Imagine a small factory town like those that used to dot Pennsylvania and New York States. The total population is a few thousand people. There’s a mill, a town hall and a main street lined with stores. Everyone in town makes their livelihood in one way or the other from the mill. If they don’t work there they sell goods and services to the mill or they sell goods and services to the men and women who work there.
Then, one day, the mill closes. The smokestacks stop puffing smoke. The parking lots sit empty. The workers are idle.
It doesn’t take long before the ripple effects hit the whole town. Restaurants are shuttered. Grocery stores are closed. Homes are foreclosed on. The unemployment rate goes through the roof. Demands for public services skyrocket. Tax revenues plummet. The town is in crisis.
The town council begins hearings on the situation. As a good citizen you attend. Weeks pass. The hearings continue. No action is taken.
The town council is deadlocked. Democratic members of the council rant and rave that the unemployment rate is through the roof, that families are hurting, that schools are hard pressed to pay teachers. They demand higher levels of public spending. They demand higher levels of taxation to pay for it.
The Republican members of the council thunder back. They point to the lack of revenue and the existing shortfalls in the budget and demand cuts. They want layoffs at City Hall. They want police officers furloughed. Fiscal austerity is the only remedy they insist.
You sit day after day as the debate rages on and nothing is done. You wonder. Am I in a dream? Am I the only person here who can see the obvious? If we don’t get the mill running again, none of this makes any difference. Without that vital industry there is no budget. There are no services. There is no town.
It’s not a dream, of course. It’s a nightmare, and it’s one in which all of us are trapped. They say there is no bipartisanship in Washington, nothing on which the two major parties can agree. Apparently, that’s not true. Because for the past twenty years both parties have facilitated the dismantling of our manufacturing base and the shipment of one vital industry after another abroad. And, now, with unemployment at dangerously high levels, job creation stagnant and our economy hanging in the balance, they continue to ignore the central issue.
We need to balance our budget. We need to live within our means. We need to do a lot of other things as well. But none of that makes any difference if we do not immediately take steps to bring back manufacturing and industrial production. Without the mill there is no town. Without the mill there is no nation.