Saturday, July 16, 2011


There is a wide variety of addictions. We frequently hear of people being addicted to alcohol, illegal drugs, prescription drugs, food, and sex. These are commonly mentioned, but I suppose there are other less-prominently discussed addictions. We might even say that some individuals and families (those not affected by some outside financial calamity) who have simply spent beyond their means are addicted to materialism, or buying new things, or spending.

The vast majority of addicts (probably all) do not have addiction as a goal. The goal is much more positive and short-term. It's the, "What the harm of a little pleasure now?" mindset. There is little thought of long-term implications. Because we are not currently addicted or dependent, we do not see the next short-term satisfaction as a step to a longer-term dependency. But for many, isn't that what happens? It might not be intended, and it might be hard to tell when we've crossed over the line, but addiction develops. Like the trout fooled by the artificial fly, we figure out we are hooked after it is too late. It is in large part due to not considering long-term implications along with short-term benefits when making decisions.

American voters are addicts. For too long we've elected those who have promised short-term pleasure, without thinking of long-term implications. Instead of fullfilling our individual responsibilities, we have intoxicated ourselves with a series of government-provided benefits, comforts, and pleasures. Like spoiled children, we believe life owes us complete absence of discomfort. Our country is like the family addicted to spending, and we have credit card bills that are unsustainable.

There's been a lot of discussion in the news lately about what our elected officials are going to do about our spending habits. Like a family weighed down with credit card debt, we seek relief. The good news is that thousands of families have been able to discipline themselves and solve their problem. It required a long-term perspective, hard work, and sacrifice. It required establishing a budget and reducing spending.

The company I work for understands this. Because of a depressed economy, our revenue is below budget. If we kept spending at original budgeted levels with less revenue, our company would die. So our company made tough long-term decisions about reducing costs so that it could sustain itself. Those decisions meant that some of my friends are no longer employed. The company preserved as many jobs as possible, and many of us remain able to contribute to the country's financial health with income tax contributions.

In some cases, overcoming a family financial crisis also involved producing more income. Perhaps, there is an application here for our country. Some might argue that increasing taxes, printing cash, or borrowing is the the "producing more income" analogy for the US. Those seem like short-term measures to me. The long-term perspective recognizes that the government doesn't "produce income", individuals do. The long-term and sustainable approach is one in which we encourage individuals to produce. The more productive the individual, the more productive the State.

I think that most of us intuitively see the short-term/long-term contrast, but what about the politicians? We understand it when we make decisions that affect our families. The frightening thing is that elected officials seem to have a short-term perspective. It appears that for most, they can see only as far as the next election. And what they see is a country of voters who are addicted to spending. The question before them, however, is not about the next election. It is about the long-term health of the country's citizens. So my admonition to the politicians is to put down the bottle of spending intoxication, sober up, and be statesmen. It's not easy to be disciplined, to sacrifice, and work hard, but neither is it complicated. It's a lot simpler when you have the right perspective.