America’s next great golden age

Jul. 27, 2013 @ 04:42 AM

Sage and I are still on vacation in Florida, but we’ve since moved further south from Tallahassee to St. Pete Beach. Currently, we’re staying with a dear family friend who lives about one mile from the Gulf of Mexico.

I love our friend’s house. It’s straight out of the 1950s, an era which, along with the 1960s and much of the 1970s, I consider one of the true golden ages in Western civilization. At least in terms of economic optimism and prosperity.

The house’s architectural style, known as “mid-century modern,” is almost completely unique to Florida.

The look is very angular, very low to the ground, with elements like gleaming terrazzo floors, ceramic tiling, and wide picture windows that frame sweeping panorama of palm trees and exotic blooms of every sort.

I am stunned when my friend, a realtor, tells me how much her house and others like it in this charming beach town now cost. The prices are actually comparable to similar sized homes in Rutherford County.

We are talking about houses that are within walking distance to the ocean. That’s how much the real estate bubble has burst in Florida.

On the one hand, this is great news if you’re ready to retire here. But my friend tells me that most of the buyers she’s dealing with are investors who are snapping up properties solely for the purpose of renting them out.

She also tells me that many of these investors are from overseas – that she’s selling to Russians, Argentinians, people from Europe - because Americans aren’t buying. They’re renting.

“But shouldn’t we be buying our own country back?” my friend muses out loud.

Well, yes. We should.

Just like we should have put a halt to so-called free trade treaties as soon as they began to put one American industry after another out of business.

Just like we should have stopped shopping at Wal-Mart once it became clear it was the indispensable distributor and facilitator for these job-killing treaties.

And just like we should acknowledge that we have urgent challenges with persistent high unemployment and decreasing wages that immigration “reform” will surely make worse.

Detroit’s imminent bankruptcy should serve as an instructive example of what happens when we ignore the blinking red signs of economic decline. But some of the reactions to this development have me wondering if we’ll ever learn.

I just don’t get the “let it burn” mentality that some Americans have toward this once-great American city. Rather than bitterly laying blame for Detroit’s failures, we should focus on what made it, and by extension, America, successful for such an extraordinarily long run.

I have long said it is time for America to embark on another big initiative, just as we did with the construction of the interstate highway system that accommodated all those cars made in Detroit.

We could recreate this prosperity with a similar commitment to a national high-speed rail system. It wouldn’t have to replace cars. I wouldn’t even want it to; like most people I love the autonomy of the automobile.

But high speed rail would be an additional and exciting choice in transportation. It would make it easier for urban dwellers to visit pastoral places of natural beauty, like Rutherford County, and for rural citizens to zip in to the glittering big city for a day.

Most important, just as the interstate highway system and automobiles touched off a decades-long economic boom with the building of new towns and shopping areas and neighborhoods, so too would the energetic construction of high-speed rail corridors.

Incidentally, this would also result in a full-fledged rebounding of the American manufacturing industry – that is, if we committed to manufacturing and assembling these trains in our own country.

Anyway, back to sunny St. Pete Beach. As a fan of 20th century vintage, I’m thoroughly enjoying the place. There are still motor courts on the beach with names like “The Bon-Aire” and of course, all this great retro architecture that recalls a time when our towns and citizens were trim and purposeful and headed toward a deservedly good future.

We still could be. We just have to believe in that America again – and as my friend would say, buy it back.