Monday, March 14, 2016
For almost 5 years I have made the case for personal responsibility, accepting that most of our problems arise from our own behavior and that most of our societal problems are merely the accumulation of these poor choices. This is the 500th posting on the subject. Time for a review.
In 1961 the President inspired Americans with the words, “Ask not what your country can do for you.” Later in that decade a popular chant was, “Power to the people.” In the past 50 years we seem to have forgotten those messages. Today Americans stress about the next election, thinking that if they can only elect the right savior, all will be well. Meanwhile the candidates try to buy votes by promising more government solutions and more government benefits.
We have strayed from a belief in active involvement to one of passive acceptance. The barrage of crises and national epidemics that dominate the media and political discourse explains this change in part. We hear that all these problems are too big for us to solve on our own. The playing field is not level. The odds are stacked against us. We need help from politicians and advocates to take on the inequities and massive challenges. What choice do we have?
The rest of the explanation to this passivity lies in the fact that Americans have forgotten or never understood a basic principle of life: Behavior has consequences.
These crises and challenges that we constantly hear about do not, for the most part, originate with government. They are the consequences of individual behaviors that over time build up into those crises and epidemics we keep looking to others to solve.
People got sloppy about their diets. Food became more plentiful, especially fast and convenience foods. Laborsaving devises and sedentary jobs kept Americans less active. Obesity in America grew from 13% to 36%. This results in increased healthcare costs that are now shared by everyone. Is this a problem for government to solve? If we say yes, we relinquish some of our freedom.
Similarly, Americans make spending choices in reaction to hype, scare tactics and emotional appeals. They fail to distinguish between wants and needs, then reach retirement age with inadequate savings. Americans spend more money on unproven dietary supplements and other unscientific faux-remedies than on all legitimate healthcare costs. Instead of setting high standards for their children, parents defend them against teachers’ criticisms, as first generation children of Asian and African immigrants that teach different values outperform them in the same schools. Forty and fifty years after the Surgeon General’s initial warning, they blame (and sue) tobacco companies for tricking them into smoking and getting addicted, playing the victim, and not understanding that any award or settlement is really money coming from all of us with tobacco or insurance companies acting only as intermediaries. Failing to take the time to do simple calculations and not reading the fine print leaves them financially overextended. They trust and defend erroneous medical and nutritional advice gathered from social media. None of these are governmental problems. They are personal choices that have spread and morphed into a society headed in the wrong direction.
The 499 previous posts (and many more to follow) present clear and specific examples from the news and advertising of these types of behavior. Ill-advised behavior leads to unfortunate consequences. In today’s interdependent society, everyone shares in these consequences. The only way to succeed as a nation, the Real American Solution, is to improve behavior in the five key dimensions, personally and individually, while discouraging, not rewarding or tolerating, the destructive behavior of our neighbors.