The Budget Crisis: Facing Limitations

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2009 Five Presidents, President George W. Bush...

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Despite liberal claims to the contrary, the United States does not have unlimited resources for government programs. Even in a floating currency market, the supply of money is finite, and printing more merely lowers its value. The massive spending at the end of G. W. Bush’s term and throughout Mr. Obama’s term is unconscionable. Mr. Obama’s budget was dominated by bailouts of Wall Street, the stimulus, and funding for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, as a social democrat he increased spending for entitlement programs. Now the country is near bankruptcy, and despite the deal over the current budget, it will remain in a precarious state for generations because of the mistakes of this generation. Members of both parties–and even Mr. Obama–realize that deep cuts must be made in federal spending. Those cuts should include both domestic programs and “national defense” (i.e., war) programs. The current welfare-warfare state will end–either by choice of elected officials or by a ruined economy.

Robert E. Lee rightly predicted the rise of the modern American state when he said something to the effect that the American empire would eventually become a tyranny at home and aggressive abroad. Indeed, Congress came close to ruling with dictatorial power after the War for Southern Independence. One vote failed to convict President Andrew Johnson, and with Supreme Court rulings in the 1870s the ruins of the Old Republic were preserved for a time. With the rise of industrialism and eventually the domination of industrialism, with its uprooting of families and breaking of traditional ties, the government stepped in to care for the unfortunate, a work that had previously been carried out by the local community, family and friends, and churches. The mood in the country was optimistic, and the problems of industrialism’s mistreatment of workers were remedied by the government (by child labor laws, for example). During the Great Depression, President Roosevelt supported massive government programs–the extent to which they eased or prolonged the Depression is still debated. In an America which believed both in the perfectibility of man and in unlimited resources, massive government programs seemed to be the solution to social problems caused by the industrial state. As late as the mid-60s, the welfare state expanded exponentially under Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society.” The United States economy was still basking in the post World War II glow, something that would come crashing down with the 1973-74 recession. Instead of mankind being perfectible, government programs made many people worse morally and worse economically, permanently dependent on the state. Instead of having unlimited resources, the budget deficit ballooned, with only a brief respite during Mr. Clinton’s presidency due to the money saved by the U.S. not fighting the Cold War. However, George W. Bush and a Republican Congress, whom one might expect to show fiscal responsibility, did not, and domestic spending rapidly increased. In addition, the needless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq cost the country in both lives and money. Mr. Obama tried to continue to fight the wars but with massive increases in domestic spending–and thus we come to the present disaster. If the welfare state does not control its spending, it will collapse–then what happens to the millions of people dependent on government aid? That is the choice the President and Congress face–to either get spending under control or to continue spending and place the United States on a permanent “bad credit” status, leading to exploding interest rates, sharply lower stocks, and an economic depression. This is really no choice at all. The American empire will fall–either by voluntary choice or by economic realities. Americans will realize their own finitude. Perhaps this will lead to a less aggressive America, and one with a smaller government that is less intrusive in everyday life.

Parenting and “Me, Me, Me”

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Echo and Narcissus as Amaterasu and Susano in ...

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In my encounters with both university students and with younger children, I have found that the majority of young people these days are far more self-centered than previous generations. They really believe that the world revolves around them, that if they want to do something, they should do it no matter what it is, and that all that matters is “me, me, me.” University students line up side by side in the hallway and get miffed if I say, “Excuse me” and walk past them. Neighborhood children walk through neighbor’s back yards without permission, leave the fence gates open, and take whatever they can from the gardens–with no feelings of guilt afterward. They believe that it is their right to walk on another person’s property and to steal the products of his labor. They believe that everything is owed them.

This is no surprise since I have taught long enough to see such traits in people who now have college-aged children. When the parents believe that everything is owed them, and give without limit to their children without teaching about work and responsibility, it is no surprise that the children are even worse than the parents. The fundamental ethic among many Americans is “If I want it, I should have it.” Each generation from the baby boomers on has been filled with people with such an attitude.

It is probably too late for parents to do anything about children who are older–if they have a crisis in their lives they may change for the better. Parents should strive to teach the virtues of hard work, responsibility, and integrity, and set an example for their children. Selfishness permeates American society, but parents can do their part to stop the downward trend by rearing their own children not to believe they can take whatever they will. Many young people today have not succumbed to the trap of “me, me, me.” Hopefully the trend that began with the baby boomers will stop so that the next generation is more altruistic than the previous one. I am not optimistic, but hope is also a virtue.