below.

Concern about Islamic Extremism Rising in Many Western and Muslim Countries

Figure 4:  Concern about Islamic Extremism[7]

 Many western countries have pledged to accept Syrian refugees, at the same time as expressing concerns about Islamic extremism.  We should ask why?  It is reasonable to expect that one wants to leave an area torn by war, but among Syrians only 46% prefer to move to another country.

Figure 5: Syrian opinions on moving to another country[8]

Of those who want to leave Syria, a total of 28 different countries were mentioned from four different regions – with no particular country being cited.  These results did not change regardless of age, employment status, or income level.[9]  A breakdown of the polling results by region is shown below.  As reported within this article, the predominant reason for those Syrians wishing to leave there country is that they did not see ‘realistic prospects for change.’

Figure 6: Region Syrian refugees desire to emigrate to[10]

The preceding has looked at some of the significant problems we face.  Are there any answers to those?  Yes, I believe there are several, they are very basic, and they all directly relate to this site’s purpose.  First, we need to acknowledge once again where our rights truly come from.  They do not come from any government, but from our Creator.  Without a return to this fundamental principle, it will not be possible to current our current situation.  Man alone is insufficient. 

A government’s primary purpose is to protect our Creator given rights.  It should add to them only to the extent those additions do not conflict with our Creator’s law, and it is up to us to decide who to follow when they create a law or a right contrary to our Creator’s will.  It doesn’t matter whether it is one person sitting in the Oval Office, the legislative bodies of the House or Senate, or nine people in black who seem to have deemed themselves a last arbiter between those parties – a sort of self-appointed god.  They have all forgotten who they serve, and we have failed to remind them.

The second answer is like the first, to simply be good stewards of what we have been entrusted with.  If we fail to change the path we are on, we will spend ourselves into oblivion and will deserve our fate.  If, as a people, we decide to create commitments, we also have a fiduciary responsibility to make sure we can sustain them – regardless of what they are.  That is simply not currently the case.  Our government wants to do the easy part of creating commitments, but avoids the hard part of determining what else needs to change in order to meet the priority change they support.  This is both irresponsible and immoral.  They have added to their offences by often exempting themselves from the very requirements they create, when we are all to be treated equally under the law.  They have forgotten their purpose.

We should honor our commitments to those who have already placed significant reliance on those promises.  We have given our word, and our honor is involved.  However, for others these programs either need to be reduced to a sustainable level or eliminated outright.  Some will argue that this will cause pain to some, and it is true.  However, that pain is dwarfed by the pain that will be caused if we do not change course and start to pay down our national debt.  And all of this pain is the result of the lack of virtue within our elected leaders.  They have failed, and so have we.  Elected leaders do not generally lead us somewhere we do not want to go, rather they are a reflection of who we are as a people – and sometimes an indication of whether we are even a single people any longer.

The third answer is the need for a meaningful national debate on how to address Islam.  I wrote a series of articles beginning in the fall of 2014 into the spring of last year.  Nothing has changed, if anything what was written then is being proved out since that time.  That will not change.  Islam is an ideology with a religious component – an ideology which is both inconsistent and incompatible with any other ideology.  As I asked in the last article in regards to accepting some refugees from Syria, to what extent should a society take steps to destroy itself in order to show compassion?  That is the heart of what needs to be discussed.  There are likely no easy answers here, but I do believe that the only answer that will benefit all is reaching out to our Muslim brothers and sisters in the name of Christ – so that they truly know who He is, and will turn toward Him with the same hope we have.  It is not Muslims who are the problem, for we have been endowed with the same nature by our Creator as they.  Instead it is Islam’s tenets that are the source of conflict.  Today’s extremism is simply a return to early Islam’s mainstream.  It is simply a matter of which tenets one decides to follow within Islam.

