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American Income 1 ife Insurance Company BERNARD RAPOPORT Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer A Truly Balanced Budget By Bernard Rapoport In A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens described the end of the eighteenth century as “the best of times” and “the worst of times.” Were Dickens living and writing today, he could use the same words to describe the end of this cen tury. Years of “growth and prosperity” suggest that there are reasons for optimism, yet increasing poverty, a loss of commitment to education, and a growing crisis in our healthcare system are but a few reasons for pessimism. Another reason for pessimism is that we have allowed simple words to paralyze our society and government. Some historian in years to come might very well hold President Ronald Reagan responsible for emphasizing the one word that most contributes to paralysis, the one word that today stands in the way of improving social conditions in our country. That word is “budget.” It is not my intention to defame President Reagan, but if I fault him for one thing more than any other, it is the paralysis he imposed upon the nation that twice elected him. That paralysis is a result of his fixation on the word “budget.” That the word doesn’t work effectively in business is pointed out by Oren Harari in his book, Leapfrogging the Competition. I recently had a conversation with a CEO of a strug gling $100-million company. He complained that every year he would wind up spending literally two months immersed in an abhorrent, wasteful budgeting process. There are many reasons why I think it folly when politicians refer to this word as an excuse from not meeting social responsibilitiesespecially in the areas of health or educationwhen they know full well that government accounting is totally different from business accounting. Consider just one public policy initiative that wouldn’t have passed the budget fixation that today has our country in a state of paralysis. I suspect that many in my age bracket feel as I dothat the single most important piece of legislation passed in the 20th Century was the G.I. Bill of Rights. I do not mean to diminish the importance of Social Security, unemployment compensation, or civil rights legislationeach of which has proved vital to a sustainable democratic society. But what was so admirable about the passage of the G.I. Bill of Rights legislation is that to pass it, the politicians said: “Budget be damned! Educating our youngsters comes first.” Any mathematician or statistician who attempts to track the return on investments will have to concede that no business ever made an investment for which the financial return in any way approached the return on the G.I. Bill of Rights. And I am talking about dollars and cents. That investment in the education of those who served in this country’s armed forces has been repaid many times overin dollars and centsby the productivity of the GIs the government invested in. And it is only through continued investment in education that our democracy will survive. I believe in standards for those who seek higher education, as well as those who pursue education in a technical school. Anyone who has been involved in education knows that the President’s advocacy of a national standard is essential, if for only one reason: in individual school districts, there is so much parochial, ethnic, racial, and financial disagreement that somehow there is more political concern than interest in the education of a child. You can’t impose education; you can’t order it; it has to be something an individual wants. But public schools and good teachers are the first priority. Education rarely turns a profitin the short run. And a budget is an instrument that works in the short run. But what could be a greater investment in the long-term future of this country than money spent on education? 14 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JANUARY 16, 1998