A crisis usually isn't

The writer Gregg Easterbrook is a rare bird: a non-ideological thinker. Rather than parroting a common liberal or conservative perspective, Easterbrook is known to carefully examine the facts and draw conclusions from them rather than falling back on preconceived notions.

It's a novel approach, one that I and other writers ought to practice more often.

More than anything, Easterbrook questions alarmists and claims of crisis. For example, although he champions environmental causes such as clean air and clean water, he condemns environmental groups that say things are getting worse when in fact they are getting better.

Easterbrook also criticizes the news media for its anxiety-inducing exaggerations. Have you noticed that the sky is falling every day on cable news? This perpetual panic creates needless fears and anxieties.

"The general direction of history is pretty positive," Easterbrook told me in a telephone interview this week. "I'd rather be alive in 2009 than at any time in world history. But that doesn't mean we don't have all kinds of problems."

One big problem we have is a global recession. People are uptight about failing industries, high unemployment and big government expenditures aimed at pulling us out of the spiral.

Easterbrook, however, urges perspective. In fact, he says, this recession is not as bad as the one in 1981-82, and it bears no resemblance to the Great Depression. To draw such a parallel, he says, is "insulting to the memory of those who lived through the Depression."

"In the last generation, we as a society have been prone to declare everything a crisis rather than a problem," he says. "In the eight years of George W. Bush, he faced one genuine crisis -- 9/11 -- but proclaimed 15 or 20 different crises. He said avian flu would kill 2 million Americans. There ended up being about 200 deaths globally."

October will see the release of Easterbrook's new book, "Sonic Boom: Why the World Economy Will Boom and What It Will Mean for You and Everyone Else." As the title suggests, Easterbrook's thesis is that once the recession recedes, the global economy will resume its rapid trajectory.

"We've had cyclical recessions since World War II ended," he says. "I don't think the current recession is fundamentally different from the previous ones. I think this one will end soon. The lesson of history is that when a crisis interrupts a trend, as soon as the crisis is over, the previous trend resumes. My guess is that as things get straightened out in the financial sector, the previous trend will resume."

That means rapidly developing nations such as China and India will jump back on the fast track. So will the United States, he believes, if we focus on our strengths.

"What is the United States good at?" he asks. "We're good at coming up with good ideas. We will need a stronger commitment to education than we have today. We need better high schools and a higher percentage of students attending college. The thing we can contribute to the world is new ideas."

Easterbrook's perspective is instructive in the context of Nevada's budget debate. State lawmakers are looking to cut hundreds of millions of dollars, including deep cuts to education. In light of the recession's severe effects on the state, the cuts, tempered by a few modest tax hikes, seem unavoidable.

The elected officials holed up in Carson City have a tough task and a tight deadline. They need to cobble something together quick. But unfortunately they aren't seeing the big picture.

The big picture, guided by Easterbrook, includes two important facts:

1. The recession will end soon and economic prosperity will return. Easterbrook says he hasn't looked closely at Las Vegas but he applies a simple bit of logic to conclude: "When times are good, people want to go to Las Vegas. Times are about to get good again, so the outlook for Las Vegas is pretty good." This not only will help the casinos, it will drive more gaming, sales and room tax revenues into state coffers.

2. America's future prosperity depends on its ability to come up with good ideas. This means a good education system is essential. Yet in Nevada, the already underfunded and underperforming schools are about to take a big financial hit.

The Nevada Legislature is required to approve a balanced budget, a difficult task when it's faced with a $3 billion deficit. But it would be penny wise and pound foolish to slash education at a time when it's needed more than ever. Then, when the economy revives in the next year or so, lawmakers will have to work overtime just to restore education funding to today's insufficient levels. In the meantime, thousands of students will suffer, and Nevada will be less viable in the global economy.

In the final weeks of their session, Nevada lawmakers of both parties would be wise to shed their ideological blinders, pool their collective wisdom and dream up a couple of great ideas to preserve the state's schools.

Competing in the next economic boom depends on it.

Geoff Schumacher (gschumacher@reviewjournal.com) is the Review-Journal's director of community publications. His column appears Friday. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/geoffschumacher.