The above are all tied together in the fourth answer, and that is education.  We need to remove the hogwash that a secular education alone is sufficient to create the virtue needed for a people to be successful.  Instead our children need to be taught the languages of both reason and faith.  This does not mean teaching religion per se, but it does mean teaching the lessons and philosophy underlying it.  We were founded on an ideology of inclusion and the opportunity of fulfilling one’s abilities – based upon Judeo-Christian tenets.  We have only to look at our track record over the last seventy or so years to see what secularism has given us.  Our Founders were much more knowledgeable than we are in this subject.  They realized needing both the languages of reason and faith were essential for a people to both thrive and be successful.  But to do that effectively, the Federal government must be entirely removed from education.  Instead, control should be brought as local as possible, because those within a local community should know best about what their children need – and have the most at stake if they are wrong.  Some state constitutions provide more government involvement in education than others, and that is okay.  That is what the people of those states agreed to when they were first organized.  If they ever wish to change their state’s involvement in education, they have the means and capability to do so.

It appears that most people agree with the above thoughts on education as well.  A few more poll results to demonstrate.  First, 69% of likely voters agree with the current administration that ‘a world class education is the single most important factor in determining not just whether our kids can compete for the best jobs but whether America can out-compete countries around the world.’[11]  They ‘also remain convinced that U.S. public schools don’t provide one.’[12]  Further, ‘Just 21% of American adults believe the federal government should set the education standards for schools ... Forty percent (40%) say that’s a state responsibility, while 31% think local government should determine those standards.’[13]

We are off track and rapidly headed in the wrong direction.  To change course there is one adjustment that we need to make.  We need to go to our knees and with humility ask for forgiveness.  It is only when we truly get our priorities straight that we will begin to find the right answers.

 

[1] Rasmussen Reports, Right Direction or Wrong Track, December 23, 2015, http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/top_stories/right_direction_or_wrong_track

[2] Riffkin, Rebecca, Big Government Still Names as Biggest Threat to U.S., Gallup, Inc., December 22, 2015, http://www.gallup.com/poll/187919/big-government-named-biggest-threat.aspx?g_source=big government threat&g_medium=search&g_campaign=tiles

[3] Gallup Pool, 75% in U.S. See Widespread Government Corruption, September 18, 2015,

[4] Washington Post-ABC News, Americans more fearful of a major terror attack in the U.S., poll finds, November 20, 2015, http://apps.washingtonpost.com/g/page/politics/washington-post-abc-news-poll-nov-15-19-2015/1880/.

[5] Source:  Bureau of Labor Statistics accessed 12/31/2015.

[6] Source:  US Treasury Direct, accessed 1/3/2016, https://www.treasurydirect.gov/govt/reports/pd/histdebt/histdebt_histo5.htm.

[7i] Poushter, Jacob, Extremism Concerns Growing in West and Predominantly Muslim Countries, Pew Research Center, July 16, 2015, accessed 12/31/2015, http://www.pewglobal.org/2015/07/16/extremism-concerns-growing-in-west-and-predominantly-muslim-countries/.

[8] Nekvasil, Nader and Younis, Mohamed, Nearly Half of Syrians Would Leave Syria if They Could, Gallup, November 30, 2015, accessed 12/31/2015, http://www.gallup.com/poll/186995/nearly-half-syrians-leave-syria.aspx?g_source=Nearly half of Syrians&g_medium=search&g_campaign=tiles.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Rasmussen Reports, No World-Class Schools Here at Home?, 8/26/2016, http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/lifestyle/education/education_update.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Rasmussen Reports, Americans Favor Getting the Feds Out of the Classroom, 12/23/2015, http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/lifestyle/education/americans_favor_getting_the_feds_out_of_the_classroom.

 

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About Dan Wolf

Dan WolfMy goal is that my writing will help you to get started on your own journey of discovery, or help you along the way on a journey you may have already begun. Our Founders considered education, religion, morality, and virtue to be the cornerstones for any successful society. Being successful requires understanding both the languages of reason and faith; reason alone is insufficient.