Gross Domestic Product, unemployment, consumer confidence, bond ratings — the state of a nation can be measured using a series of black and white numbers, and while these tell a large part of the story they leave out a great deal. Every country has in a sense its own unique collective personality built from the attitudes of its people and their shared traditions and history. The journey that this country has taken from its inception to its current greatness has been made possible not by good economic indicators, but by the traits we have carried with us along the way. Through both high points and hard times we have been bolstered by a certain toughness, resolve and indeed a stubbornness that is uniquely American. Regardless of generational ideological shifts it is the retaining of these traits that is paramount in securing our future. Increasingly it is becoming less true that “tough times make for tough people” and more accurately put “tough times make for weak and dependent people.” The Left wing in this country is on the verge of answering The Greatest Generation with the creation of The Glass Jaw Generation, unable to take a punch and become stronger for it. If this is allowed to occur, the final blow to the empire will have been dealt. So as Paul McCartney wrote and Ringo Starr once sang, “Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song, and I’ll try not to sing out of key”.
While the following will not be out of key, it will certainly be at times ugly and displeasing. Just as the fields of Philosophy and Psychology have as a main tenant self-introspection, any useful political theory must be crafted only after a look in the mirror. Even the most country-loving and patriotic American should never shy away from the duty, or the results, of a brutally honest self-evaluation. Granting the fact that the positives here are left out of this snapshot, it is indeed a grim picture, particularly when looking at our younger generations. There are mind-blowing percentages of obesity, staggering high school drop out rates, flat-lined test scores, record levels of both teen promiscuity and teen pregnancy, rampant single parenting, and, new to the youngest generation, widespread debt courtesy of credit cards. It is my contention that the root cause of many of these social problems, as well as a great deal of our country’s fiscal problems, is what has been over the last five decades a destructive, systematic, and society-wide removal of consequence. This can be seen in nearly every corner of American life.
While a sliding moral standard in popular culture has unquestionably been on display for years, the lowering of the ethical standard has, to a shocking degree, crept into politics. Beginning with Bill Clinton who, after cheating on the First Lady (in the Oval Office mind you) and then lying about it under oath, was remarkably able to maintain not only his Presidency but a continuing position as a powerful and leading voice in the Democrat party. This precedent paved the way for current Democrats like Charlie Rangel and Chris Dodd (tax issues, sweetheart mortgages, and multiple ethics violations) as well as Republicans Mark Sanford and John Ensign (unstable emotional behavior, infidelity, lying, and cover-up cash payoffs). Amazingly all these men still hold their positions as our “Representatives” and illustrate the pathetic reality that the consequence for immoral and unethical behavior even by our elected “leaders” no longer includes the mere loss of their jobs.
Even in the area of society that one would generally expect to see the clearest cut cases of cause and effect, the criminal justice system, we have a level of diluted punishment that both undermines and largely de-fangs the entire branch. The vast majority of prosecutions are plead down with any resulting convictions almost never ending in a fully served prison term. The level to which this disregard for written law has become mainstream and infiltrated our government is perhaps best exemplified by one man. Luis V. Gutierrez is currently a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Illinois’ 4th Congressional district. Mr. Gutierrez publicly threatened to vote against the recent Health Care bill on the grounds that it did not allow illegal aliens to buy health insurance with their own money. Money that they have illegally obtained by sneaking into this country and made either by stealing someone else’s Social Security Number or earned tax free under the table. This is a man who took the Congressional oath when seated to uphold the Constitution and Federal law, who in this current climate feels justified and comfortable enough to repeatedly, and on national television, undermine and effectively curb-stomp numerous laws of this country. Mr. Gutierrez, along with all our legislators, was elected and empowered to change laws that he disagrees with, not to ignore the ones he does not like. Taking this situation from bad to worse is that instead of being reprimanded he was appointed by his fellow Democrats to none other than a seat on last term’s Judiciary Committee. Scary. It is a mistake to think that any of the examples given above are insignificant, as what is being created is not only a flawed framework but one that is being seen and will no doubt be repeated by the next generation of our political leaders.
