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Where’s the Sacrifice? One Perspective on America’s Fiscal Mess

August 10, 2009

The amount of hype, speculation, moaning and hand-wringing by the U.S. media on the recession has become overbearing. One would think that this is the first recession that America has encountered. Memories fade, especially the painful aspects of negative experiences. The high unemployment that occurred during the 1981-82 recession is overlooked when people talk about the current recession. And they forget the nasty effects of rampant inflation during the late 1970s.

We now live in a culture of non-sacrifice, turning to Big Brother when times get tough. Contrast this scene with that during World War Two, when the British, Canadians and Americans made huge sacrifices to pay for their countries respective war efforts. Citizens recycled, went without certain foods and products, couldn’t drive their cars due to gasoline restrictions, and emotionally supported one another. The irony today is that the U.S. claims that it is fighting two wars, but who’s sacrificing besides those in the Armed Forces and their families? A similar situation applies to Canada and Britain, though not on the same scale.

We never saw any rationing going on during the post-911 economic growth years when the housing boom went wild, when conspicuous consumption meant keeping up with the Jones, and when plastic credit went into overdrive. Houses became ATMs, while proof of employment and income was ignored. What was that nonsense all about?

Where has the sacrifice been? Now it’s time to pay the piper. People don’t like this new scene, and instead turn to Big Brother. How convenient it is to sing the praises of capitalism when the economy’s humming along. But we forget that capitalism implies taking risks and reaping the rewards, and also assuming losses and falling down…and getting back up again. It is not a linear upwards trajectory. Business cycles do still exist. The problem is that the current economic and financial problems were caused largely by greed, arrogance and incompetence. Smacking the financial sector, while well deserved, needs to be accompanied by some self-retrospection.

To embrace capitalism and to practice it means not turning to government for the quick solution. Capitalism means gain…and pain. Hopefully the former will exceed the latter. If we wish to have no pain – in theory – then try communism. But then that experiment failed miserably. So all we realistically have is capitalism and the various forms that Western democracies practice.

Are there easy answers to correcting the current scene? Of course not. There are no quick fixes. It took years for the debt to escalate to its current level, and it will take many more to get it under control. What is needed is steady leadership at the national level and more cooperation across party lines to address the country’s fiscal mess. The debt timebomb will eventually cripple America, and once a country loses its fiscal independence it becomes a slave to those who have loaned it money. It may be time to consider what sacrifices are needed to restore America to its previous greatness.

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