Friday, August 12, 2011

It's NOT The Economy . . . Stupid!

The United States is now 14.5 trillion dollars in debt, and the number keeps rising. That is a lot of money! In fact, it’s so big that we really don’t have clue how much it really is. There is nothing in our experience that even comes close to a number that large.

But, an illustration may help.

If you wanted to count to a million, and counted once every second for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, it would take you a little over 11 ½ days to get to one million.

If you wanted to count to a billion, and counted once every second for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 ¼ days a year, it would take you over 31 ½ years to count to one billion.

If you wanted to count to a trillion, and counted once every second for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 ¼ days a year, it would take you over 31 ½ thousand years to count to one trillion.

If you wanted to count to 14.5 trillion, and counted once every second for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 ¼ days a year, it would take you over 456,000 years to count to the number that represents our national debt!

We owe a lot of money!

The Real Problem

But, the problem we’re facing is really not the economy. The economy is only a symptom of a much deeper, underlying problem. Americans love money. Those who are rich want to get more. Those who are poor want more to be given to them.

The rich don’t believe that the barns full of money they already have are large enough. They want to build larger barns. The poor don’t believe that two years of unemployment benefits on top of food stamps and other programs are enough. They want the benefits to be extended and expanded.

Wealthy Liberals in Congress and in our communities across this nation, and there are many of them, live in luxury and say they want to help the poor. Some could actually privately fund several multi-million dollar programs to provide help, but they would rather continue living in luxury and use other people’s money to fund those programs.

Wealthy Conservatives in Congress and in our communities across this nation, and there are many of them, too, also live in luxury and say that the poor should learn to work hard so they, too, can become rich and live in luxury. Most have never actually visited a poor person to see what factors are holding them back. They prefer that any help come from private charities.

So, they give away a little of their money, but spend most of it on themselves.

Fatherlessness and Foundations

For several years, I worked as a consultant at a private charity in New York City. My responsibilities were to contact foundations that had been set up by the wealthy to raise funds to help the poor. It was a great opportunity for me to learn about the ways of the rich and the poor, because I was placed right in the middle between the two. I learned a lot, and my views on a number of things changed as a result.

I wanted to help the poor, but I learned quickly that the poor often have learned how to work the system. I was told on a number of occasions by those who had experience in the area not to just give them a hand-out. Direct them to a program that deals with the underlying problems that have led them to where they currently are. I also learned that they needed more than to learn to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” Many of them had no bootstraps to pull. The school system had not taught them how to read, they had few marketable skills, and many had no clue how to conduct themselves in a job interview or even know how to go about finding a job.

I learned that the real problem in the inner city is not poverty. It is a lack of fathers. It sounds almost inconceivable, but in parts of the inner city 90% of the children are born out of wedlock. Fathers provide necessary strength, discipline, and guidance for a family. The old saying is true, “When Mamma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!” But, it’s also true that “When Papa not around, the family don’t go nowhere!” In most of the cases involving drugs, alcohol, and homelessness, the fathers had not been or were not around.

I learned, too, that those who started foundations tended to be people who stockpiled money. They wanted to make sure their descendants would not need to work hard to provide for the necessities of life, and therefore would be able to do worthwhile things with their lives. Unfortunately, many of the descendants ended up wasting the money on trivial things. A brief look at the tabloid accounts of the frivolous escapades of the rich and famous are an almost constant reminder of how true that is.

Many of those who started foundations did so in order to guarantee that their goals for giving would be continued after they died. However, no matter how specific the guidelines for the foundations were originally set up, those who control the money now dictate what it will actually be used for. In many cases, it ended up funding exactly the opposite of what the original donors would have wanted. The motivation behind much of the giving is like that of the Pharisees of old who loved to stand on the street corners blowing their horns so others could see how generous they were!

The Love of Money

The economy is not the real problem. It’s the value system underlying it. We love money.

Warren Buffett suggested in a New York Times editorial that the super rich should definitely pay more taxes, to which Pat Buchanan asked, "Why doesn't he set an example and send a check for $5 billion to the federal government?"

One way to help get rid of the nation’s debt problem would be to add a line on the federal income tax form giving people the opportunity to donate any amount they wish to help lower the debt. That's not a bad idea. My only concern would be that the politicians would probably use the extra cash to dig us deeper in debt.

“St. Peter don’t you call me ‘cause I can’t go, I owe my soul to the . . . “

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