Editor's Note

Editor's Note by William McKenzie, Editor of The Catalyst

Summoning the courage to be fiscally responsible

How many times have we all heard about the national debt and yet there it sits. Or, more accurately, there it marches onward and upward. The accumulation of all our federal deficits over time now reaches around $23 trillion.

As The Catalyst editorial board met last fall to consider issues that will require courage to tackle, we settled on this one to spotlight. Unlike, say, climate change, the national debt evokes few visceral responses. But, left unchecked, this deep-seated problem will lead to its own calamities. 

Almost surely, nothing will happen to substantively address this challenge in an election year. But campaigns are a perfect time to lay the framework for change. And this year is the right time to present strategies for controlling, reducing, and minimizing the debt.

In this edition, we present a range of contributors who offer their views on that very challenge. Plus, we offer you the chance to decide how you would fix this problem. You will find a reader’s quiz in Bob Bixby’s “How Would You Balance the Budget?” piece. You also will discover these contributions in this issue: 

  • James A. Baker, III recalling from his time as President Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff how a bipartisan compromise saved Social Security in 1983.
  • John Kasich, former GOP House Budget Committee chairman, explaining why budget writers cannot play favorites and that major transitions must be phased in. The former Ohio governor also outlines the critical fiscal issues facing states.
  • Margaret Spellings, president and CEO of Texas 2036, addressing one of the most important issues facing states: underfunded pensions.
  • Michael A. Peterson, Maya MacGuineas, and Bob Bixby, leaders of three non-partisan organizations devoted to fiscal responsibility, making the case for why we ignore the national debt at our economic peril.
  • Holly Kuzmich, the George W. Bush Institute’s executive director, delving into polling data to gauge Americans’ interest in this problem.
  • James Otteson, the Thomas W. Smith Presidential Chair in Business Ethics at Wake Forest University, explaining what it means morally and ethically to hand off our biggest fiscal challenge to future generations.
  • Gordon Gray, director of fiscal policy at the American Action Forum, and Evangeline Mathis, a SMU senior who serves as The Catalyst’s editorial intern, reporting on young Americans’ views on the debt they will likely inherit.
  • Cullum Clark, director of the Bush Institute-SMU Economic Growth Initiative, diving into how nations previously ignored their debts and yet how others have corrected them.
  • Matthew Rooney, managing director of the joint economic growth initiative, declaring that the nation has a hard time setting priorities because Congress consistently fails to pass a budget.
  • Natalie Gonnella-Platts, director of the Bush Institute’s Women’s Initiative, and Lindsay Lloyd, Bradford M. Freeman Director of the Bush Institute’s Human Freedom Initiative, exposing the myth that eliminating federal aid will take care of the debt.

This edition also represents a handoff: I am becoming senior editorial advisor for the Bush Institute while Brittney Bain will step into the role of editor of The Catalyst. A graduate of Baylor University and Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Brittney came to the Bush Institute in 2013 after working on Capitol Hill for six years. 

Launching this journal and guiding it during its first four years has been a privilege and a surprise. I edited an opinion journal throughout the 1980s and did not expect to get the chance to do so again. I am grateful for that opportunity because journals like these thrive on ideas that drive action. In The Catalyst’s case, the ideas are inspired by the values of compassionate conservatism. This will remain our focus under Brittney’s leadership as we speak to contemporary problems.

Letters to the Editor: Your Response to the Fall 2019 “The Case for Capitalism” Edition of The Catalyst

 Re: Ken Hersh on Capitalism and Social Good Can Co-Exist

 I agree with your piece! We can’t throw the baby out with the bath water when we look to make corporations more focused on sustainable, long-term profits. We need to reform corporate by-laws in such a way that ethical behavior of good corporate citizens can be organically part of a new, reinvigorated capitalism.

 We must save capitalism and we must protect investors!

Ken Newman, Los Angeles, California

Re: Laura Collins on Immigrant Entrepreneurs Drive Main Street’s Growth

America needs immigrants but don’t overwhelm her with too many before she can accommodate them and process them and assimilate them! Right now we are suffering from a nation overwhelmed by too much too quickly.

Patti Killham, Amarillo, Texas

Re: Henry Paulson on Five Questions to Ask — and Answers to Know — About the U.S.-China Relationship

I thought Henry M. Paulson, Jr. made very critical points. We cannot sequester our technology, and we cannot maintain a permanent Cold War with China. They are very integrated into the world economy. We have to work with them and trade with them for the benefits of world peace.

Moses M. Twersky, Providence, Rhode Island

Re: J. H. Cullum Clark on Why America’s Free Market Economy Works Better in Some Places than Others

Very well-written essay addressing the important question of which American communities are thriving and why. The research-driven insights point to clear and practical policy implications. Excellent work.

Steve Ingram, Arlington, Texas

Leave your feedback with The Catalyst editors