Saturday, March 24, 2012

Blame No One but Ourselves

We the People need to look in the mirror.

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It’s time to look in the mirror.  “Blame the government!”  But “we the people” elected our representatives, putting the current fiscal and governing structure in place.  “Blame Wall Street!”  But our own greed drove up stock prices with irrational exuberance as we bought unaffordable McMansions to chase the American Dream, banking on ever-higher real estate prices.

Sure. Our elected representatives waved the populist banners of lower taxes, the ownership society, and all the public debt we could eat. Stock brokers conjured up increasingly exotic and opaque financial products. Home builders and real estate agents told us to “invest” in housing while the tax code gave us a deduction to lure us in. And we all took the bait.

It’s easy to convince ourselves that individual actions have no effect on the whole, and that’s why we cede our political fortunes and aspirations to the major parties. But it’s the denial of individual accountability that feeds the myth of fate.

We’ve surrendered responsibility, enabling these false proxies to do as they please while we sit back and throw darts at the graven images that we ourselves have created. We’re driving our V8 to the market on the corner to get the morning paper only to chant “Drill, baby, drill!” when our insatiable demand for energy results in stubbornly high prices. We denounce “Greedy fat cats!” while demanding more free services without regard to cost or tradeoffs. Personal entitlement and self-importance have painted us into this corner.

Now is the time for some common sense. This is not a popular message, I know. But if we’re to become the next great generation (note the use of the little “g”), it’s time to take control of our personal and collective destiny. The “Greatest Generation” pulled itself out of the Depression and went on to collectively win World War II. (They also gave themselves a collective pat on the back with generous Social Security, Medicare, and military retirement benefits afterwards.)

We need government to maintain a competitive environment that facilitates life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness so we can succeed by our individual talents. We need business to play on a level field provided by – dare I say – well-crafted regulation, offering transparency and elucidation to investors and consumers. Individual successes will build collective success.

This is not some survivalist ethic. It's all about taking responsibility for our own actions and future. It’s about going out to vote (only a third of us do) and voting not in our self-interest – read “pork barrel” and “entitlement” – but what’s good for us collectively.

Look in the mirror and don’t expect a cookie. Are you up to the task?

Repost from October 17, 2011