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.


  1. Our society has succumbed to what I see as the "fast food, convenience store, I'm entitled" mind-set. What is especially troublesome is how our elected officials have also played into that game. This is the catch-22 of a democracy. As citizens we chose, through the electoral process, to transfer power and responsibility to politicians in the expectation they will do the research and make the correct decisions that shape our nation. This is why our responsibility to vote can not be taken lightly. There is no better government on earth than a democracy and the freedoms it's people enjoy, however it is up to the people to handle their democracy in such a way as to prevent losing those same freedoms. We can not take lightly the decisions our government must make in the next few days and must remember to pray for their wisdom and guidance as they make those decisions; for they will truly effect all of us and generations to come in the long-term. Thank-you for your word's Chris; definitely something worth pondering (and welcome back, you've been missed).

  2. Amen!

    I'd also add that our representatives would do well to read daily the rules that mostly say what they ought to not meddle with. Those rules are called "The Constitution."

  3. At the risk of being labelled the devil's advocate, the business you work for would fare a lot worse if you let your biggest debtors go without paying their bills. When rich folks, but more importantly corporations, are allowed to avoid paying taxes, or to not pay their fair share, then the social contract is broken and real democracy is hobbled. Society cannot afford to continue to provide the environment in which those same managed to become enriched in the first place, yet those folks/institutions are largely buffered from the 'downturn' exactly because of the wealth they accumulated. Many more, and not just those who overspent or were addicted to consumption before the fall, are trampled underfoot by Mammon.

  4. Rombsy, my post was focused on spending, but if I understand the heart of your message correctly, ...that everyone should contribute their fair share, I think we agree. Our tax code is far more complex than necessary. There are far too many loopholes and exclusions, and too many do not contribute at all to the well-being of the "family". Everyone should contribute in direct proportion to their income.

  5. I think I understand what you're saying as well as where you're coming from, and I can identify through many parallels in my own life and work. I would place the focus more on greed than the sense of entitlement, however: greed by individuals who bought way more house than they could afford or ever pay off, by lenders who enabled that, and by a society apparently blinded by addiction (in the sense you use it) to the dangers. Acquisitiveness and consumerism are in important ways the major drivers of our economy, with self-interest as our guiding light. But, there's enlightened self-interest, and then there's greed. The first is like fire that is used as a tool to accomplish significant and useful ends, while the second is like fire that burns down the house. So I think it is fair to ask of our politicians if their speeches and legislation are supporting our self-interest as a nation, or are trending more towards burning down the house, if not immediately, then down the road for our children. Cutting spending too much can leave as big a mess as spending too much. Long-term, we need a house that is both financially solvent, and also has investment made in both its occupants and structure so that it's still standing.

  6. First off I agree. The politicians have gotten things so far left and right, the rest of us are left to just suck on it.
    Normally, corporations don't pay taxes. Shareholders do. And if GE isn't paying taxes is because they've found a way to read the tax code to their advantage. But it gets more complex than that. Almost everyone reading this has a 401k that most likely has shares of a GE, Ford,, Wal-Mart etc. The better they do, the better you do.
    Just think about it. It's not a defense, just a point to "ponder".
    Lastly, I'm stymied to think of anything that's more hypocritically discussed than "materialism". Spending beyond one's means isn't materialism, it's just being irresponsible. Big difference. One can go on at length about how people put things ahead of friendship's etc., but that's giving away a lot of power to that person. If you don't agree, fine, do so silently or just use the true power of a decision to not associate with anyone who does something that you're uncomfortable with. If someone has a garage full of Ferrari's that were purchased with money they earned through hard work, isn't that their business?
    The truth is, mankind has been, is, will always be materialistic.
    So what?

  7. The problem, as I see it, at a governmental level is that all of the problems we have with budget, debt, etc. could be fixed by honest, hard-working people who put the good of the country first.

    Problem: Honest hard-working people don't seem to get elected to higher office, barring the ultra-rare exception...

  8. Lot's of good input here to provide greater depth to my over-simple analysis. I tried to focus on a one particular area for discussion purposes, but as you all have suggested, there's a few other things to consider.

    I do perceive an underlying common theme in the discussion...moral character. Fairness, generosity, honesty, and hard work were mentioned, and are things I see in my friends who have solid moral character. I have good friends.

  9. Some day maybe our country will put less emphasis in GNP and more on GWB (General Well Being). I don't see it as the country having no money, it's where it is being spent that bothers me. We don't think twice about sending billions to the middle east, or entitlements to corporations and banks, but it's now shame on us to help our own poor and seniors.

  10. Well put Midnight Rambler.

    --emmanuel g.

  11. Mr. Pondero,
    You read me correctly, and I thank you for spurring with your thoughtful post the most intelligent, fair, and balanced online political discussion I have seen in a long time! Considered and considerate- is anybody in DC (or Ottawa- I'm Canadian) paying attention?

    @John Romeo Alpha- Your similie with fire is terrific: rings true and instantly makes sense. I think I would feel safe in a house built according to your standards.

    @z-man- You are right that the situation is intricately complicated, but you are also right when you say it isn't a defense.

    Great points, each one.

  12. I agree Chris! I just hope that after the political clowns finish their bluster they get down to work and make cuts in a way that affects those who have so much (like themselves) rather than those who have so little (like my 80 year old neighbor who has no pension or family help and lives on social security). I am happy to "subsidize" his "entitlements".

