One way or another, Minnesota's 2010-11 biennial budget will be balanced. Simply put, the state Constitution requires it. But what will it take to use this rugged but pregnant moment to truly rethink how government in this part of the country can work smarter and no less humanely? What kind of courage will it take, on the part of all players, to translate imaginative and promising ideas into politically feasible changes?
When it comes to massive financial involvements in the broader U.S. economy, more genies are out of more bottles and more slopes are slipperier than ever -- pick your favorite perverse metaphor. What will it take for current emergency policies to level off and then reverse? What will it take to assure that "loan guarantees" don't turn into ordinary, albeit galactic, grants?
An even more immense fiscal problem: 78 million baby boomers have already begun retiring. What will it take to keep the nation solvent as they increasingly collect Social Security and have their medical and nursing home care covered by Medicare and Medicaid?
Whatever one thinks about Bush administration policy in Iraq and Afghanistan, the remarkable -- some might argue, miraculous -- fact is the American homeland has been safe for more than seven years, ever since 9/11. What will it take for the Obama administration to maintain this record and stay on the offensive against Islamic terrorism?
For national security reasons, if none other, will the United States finally take full advantage of all of its energy resources? Not just mighty winds, switchgrasses and the like, but also oil and gas reserves in Alaska and offshore, plus nuclear power?
The United States leads the world in family fragmentation. This is an unqualified disaster, as one cannot even begin to calculate the economic, social and acutely personal costs -- especially for children -- of huge out-of-wedlock birth rates and divorce rates. What will it take to reinstitutionalize marriage in many parts of this country?
One of the disappointments of the Bush administration is that all momentum for its faith-based initiative was lost very quickly. The attacks of 9/11 were the main reason for the breakdown, but not the only one. What will it take for us as a distinctively spiritual and tolerant society to take fuller advantage of our religious institutions and traditions when seeking to help people in need?
What will it take to reduce often giant achievement gaps among racial and ethnic groups? What will it take to increase educational options for all families, especially low-income ones? How can we better customize learning by taking greater advantage of technology? Suffice it to say, establishmentarian notions of educational reform in recent generations -- including substantial increases in inflation-adjusted spending -- have not worked terribly well.
Related question: Many of the most important advocates for expanded early childhood education in Minnesota are doing and saying all the right things about the wisdom of market-based approaches in general and parental choice in particular. But what unprecedented kind of dogged effort will it take for their emphasis to prevail insofar as their involvement in the issue is mainly short term and part time, while teacher union officials and other members of what Bill Bennett called the "Blob" and of what Arne Carlson called the "Cartel" never take a semester off?
Many have long argued that American society is systemically biased against women. This is an increasingly difficult, even ludicrous argument to make, given, for example, how women now measurably outnumber men enrolled in college and in key graduate and professional programs. All this raises a critical, rarely raised issue: What will it take for men, especially African-American men, to catch up to women?
A final related question: What will it take for extraordinary numbers of men with criminal records to build new lives for themselves, and in the process also come to be viewed as more "marriageable" in the eyes of women? This last point is profoundly important, as is the requirement that everything done in this area be congruent with public safety.
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Might we all find as much strength as wisdom, with loads of each.
Mitch Pearlstein is founder and president of Center of the American Experiment.