What should be of most concern to people however is the economic arena and the evolving role of our government into what I have coined a “Givernment.” The difference between the two is far more profound than the swapping of a vowel and represents the changing of our government from guaranteeing abstract things like freedom, rights, justice, and opportunity to providing actual things like food, housing, money, jobs, and healthcare. While many problems are created by this shift, the common current running through all is that they either lessen or eliminate all together the true result of people’s actions and behaviors.
In the legal system there is a concept known as Adverse Possession in which your rights as a property owner are forfeited if you, knowingly or not, allow someone to use your property for an extended period of time. For example you are a land owner and a neighbor begins to openly farm a portion of your land. You as the owner of said land have a duty to inspect, protect, and in general maintain a watchful eye on your property to avoid it being legally reassigned to another who has taken to using it. This absence of action by the property owner is known as “sleeping on your rights” and if you do so for a period of time, your legal remedy is gone–essentially, a statute of limitation. Applying this doctrine not to land, but rather to our tax dollars is exactly what has transpired to create the entitlement society that we now live in. We, as taxpayers, have “slept on our rights” long enough to concede possession of our resources to the receiver class through Adverse Possession.
The legal tenants that need to be met for a party to acquire through adverse possession are intent (you have to think it’s yours) and continuous “open and notorious use” for a statutory period of time, all of which have been met. Particularly when looking at programs like welfare, food stamps, government housing, and Title XIX (Medicaid), there has undoubtedly been a belief developed that these programs are rights that belong to people, rather than temporarily legislated benefits. The fact that these programs have been proven by both political parties to be untouchable by reform for so long is the final bit of evidence that possession has been established.
The problem created by this belief and the widespread overuse of these programs is that they simply remove the consequence of people’s actions, and it is this belief and overuse that are especially guilty in creating the inter-generational dependency that we now have upon us. If you are poor and are pregnant you have the baby delivered for free; if you can not afford to feed the baby or yourself you are provided food stamps and formula; if you can not provide health care for yourself or your children then it is provided; if you can not afford a place to live you are provided a home. If you choose not to work or to get pregnant again the whole cycle can, and does, get repeated. The fact that there is never a price tag or a cost extracted from the recipient to create a disincentive leads to yet more of the behavior.
Given the inescapable fact that there simply are not enough resources to sustain generations of Americans who are completely devoid of the ability, or even the concept of needing to, offset their own existence, changes must be made and solutions must be offered. While fleshing out specific proposals and dealing with their difficult political viability must be reserved for a future time, here is brief start. Nearly all Federal involvement in social welfare needs to be transferred to the state level, where 49 (all but Vermont) have at least some Constitutional language that requires a balanced budget. This would end the ability to kick the cost can down the road in the form of deficits as well as allow for the levels of benefits paid out, and therefore the amount of taxes collected, to be subject to the political will and economic realities of each state. Any remaining Federal programs should be outfitted with a hard cap and be gradually transitioned into having upwards of 80% of benefits being paid out as loans subject to re-payment plans and future wage garnishment. The choice to opt-out of Social Security needs to immediately be given to anyone under 35, with the goal of having it exist as an opt-in only program by 2035. There are those that will say these, and virtually any other, proposed solutions are too tough and would like nothing more than for us continue “sleeping on our rights.” Further absence of action is not only economically unfeasible but, as I fear most, will eventually result in the loss of our truly greatest commodity: Fortitude.
In my opinion the overarching philosophy that needs to underlie any future solution is a return of consequence back to the American culture. The removal of rightful cause and effect in our political, legal, and economic system not only results in a weakened society, but is the single biggest factor in producing cyclical dependency, which is unsustainable by a free people. As F.A. Hayek aptly wrote in the introduction to his classic book The Road to Serfdom, “If in the long run we are the makers of our own fate, in the short run we are the captives of the ideas we have created.” The ideas we have created, and which now hold us captive, are that we can unnaturally and systematically remove ramification. The solution lies in just the opposite: the return of consequence.