Monday, February 11, 2008

Some More On My Perspective - A Response to Lawyer Mama

I don't mean this response to sound defensive, so please don't read it with that tone. I am simply posting it to explain my own perspective.

My father was dirt poor growing up as he did in the Depression Era South. The fact is, where he lived, the "Great Depression" was nothing new, as the area had been in Depression for decades. He and his brothers wanted a better life. As one teacher advised them, they wanted a job where "their head was above their butt". So they worked hard and went to college. They worked their way through college, struggling at times, but they did it. When my father decided he wanted to marry my mother, he explained to her simply "I want to marry you, but not if you won't let me finish my Masters Degree." She didn't, and he helped her get her own in Library Science while he got his Masters of Accounting. They both understood that sacrifice comes with the territory of wanting a better life.

My concern is that today, people have forgotten the meaning of sacrifice. They think having their cable turned off for a year means they're really giving up something. One article I read recently (I believe it was the Deseret News, but I can't say for sure) described how well the "poor" of this nation live compared to the average person thirty years ago. Most have cable, phones, air conditioning, and available food. That's more than many people can say in the developing world even among their wealthy. Americans have grown fat on the entitlement mindset. Once in a while I still hear of someone truly giving up something to get something more, and almost every time it seems to be in the memoirs of someone successful. Most of the most successful people I know - and I've had the great fortune to know quite a few, having been around politics and industry all my life - have come up from very poor circumstances thanks to a lot of hard work coupled with opportunities they sought out and made good on. The list of those who have come from a life of privilege and managed to grow their already large wealth is much shorter. The fact is, I've also had the chance to observe the children of the wealthy and successful, and all too often they are squanderers. I do not look at them with admiration any more than I look at someone from the projects with automatic derision.

Right now, our nation has several built in programs that are making progress of any kind difficult. Corporate taxes, high regulations, minimum wages, welfare programs... each of these contributes to the growing debt and the growing number of companies leaving this country in favor of localities with freer markets. Americans continue to buy their products after they leave, so why should they stay? Obviously, we have all voted with our dollars to say "we'd rather you paid low wages and had lower regulations so we can pay less." We can fool ourselves into thinking idealistically that the evil corporations need to suffer for all the things they do wrong in this country, but the ones we end up paying are the ones who do even more wrong when they leave to avoid our bogus policies. We are one of the only nations in the world that has policies that favor foreign corporations over our own.

What I want to see in this country is an absolute revolution in our way of thinking. The tax system we have puts a huge burden on every citizen - even those who don't pay taxes.
We need a better way to implement taxes, and we need a better way to encourage good habits - saving, investing, getting an education, sacrificing present wants for great opportunities in the future. I honestly believe the FairTax would go a long way towards achieving my desired goals, but it will take an absolutely revolution for it to ever pass. Too many people are apathetic to government or to change of any kind. The status quo is maintained simply to avoid having to get involved. We need more people to care. We need more people involved. There are many great thinkers in this nation who have long since given up trying to be heard because the political process has so many ways to destroy changes. I want a dialogue, even though it may involve some passionate views that disagree with my own, I want to hear what people have to say about what needs to change. The political process has got to improve, or the people have got to learn how to work through the system to improve the nation. Whatever happens, the status quo in this country will not suffice much longer.

-- Robert


Julie Pippert said...

A lot of good points, and a lot to think about.

Even as much as I try to be mindful, part of it is being surrounded by so much that is so available. Plus, we have grown up with a rewarded and compensated mindset. So I try to be careful for myself and with the kids, but it is a challenge. Then as much as I make a decision, someone else gainsays me with a "Oh it's not that bad, it's fine!"

For example, I have chosen not to put my kids on the computer or give them a computer. For each lesson on the computer, I believe they can learn it in the real world, and should. Yesterday a lady was appalled that I "un Webkinz'd" my kids' Webkinz. "I think it's fine," she said defensively, "It teaches good lessons, such as how to be wise about money!"

