Thursday, August 14, 2008

Fear and Accountability

Because non-fiction books tend to bore me I've found it helps to read several at once. Though not immediately sensible, let me explain - If I get tired of one then I flip to the other. Lately I've been flipping back and forth between The Oz Principle by Connors, Smith & Hickman and The Essential Russell Kirk.

The Oz Principle is a business management book given to me by my employer. It's thesis being that the key to a successful business is accountability. The Essential Russell Kirk is a collection of essays, obviously by Russell Kirk, a man that devoted a great amount of thought to conservative political philosophy. (I wanted to know what a conservative really was and Russell Kirk's name kept showing up each time I asked the question.)

The other night I put down Oz and picked up Kirk's essay "The Rarity of the God-Fearing Man". I was struck by a synthesis of the thinking in each book. Though I wasn't buying completely into Kirk's belief that society was doomed by a lack of faith, particularly the absence of a knowing God making one suffer for moral transgression, the idea of fear stuck with me. Meanwhile, I couldn't have agreed more with the authors of The Oz Principle as they outlined the numerous techniques we all use to avoid responsibility for our mistakes. 

It occurred to me that the ills of society are manifest in the twin absences of accountability and fear - accountability for our own lot in life and fear of government taking over our lives. 

We haven't much choice in how our lives begin and for some of us that beginning can be truly horrendous. In the early years much of our lives aren't our own, but we still have choices and no matter how circumstance may hamper us we can, with effort and perseverance, better ourselves. That has always been the appeal of this country. Of course, to accomplish anything we must accept what we have been given and take responsibility for obtaining what we seek. As the authors of Oz can tell us, most never manage to do either. Most people would rather whine, complain and blame. 

As I consider the media coverage of this election cycle it doesn't take long to recognize the lack of accountability in our society. Some might say, "I lost my job because CEO's are moving all the jobs to India." While this may be the truth, it's what always follows this comment that is most disturbing - "What is the government going to do about this?"

Where is the fear of government? How can government be both the cause of all our problems and the solution? CEO's aren't moving jobs to India because the government is encouraging it. There isn't a politician anywhere stupid enough to promote job exports. CEO's are moving jobs to India because it's cheaper to do so, because customers want cheap stuff and because India will neither tax nor regulate a business out of profitability. Is government the problem or the solution?

We have become a society that refuses to accept its own failings and expects at every turn that the government will bail us out. People think they don't need to save for retirement because Social Security checks will always be in the mail and Medicare will keep us alive just long enough to enjoy it. 

Sadly, each new law is not a protection, it is a burden. Someone, somewhere will be paying a price for a few scattered sentences in a volume of regulations. A society that cannot accept a few bumps along the way, cannot accept responsibility for corrective actions when life slips from its moorings, dooms itself to the helping hand of a distant, uncaring government. 

Ethanol subsidies in the name of energy independence and low gas prices become $7.00 a bushel corn which drives up the price of beef, pork, turkey and chicken. 

Self-budgeting education funding initiatives and super-majority budget vote requirements become $15 billion state deficits and eventually mass layoffs, wage reductions and potentially the financial collapse of the California government which then defunds all the school bond measures passed in the last decade. 

Government policy promoting home ownership funds massive federal mortgage guarantors and opens the market to sub-prime borrowers which become the first to default on loans they couldn't actually afford. The flood of defaults drives the prices of homes down 25% in twelve months drying up the equity market and collapsing banks which in turn shed thousands of jobs. 

As all this happens, the people cry out for the government to do something. Sadly, it already has, but no one will accept that they couldn't afford the home loan in the first place, that ethanol probably wasn't such a good idea and that the unwashed masses micromanaging government finance is democracy at its worst. Instead, we'll get a few more laws, a few more unintended consequences and a few more people complaining rather than making the best of what they have.

It may appear that I am unsympathetic to the plight of people in troubled times. On the contrary, I have struggled along with everyone else. My family doesn't have money. The hiccups in the economy hit my family hard. What I don't have is sympathy for people that believe government should protect them constantly from the rigors of life. Government can be a force for good, but only when it is a helping hand rather than a hand out. 

If it weren't for government student loans and grants I would never have gone to college, but these were not free-ride gifts. I'm still making my monthly payments 8 years after graduating. I didn't expect something for nothing. All I asked from the government was a helping hand and now because my degree affords me a better paying job I pay the government back with that much more in taxes. If tomorrow I lose my job because California passes another law making it incredibly difficult to produce bacon I would definitely make a fuss about the government being the cause of my problems, but I wouldn't expect them to make it up to me. I wouldn't expect forgiveness for my student loans. I would leave California and move to a state where the government had less laws, not more. California would have one less taxpayer, one less consumer and would be one step closer to mercifully collapsing so that someone with sense could start over from scratch. 

We should fear the government and the politicians should fear us. We should be held in account for our own mistakes as we should hold politicians in account for theirs. Until such time each day we come closer to abandoning all that America was, is and should be. 

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