    P.S. wouldn't most people agree it is barbaric to allow people to be malnourished and lack medical care if they cannot afford it?

    I think they will. Yesterday an economist was talking about the mortgage interest deduction and how the reforms proposed in that area eliminate the loopholes mostly for 2nd homes and enormously expensive ones.

    Any way you look at it, things are out of balance for sure!

  13. Greg, is there a role for local neighbors and the community to care for your neighbor? Is that being done?

  14. Absolutely Chris.

    "On the hill" as the locals say, we all help each other.

    Here is my ramble...

    My point being though that the idea behind a compassionate and moral society is that we all contribute to the well being of each other.

    While we as neighbors might give him a ride to the grocery store or the doctor, it doesn't make sense that we would pay for his health care or groceries from our bank accounts directly on a regular basis. I think that the government can play a role in the equitable redistribution of wealth in a good way ( to help those who TRULY NEED it).

    If someone works full time and makes $1000 a month how can they pay rent and still afford food and medical care and a car in a car based culture? They can't. The numbers don't add up. Should the people working full time at minimum wage not be ably to afford basic needs?

    That having been said I am a big supporter of capitalism but not corporations. I think that people should be personally responsible for what they do as a business. People should be both fiscally and morally responsible and accountable.

    I believe society has to restructure the economy so those at the bottom can work and earn their basic needs. If we don't then we have a moral obligation to make sure the rich support the poor. Is it ok for someone to sit at a park bench and eat a whole sandwich while a hungry person sits next to them starving? I believe this is what our culture allows.

    Although personally I would like to see local and state government play a bigger role in deciding how those in need are best served.

    Best of all how about an economic structure that allows even the least able income earners to work full time and make a living!

    I have lived in the inner city as well as in rural America and in my experience those who actively choose not to pay their own way are few and far between.

    We might as a society spend less time focusing on how the poor weigh down our government and more time thinking about how our economic system could be structured to help them pay their own way. The carrot rather than the stick.

  15. Greg, if I understand your overall message, it seems that the "restructuring of the economy" you mention basically involves raising minimum wage (for those working full time should earn about 20% more more than $1000/month) and paying the way for those who can not. Assuming we are going to solve this problem once and for all (giving future politicians nothing to argue about), how much of an increase in minimum wage would it take? and how much annually would it take to pay the way for those who are unable? Maybe if we allocate well, we've already got the money we need.

    If I didn't understand correctly, or if I oversimplified, please forgive/correct me.

  16. That's the basic ideas Chris.

    I don't have a specific number, but here is an interesting exercise. Use this table to obtain the livable wage for you area.

    Then start removing things from your household budget until you reach your target and see what is left. Now imagine something goes wrong. You need new shoes. Your car needs repairs. etc.

    Now imagine you live in an economy where there are almost no decent paying low skill jobs available and you do not have the inherent skills or abilities to move up the skill ladder.

    My point is not that we need to hit a magic number or raise or lower taxes. My point is that I feel that we have lost some of our humanity and empathy on a deep level. Recently there was a WWII vet on the radio who said that when he went off to war there were 2 big fears that soldiers had. 1) they would be killed. 2)they would have to kill someone else. He commented that he is disturbed that the second fear, the fear of harming others seems to have disappeared.

    If we think more in terms of empathy and caring for others (the rich, the poor, bosses and employees, family and friends and adversaries) than in terms of dollars and cents it will go a long way. After all, money is only a symbol of our goods, energy and desires. If we start with our hearts in the right place, public policy and economic reality will follow.

  17. Thanks for the elaboration, and I remember my early married years when "things went wrong" financially. Fortunately for me, I had other support mechanisms through family and church.

    I'm in tune with your admonition for empathy and caring for others. In fact, even with our respective tax burdens, we try to apply this principle in our local church...

    "And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they were sharing them with all , as anyone might have need." - Acts 2:44-45

    We have room for improvement, but it is already a beautiful thing. I've always thought that the key is changing hearts.

  18. Pondero,
    Most Americans consider bicycles to be superfluous toys or playthings and the people who own decent ones to be materialistic. I consider owning decent bicycles a requirement and riding them an addiction in the literal sense of the word.
    Your post and the considered responses have made my head hurt though and now I have to go for a ride to make it stop, darnit.

  19. These real-life issues are much harder that riding a bicycle. That's one of the reasons I like riding so much.

  20. Many interesting comments! I wonder if however, we're missing a point as expressed in 2 Thessalonias, Chapter 3, particularily verse 10. "---if any one will not work, let him not eat." I applaude the compassionate thoughts for those that are truly needy, but what is work and what is needy? Have we as a society adopted a standard of living that is above our means to provide? Have we as a society abdicated personal responsibility to the point that we are now factoring in govermental support as our "God given" rights? I suggest that we have become addicts to the "trinkets" in our society, and now we must pay for our prior over indulgencies.

  21. Airplane Guy, I certainly had that passage in mind in our discussion, and am inclined to believe that those who commented here about meeting needs had that principle in mind as well. I think you are correct about the challenge of defining "needy" and "work" in a way we all can support. Maybe that is why it is so hard to control spending. As you have suggested, it seems in our present financial distress, now would be a good time to recalibrate that definition.