The year 2011 was profound in its successes on the local level combined with failures nationally and internationally.
While one might conclude from the past year that politics should begin and end at home, I believe a more subtle lesson can be gleaned.
This past year was simply a continuation of some less-than-stellar years since 2008. While some economists insist that the Great Recession ended in 2009, this conclusion defies common sense. As defined, a recession ends when GDP stops declining. This definition would conclude that trouble ends when floodwaters are no longer rising, even if we are six feet under water.
Clearly, the economy remains in peril, both nationally and internationally. We remain a long way to restored wealth, jobs and political common sense.
However, the rising tide that left our economy underwater did not prevent some from floating to the top. The North Country has fared better than many other areas, thanks in no small part to a natural resourcefulness and resilience within our local economy. New businesses have started up, and some have gone, housing prices have dropped, but not by nearly as much as elsewhere, and we have not lost hope that a large, new opportunity will finally present itself.
Meanwhile, this region was blessed with an investment in our economy unprecedented since the expansion of Plattsburgh Air Force Base.
It will be interesting to see how the Regional Economic Development Council's plan will play out. While I have lamented that it is not a plan of the same sort of detail one would presume were the investment purely private, it was the best plan in competition with others from across the state.
It attests to one thing. A thoughtful and visionary local leadership can best divine what a local economy needs. The council's model was a sensible approach that pooled taxpayer money from all regions and used it to unleash the potential best able to adapt, innovate and grow.
Anyone countrywide can then benefit from the success of one region by moving to where there is vision and prosperity. Of course, we wish all regions can be equally bountiful. But every natural resource has a fixed endowment, and not all regions share in the elements that predict economic success.
The art is to follow success, even if it means some displacement, rather than hinder success by taxing it too steeply to give to those less innovative.
This is a compassionate country, though, and we should strive at the federal level to give everyone the tools they need to prosper. Just as the taxpayers of New York have invested in the best plan around for regional economic development, we should ensure residents across this country have the best education the world has to offer, and access to sufficient and affordable health care to keep them productive and protect our collective investment in each individual.
We should also ensure there is a level playing field, that those who benefit most from our collective investment help pay accordingly for the next generation, and that we are kept safe and secure from harm so we can devote our time to what each of us does best.
If this last year has taught us anything, it is that our leaders in Washington can agree on only one thing — to maintain the status quo, which, by most measures, isn't working out so well.
The federal form of government has become so large that is seems unable to hold itself accountable, or its residents accountable either.
The bickering over the arrangement of the deck chairs on the titanic Eurozone demonstrates that the United States does not have a monopoly on dysfunction as the ship is sinking.
We should expect a leaner and more efficient federal government that can agree on one thing — to create the environment by which our individual initiative and innovation can thrive. We must produce a more nimble and mobile workforce that is able to adapt to changing technologies and move to emerging success.
We should, by now, accept that government cannot create prosperity or buy our way to affluence.
However, it can create the environment that offers us all the greatest likelihood to succeed.
In this new year, let us count our blessings, including those bestowed upon us from the state, from the federal government and from beyond. But, let us notice that these investments in us are designed not to console or appease us, but rather to make us stronger, more productive and more sustainable.
The federalist vision should be to do what it can to help us all realize our full potential and then to step out of the way so each of us can do so at the local and regional level.
After all, if we want greater accountability from our various levels of government, perhaps we should offer greater personal accountability, if not for us, at least for our children.
Colin Read is the chair of the Department of Economics and Finance at SUNY Plattsburgh. His seventh book, Great Minds in Finance — the Portfolio Theorists, is coming out this month. Continue the discussion at www.pressrepublican.com/0216_read.