"We get those lessons," I explained, "I use the jar idea, where one is for donate, one is for save, one is for spend and so forth. I'm sure the Webkinz are fine, we just made a different choice," I shrugged.

She couldn't be okay with agreeing to disagree.

People are very married to---largely through defensiveness---their choices. So getting people to change lifestyles will take---pun intended---an act of congress. ;) And even then maybe not successfully.

I do think there needs to be tax reform.

Less cronism would be a good start.

Robert said...

I'm all for less back-scratching and more actual results. I'm all for changing, as long as I'm not the only one (or part of a small group of only ones) asked to change. I grew tired a long time ago of watching people expect others to do the changing.

My wife, for instance, is from out west. If you want to see blood boil, ask someone from out there how they feel about government involvement in land rights. National Parks are great, but if they're maintained at the expense of many people's livelihoods, then are they acceptable? And if they are, then why don't we declare them in states like New York, Pennsylvania, and Georgia and see how well that goes over. It's easy to pick on the states with little voting strength to stop it, but that doesn't make it right.

I agree with you that parenting involves a lot of difficult choices. Governing does, too. It's hard to say to people "I'm sorry, but you don't actually deserve a college education" or "Nowhere is it written that you have a right to food and housing without any expenditure on your own part". Those ideas sound callous and cruel, but they are a reality of dealing with making the hard choices of cutbacks in government programs. Military spending cuts almost always involve civilians losing their jobs around bases that get closed or reduced. There are no easy places to simply cut "fat" when so much has been deemed "necessary". That is the problem with our entitlement society. We have grown too accustomed to having and forgotten too much about sacrifice. Even though my Dad was a corporate executive my entire childhood, I never had a PC or cable until I was a teenager. Now those things are all too often thrown in with basic utilities when considering what is necessary. How did we get to this place? I can't say. But it's a place we can scarcely afford to stay with the current economic outlook. Something has got to give. Something, or more likely, someone.

le35 said...

Here is the article you were looking for from The Deseret News. It's the October 31, 2007 issue. We read it at my mom's house.,1249,695223288,00.html

The poor are getting richer, and the rich are getting richer. Things we view as necessities right now are things that people 30 years ago did not have. Compared to third world countries, we have no idea of what poverty entails. We define poverty as the lowest fifth of the nation. We cannot eliminate poverty simply by the very definition our country has chosen to take on the word poverty.

Robert said...

Yes, I knew where I had read it (both geographically and in what newspaper) but didn't have the article to quote. Thank you for that article. Enjoy, for my readers.

Lawyer Mama said...

I don't think it sounded defensive at all, Robert.

Sorry it took me a day or so to get back over here.

I agree there are problems with the tax system. And I also completely agree that it's nearly impossible to get people/politicians to even think about such fundamental change. Something really bad will have to happen, akin to another Great Depression, to get anyone to embrace real change.

And yes, poverty is all relative and people often spend their money stupidly, just as people have always done. But we also have to remember that a new TV can cost less than a visit to a primary care physician. And savings alone won't fix the system we have now. The top reason for personal bankruptcy are unforeseen health care costs. An accident or illness can render even the most careful of families destitute.

Just keep your dialogue going!

Robert said...

I did not see your comment here, Lawyer Mama, until I had written my reply to your Universal Health Care post. I realize re-reading my post, I should have linked back to your original post. Poor etiquette but also poor structuring of a discussion on my part. My apologies.

Yes, health care is definitely a cost that continues to wipe out savings and spending power. I will consider my reply to your health care proposal as adequate to respond to that aspect of your post here.

But tax reform is an absolute necessity already. It will take a huge groundswell to effect such change, but I don't want to wait for a Great Depression. Our system is broken enough now to need that fix. I don't want an orchestrated government plot to create the crisis, either. We need to form a coalition of voters who make it clear that the people want major tax reform, and the status quo will just not do anymore.