For nearly four years, I have seen the US mostly in snapshots. A week or two at most, a couple of times a year at most. During this time, I have seen a country in slow but heart-wrenching decline, a decline almost entirely of its own making. A lot of people are aware of this, and there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth online, but no action seems to be taken. Nobody, it seems, knows what to do to even begin to solve the problems.

There are plenty of examples of wealthy but mismanaged countries around the world. Wealth and military power, as it turns out, aren’t enough. You need competent management too. In Africa, it’s easy to point to Zimbabwe and Nigeria as examples of mismanaging vast wealth, but Venezuela and Argentina provide excellent examples in our own hemisphere. Management of the US economy has become inept, with no adults in the room to make tough decisions.

Someone recently asked me how to fix things. The first step, I am increasingly convinced, is breaking the two party system. This will force politics back to the center. This will also allow a credible third party (I prefer the name Independent Party, and a platform of NO platform except to support credible independent candidates with ballot access) to be used as political cover for making some adult decisions that are long overdue. The key is rebalancing. Actually, the United States remains a fantastically wealthy country; it is just horribly mismanaged and corrupt, but in unpredictable ways. We need to rebalance military spending towards investments in infrastructure and education, but we also need to have a predictable environment for doing business and we need to be selling things that people want to buy.

China is plenty corrupt–I lived there for 3 years and experienced first-hand that the level of corruption is incredibly high. However, everyone running a business knows who they need to pay off and how much. The system works. In exchange for getting a free pass on corruption, the Chinese government provides a high level of education for its people, and excellent quality infrastructure. I think that nowhere else in the world will likely ever catch up to their manufacturing prowess again. Having become the world’s leading manufacturer, China is now interested in building additional pillars of their economy. None of this is a secret; the country has a published industrial policy. Actually, the future roadmap is increasingly clear to anyone who is paying attention (Washington DC is not, their collective and full attention is concentrated on a few lunatics in turbans camping in a Yemeni desert somewhere, along with spying on the American people).

If you want to sell services (and our economy is largely a services economy) you first have to make it possible in the first place (by streamlining our ridiculous overreactive security measures since 9/11) and you have to have services that people want to buy (moldy airports and dilapidated seaports and slow railways and bridge-falling-down highways aren’t that). Now, what products and services do we sell, exactly, that aren’t either substandard, untrustworthy, or some combination of both? I see this as a pretty huge problem and I am not optimistic that it’s a problem that will be fixed before it’s no longer fixable. It did not take long for the Soviet Union to collapse, and I really don’t understand why American politicians think the US is is so “exceptional.” Exceptionalism is earned, and it’s time to get to work.