Civilization results from the creation of an economic surplus beyond that needed to survive. A society grows stronger by its ability to generate larger surpluses (save rather than consume) and wisely invest that surplus. America handsomely demonstrated that after WII. For example, Eisenhower started the Interstate Highway System (cost $425B in 2006 dollars; source) and the Apollo program (cost $170B in 2005 dollars; source). Both far larger than the Manhattan Project, which cost roughly $22B in current dollars (source).
What have we done since then, as a follow-up to these great achievements? Among our largest projects are these:
1. The Great Society, one of history’s boldest social engineering projects
2. The war on drugs
3. A massive military and intelligence establishment
4. Three foreign wars
Note that 3 of these were started by Johnson and Nixon. Someday we should try electing another conservative President, like Ike. Balances the budget, keeps us out of foreign wars — real conservatism.
The cost of these projects staggers the imagination, dwarfing that of the Highway and Apollo projects. Have any of these made America better, safer, stronger?
The other side of this equation is our vast foreign debt, growing every year. Unwilling to pay for our government and its projects, we (both conservative and liberal) elected to borrow the required funds. That works only if these generate sufficient growth to pay the resulting interest and principal. Does anyone believe this is so?
For another perspective, look at other nations. None have copied our projects. Even the European welfare states attempted nothing so grand as the Great Society. Will these projects — all rolling merrily along — help maintain America’s global preeminence in the 21st century? Or will they smash it?
All of these projects were conscious decisions. Announced by the Executive Branches, supported by the Federal and State Legislatures, ratified by us in elections. In the next week we’ll look at the origins of these projects, allowing a comparison of their goals with the actual results.