Is America Weighed Down By 'Dead Ideas'? : NPR

Is America Weighed Down By 'Dead Ideas'? : NPR

Is America Weighed Down By 'Dead Ideas'?

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Matt Miller
Salvador Farfan

Matt Miller is a columnist for Fortune and the host of the radio program Left, Right and Center.

'The Tyranny Of Dead Ideas' cover
Salvador Farfan
The Tyranny of Dead Ideas
By Matt Miller
Times Books
Hardcover, 282 pages
List Price: $25

Read an excerpt.

Morning Edition, February 9, 2009 · If an entire culture can be said to be hung up on the past, then author Matt Miller might be the nation's therapist. His message to America: Just let go.

"The problem we're in now as an economy is that we're trapped in old ways of thinking," Miller tells Morning Edition guest host Linda Wertheimer.

In his new book, The Tyranny of Dead Ideas, Miller writes that while many of our current notions of economic and social well-being made sense when they first gained traction 50 years ago, they don't hold much water today. On the list of outmoded beliefs: the ideas that our children will earn more than we do; that free trade is good; that financial markets can regulate themselves; that taxes are bad; and that the company we work for should provide us with health care and pensions.

"Unless we explode the dead ideas I'm talking about in the book, we won't find our way back to a durable prosperity," warns Miller.

Take health care: Miller argues that the current employer-based health care system hurts businesses and leaves too many people uninsured or under-insured. Instead, he believes government should share more of the cost of health care.

"We're the only country that does things this way," he says, referring to the employer-based health care system. "We're going to need to revisit the role of the government versus the role of private corporations in assuring the kind of prosperity we want."

Miller admits that increased government involvement in health care and other services will require a hike in taxes. But, he says, as the baby boom generation retires, taxes are likely to go up anyway. And so now may be the time to "tax ourselves more smartly ... [by] cutting taxes on things like payrolls, which hurt lower-income workers and kill jobs, and raising taxes on dirty energy, which we want to cut back on because of our environmental goals."

While raising taxes is never a popular idea, Miller says the time is right: "People are ready for a more honest conversation on this because they know now how serious the stakes are."

While current thinking about the American economy is hardly monolithic, the individuals who occupy its most influential positions subscribe to certain key premises:

  • our children will earn more than we do
  • free trade is "good" no matter how many people it hurts
  • employers should play a central role in the provision of health coverage
  • taxes hurt the economy
  • "local control" of schools is essential
  • people tend to end up, in economic terms, where they deserve to

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