February 15, 2011
Fiscal doom is confronting us. More Americans are face to face with the fact that their government has grown so large and is amassing so much debt that future prosperity is seriously jeopardized. Consequently, a greater number of politicians are openly acknowledging that reality, jumping on the fiscal conservative bandwagon.
Bashing Washington (and all government for that matter) for its lack of fiscal restraint is becoming a popular sport and the opprobrium is certainly well deserved. Going unnoticed, however, are the many social factors that are contributing to our collective financial woes.
While many prognosticators contend that our situation is no more dire than it has been in the past, insisting that a few financial tweaks here and there should do the trick, this view ignores an entire set of uncomfortable realities that we have conveniently set aside over the last several generations, debates much of America considers long since settled.
Too many of us have become accustomed to shifting the dividing lines between the moral and the immoral, considering morality a matter of personal taste rather than actions that lead to either real success or to failure in life. Such feel good philosophy ignores the fact that these shifting standards have actually been producing cumulative economic consequences which will eventually summon a dramatic day of reckoning.
Though there is no longer any doubt that we must get our fiscal house in order, the cause of what ails us is not as clear. It is not merely a matter of economics. The effect has a cause, just like a symptom always has a disease at its root.
Where are we?
Over the long term, changes in societal trends have created a demand for more government than we can afford, with health care and education costs leading the way. When coupled with today's demographic shifts and unprecedented levels of government taxing, spending and regulation (which stifle productivity and innovation) the question could be asked: are we at a crossroads or at the edge of a high cliff?
And as difficult as our nation's economic situation is currently, demographic shifts portend a more troubling road ahead. An entire generation of baby boomers is beginning to retire this year. The end is already in sight for Social Security and Medicare. We now know that they will inevitably collapse under their own weight, especially with boomers reaching retirement age, sliding from contributors to recipients at a time of 9-10% unemployment. Contributions are shrinking just as recipient demand is spiking!
How did we get here?
Conventional political wisdom tells us that there are social conservatives and then there are fiscal conservatives. This is a canard. Though we appear determined to learn this lesson the hard way, the tenets of conservative philosophy cannot be split down the middle.
A moral, productive people are necessary to maintain a healthy society - you cannot have one without the other. They are wholly dependent upon one another, not upon government. At the end of the day, there simply is no adequate substitute for personal responsibility. Man cannot achieve as a dependent what he can achieve for himself.
Not only are the social and the fiscal inseparable, to a large extent it is social conditions that are directly driving our economic dilemma. America has been fundamentally transformed (disintegrated) by progressive fashions and trends. Within the last several decades these trends broke up the family unit, said it wasn't needed anymore. Fathers were driven away for larger welfare payments. Mom was "liberated" and sent back to work. The stigma once connected to divorce and abortion was removed. Within all these shifts, we find the deliberate weakening of morality and an absence of personal responsibility at the heart of the matter.
With our tacit consent the progressives consequently built a dependent class, a permanent underclass demanding an ever-growing safety net. Today, the plague has grown so severe that we send children to public schools during the summers just to insure they are fed.
As a result of society's supposed "enlightenment" our families are both smaller and more fractured, increasing the demand for public care of the elderly in lieu of the greater family involvement that was instilled in the society of our past.
All along the way we continue to dip into a bottomless public treasury that is non-existent.
The public education racket
Then there's the damage to our public education system. Though we have thrown unprecedented sums of money at our education problems, data proves that the more we are forced to pay the less we actually get.
The nation suffers from too much extortionist college loan debt, even though not all students should be directed to higher degrees, too many students lacking basic "life skills", and the escalating costs of remedial courses required to deal with declining skills.
Many states and locales are finally dealing with the harsh reality that there's no longer enough money to go around. Though a myriad of problems contribute to driving up costs in public education the factor that no government agency or amount of tax-dollars can overcome is the utter lack of basic values a child is taught at home.
Paying for the sins of others
We all pay more for the lack of morality exercised by a few. Many retail items we consume are necessarily marked-up to cover losses from shoplifting. Similarly, insurance premiums, credit card interest rates and banking fees are higher due to irresponsible behavior. In the financial arena everything from greedy financial executives to growing trends such as bankruptcy and foreclosure cost everyone.
Progressive trends have even pressured local and federal law enforcement to abdicate its responsibilities, leading to a nation over-run with 12 million undocumented aliens. So many that we're told we could not possibly shoulder the expense of effectively dealing with the problem. This too is a moral issue because it is a breach of social contract and public trust. Worse yet, it is the attempted removal of the stigma of illegality.
Hand-in-hand with our laze-faire attitudes on immigration we have subsequently experienced increasing demands on our systems of education, health care, law enforcement and incarceration.
America has become collectively conditioned to ignore the pain, suffering and emotional scars that come with immoral behavior. While we may have learned to bear the social costs, there are growing concerns that the accompanying economic price may prove insurmountable.
The next time someone tells you they are a fiscal conservative, ask them to explain just how that line of thinking works.
George Scaggs is a writer, commentator, voice actor and audio-video producer based in Austin, TX. More of his work can be found at Ramparts360.com, TexasInsider.org and TheGraph.com. Sibyl West is a professional yoga teacher and a perennial student of Vedanta philosophy who lived for 25 years in the Far East. She is the editor in chief of Ramparts360.com and was named AFP-Texas Blogger of the Year for 2010.