Oscar Wilde once famously said the optimist sees the doughnut, and the pessimist sees the hole. Contemporary Washington is fixated on the holes even as doughnuts are arriving by the dozen.
Let’s take the economy. During the Obama years, the stock market has risen from roughly 6,000 to 16,000, while the jobless rate that reached double digits is at 7 percent and falling.
Both rising stock prices and an increasingly robust job market are developments little discussed on the floor of Congress, where partisans continue to battle over a “jobless recovery” and a “war on coal” that combine in the eyes of the pessimists to grow the hole even as reality reflects the opposite, an economy of doughnuts ready for delivery.
Notwithstanding Tucson’s remarkable economic assets, which include a secure water supply, an enviable climate, a booming downtown, a great research university and proximity to Mexico’s emerging markets and ports, pessimists abound. Even the modern streetcar that has sparked nearly a billion dollars in private development before it has ferried a single passenger is regularly condemned on talk radio as a boondoggle and a drag on public debt.
Instead, I believe these factors — when combined with new developments — squarely place the region on the cusp of another era of expansive growth.
Perhaps the key development, one of many not predicted by the “experts,” is the arrival of deep extraction methods and with this technology quantities of natural gas unimagined even a few years ago.
Since 2006, America’s annual dependence on foreign liquid energy sources has fallen from 60 percent to 36 percent in 2013 as the result of the interaction of new recovery methods and fuel economy standards imposed by Congress. If the fracking process proves to be environmentally tolerable, the job numbers will inevitably benefit as we rewrite energy policies that for four decades have been determined largely by the fathers of OPEC.
No longer will our economy be subject to so-called “oil shocks”; nor will our foreign policy be dominated by such considerations. Americans of the next generation will be free to turn their eyes toward the Pacific, where the big economic action will be. Visionary civic leaders already are working on shaping Tucson to be the cargo center for goods flowing to and from the exploding Pacific Port of Guaymas.
Whether Americans will fully enjoy the benefits of this economic expansion depends on two major policy decisions that only Congress can make.
First, the House must break the logjam on immigration. For the moment, an expansive Senate measure dealing with everything from border security to the path to citizenship sits idly in the House, where the tea-party faction of the Republican conference has successfully blocked action. Meanwhile, a frustrated speaker backed by the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies is campaigning for action in the second session of what to date has been the least productive Congress in 50 years.
Pessimists believe immigration reform cannot even be attempted in an election year, while I believe it must and will.
The second decision arrives in the form of a Trans-Pacific Trade Agreement that would join 12 Pacific nations in potentially the planet’s biggest and most important new trade alliance. Pacific nations including Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore are in the final stages of negotiation with the U.S., Mexico and Canada, and the president recently announced he will send authorizing legislation to Congress early this year.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership — TPP, as it is known — will offer moderates in both parties a chance to broadly expand U.S. markets in Asia, and to do so at a moment in history when our energy posture is capable of underwriting a robust new era in U.S. manufacturing, delivering the jobs for which we have been waiting. Success depends on leveling the concerns of the far right, which contends the U.S. will be sacrificing sovereignty, and the left, which will argue that TPP is NAFTA on steroids.
Who will prevail? Will it be the doughnut or the hole, the optimists or the pessimists? For Tucson and America, much rests on the outcome.