I’m Not An Economist, But…

…there is a giant elephant in the room and we are not doing a good job talking about.

America is riding in Wonka’s Great Glass Elevator, pretending that we can go anywhere and do anything we want, even crash through the debt ceiling if we want to. We are America, we are invincible. In fact, let’s raise that ceiling another $2.4 trillion dollars, no big deal, we’ll just cut down more trees, and print more money. Why attempt to fix the underlying problems, when we can pretend they don’t exist? The truth is that we can raise the debt ceiling as high as we want, but eventually we will reach the FUBAR ceiling. That is one ceiling you can not raise, crash through or destroy. It is the one ceiling that brings people and nations to their knees: Bankruptcy.

The news stations are talking about America’s economical issues and how to fix them, yet stuck in a battle between hearing themselves speak, making money, journalistic objectivity, individual subjectivity. Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher, and others are making valiant efforts to educate the masses (not just shout at them), but have limited accessibility and interest among an older demographic. Filmmakers, artists, musicians, and writers are spreading the message of what went wrong and how it can be fixed, but are at a loss with how to really impart lasting change in a society that has lost its direction.

So, what’s really going on? What are the real problems that America has and what is it going to take to fix them? Here are a few thoughts, but in no means represent an exhaustive list. I’ll leave that to the true academics.

Where Are We Going?

The absence of visionary leadership is the primary problem in America today. From businesses and churches to all areas of government, visionary and effective leadership examples are few and far between. In fact, I would love to hear more stories about visionary leaders, wouldn’t you? I say that, because I can’t really think of any good examples.

What does it mean to be a visionary leader? It means that you have mission, meaning and purpose for yourself and for the people that you lead. Vision implies direction. That there is somewhere to go. Vision also gives people something to fight for. America has become addicted to war and the fighting of terrorism, yet at the same time, lost the ability to fight for what is essential to its well-being as a nation: The physical, emotional, economical, and spiritual health of its people.

Being visionary is more than offering hope and change, although that’s not a bad place to start. Visionaries need to be disruptive to the status quo and fight the onset of complacency and mediocrity, which is the by-product of the absence of true leaders. Being visionary and disruptive means that you talk about sacrifice and its role in bringing balance to democracy. Sacrifice is a good thing because it prevents people from accumulating too much debt, not over-indulging, being humble, and living within their means. When was the last time you heard a politician utter the word sacrifice?

People need to stand up and voice their concerns. Visionary and disruptive leadership needs to be elevated, debated and discussed for the welfare of the nation. As long as power remains at the top, and not residing with the people, there will be an unbalanced democracy.

Spending Money To Make Money?

Financially speaking, as a business owner and a life-long consumer, I have been consistently told, “Chris, you need to spend money to make money.” There is truth to that statement. You need to spend money on equipment, people, development of knowledge and experience, which in turn bring rewards of more money.

Yet, America has morphed that adage into a lie, “we need to spend credit to make money.” I know debt, I’m an American. I have a mortgage, I have student loans, credit cards, and personal loans. However, I in no way expect to make money by having that credit because I know that eventually I need to pay all that money back.

Credit is loaning money that you don’t have in order to purchase what you want or to pay for what you need. You then promise to pay that money back, plus interest. Pretty simple definition, but it works.

Interest is the killer. The larger the amount you owe becomes, the more interest you have to pay in the long run. That is money that could have been well spent on the accumulation of equipment, people, knowledge and experience. There is no way to make money unless you pay the principal and the interest, as well as save and invest. Again, I’m not an economist, but that seems to make sense to me.

This is where sacrifice again enters the picture. Saturday Night Live nailed it years ago in a skit featuring comedian Steve Martin, “Don’t Buy Stuff You Cannot Afford.”

This is a great illustration of the power of social satire and speaks to the concept of sacrifice. Sacrifice means that we control our impulse to spend and indulge when we don’t have the money, in order to ensure the prosperity of our future. Unfortunately, the cost of living has become so high for most people that sacrifice translates into working multiple jobs just to afford gas, food and housing for families. This creates problems with security, specifically in how children are raised. It also manifests and stokes the fires of an underlying rage of poor and middle-class people that are fighting for survival in a world where “two percent of the population owns 51 percent of the wealth” (according to Cornel West in Hope On A Tightrope).

This is a difficult time for America and its people. We are face to face with our greed and corruption, and we don’t know how to respond to the ugliness that is reflecting in the mirror. We are trapped in numerous wars of idealism which have a lack of definition, therefore no perceived end insight. We are facing bankruptcy and economical collapse and as long as the solutions to mass hemorrhaging is finding the right place to put the right band-aid, we are in serious, serious trouble.

As Americans, we have a right and a responsibility to stand up and fix these issues. They aren’t easily fixable, but nothing in life is easy.

I end my rant with some serious questions that you may or may not have answers for.

Has the democracy of America lost its voice: The collective power of ALL people, not just the rich and the powerful?

Are politicians so busy trying to maintain their own interests that they forget about the people that are hurting?

What does the future of America look like with the absence of visionary and disruptive leadership?

How will you stand up and speak out in your own life?

4 replies on “I’m Not An Economist, But…”

Well said Chris. Since you dedicated this one to me on FB, I feel obliged to share my thoughts; unpopular as they may be.
I shudder a little bit when I hear the word democracy. That may sound a tinge uncouth, but I will refer to Benjamin Franklin:”Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.”True democracy can not exist. It will always become mob rule. You mention our current wars as a matter of public expense, and rightfully so. The cost of war will always be high, and not always easy to quantify, as we have no way of knowing what our fallen soldiers’ absence will cost us in the future.Depending on where you get your numbers, the 2010 Federal budget breaks down as follows:- about 20% on the Dept of Defense- about 20% on Social Security- about 20% on Medicare and Medicaid- about 12% on Unemployment/Welfare- about 20% on “Discretionary Spending”We’ll stop at 92% as the rest of it breaks down into numerous sub-categories. Regardless of one’s moral position on ANY of these expenditures, I think most people would agree that the government is “less than efficient” at spending money. That is to say, when the government spends tax dollars, it’s not spending the whole dollar that it collected. Much of that is lost to inefficiency, bureaucracy,  and even fraud and abuse. That means that 24% of our GDP is not being effectively put to use. I cannot imagine anyone arguing that will help lead to a prosperous economic landscape.Our problem rests with a lack of government frugality. In our case, due to the nature of our government, that problem rests with the voters as opposed to the people they elect. One more quote from Mr. Franklin:”When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.”I guess that I should have written my own post 😉

Jason, thanks for sharing your thoughts and insight. I love the Ben Franklin quote about voting themselves money and that being the end of the republic. I think you would enjoy Democracy Matters by Cornel West. He analyzes and discusses the imperialism of America as opposed to a democratic America.

I have a book recommendation for you as well. I am somewhat of a “fan” of economics. I read books on the subject rather frequently. I would read “The Wealth of Nations” by Adam Smith. It’s quite long, but fascinating if you ponder these matters often, which it sounds like you do. It is quite instructive when considering the foundations of our economy, and the implications of all of our ensuing political tinkering with it.

We will never be perfect, but I know we can achieve more.

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