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We shook our heads when Greeks rioted in the streets last year protesting government budget actions. Now it’s our turn. Thousands gathered at the capitol in Madison, Wisconsin this week to demonstrate their opposition to a Governor-led move to address the state’s budgetary woes.

In Washington, D.C. things aren’t any better—budget deficit, $14 trillion national debt, runaway entitlements. Instead of steady, courageous leadership, we get mostly partisan infighting.

The Greatest Generation became the greatest in part because of how it—or should we say they—weathered world war, but before that, how they weathered the Great Depression of their youth. They stepped up, stood tall, sacrificed, and walked through their troubles with a strength we still benefit from today.

Since 2008, our economic problems have been called the Great Recession. Whatever name we give it, it’s real, extensive, and not going away soon or without sacrifice. We’ve made our bed and now we have to sleep in it.

But the jury’s out on whether our generation will rise to the occasion. And that’s the point: do we have the necessary resolve to deal with our self-generated budget woes?

We’ve lived way beyond our means, mortgaging our children’s future and our culture, and maybe our country. Yet so far, we’ve heard more talk than seen action. Everyone wants someone else’s ox to be gored. There’s yet no spirit of self-sacrifice or “We’re all in this together.” Not to pick unfairly upon the good government workers of Wisconsin, but it is difficult to take some of their ire seriously when what they’ve been offered is still substantially better than the average and must be paid for by the rest of the citizens of that beautiful state.

I don’t like to think that what we’ve seen in Greece, Great Britain, and France in response to budget cuts—volatile and at times violent demonstrations—will happen here. But I am afraid that they will because our culture isn’t as strong as it appears. We’re not our grandparents. Yet I hope that I’m wrong.

We need statesmen and women strong enough to lead the way even as they endure the inevitable bile. It remains to be seen if they emerge and it remains to be seen whether we will both produce and support them.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

We’re living in a time when both Democrats and Republicans bemoan both our increasing budget deficits and expanding, astronomic national debt even while they do nothing about them. Leave it to the next politician. Who wants to take responsibility for cutting budgets, which is to say cutting programs? Not most of our partisan leaders.

But to give them a break, our politicians are not a cause but a symptom, or perhaps an extension—of us. We voted them in and they keep spending more because we keep asking for more. We are living off our children, mortgaging their future and maybe the future of our culture and country as well.

We’re addicted to spend, spend, more, more. Without resorting to doomsaying for the sake of the dramatic I can say, without fear of exaggeration, we are living on borrowed money. Soon, if we do not change course, we will be living on borrowed time.

In a recent article I wrote about our money madness I noted this: “American culture has lost confidence in hard work, ingenuity, and a better tomorrow. And neither political party is addressing the deeper moral crisis of this age.

We need to rediscover the purpose of life and redefine our view of money. Yes, money is useful. It’s a tool placed for a time under our stewardship. Money can help resolve some problems.

However, money cannot resolve all our problems and certainly cannot resolve our most important problems. The first step toward treading a different path than the one we’re on is recognizing this.”

There is possibility and hope, but our political leaders on both sides of the aisle need to act with vision, resolve, and optimism. One can only hope they will act soon.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

It’s Black Friday again, the day when Americans (Canadians, and I guess others coming along like the British and Australians) seem to go shopping-silly in a mad frenzy to buy Christmas presents before all-the-good-stuff is gone.

Against my better judgment I ventured out, but only because my number one wife’s car needed a blown tire replaced so she’d once again have a spare. I survived two hours “out among ‘em,” got the tire, and came home asap.

Black Friday is the Friday after Thanksgiving, generally considered the busiest shopping day of the year. Last year and this, in the midst and, one hopes, the nadir of a recession, people chased off to the mall as early as they could. Our oldest son in Florida works in management with Target Stores, Inc. He worked all day and evening on Thanksgiving, then went into the store at 3:00 am this morning to be ready for his store’s 4:00 am opening. Several other discount stores did the same. Sure am glad to know I could have shopped at 4:01 am.

Black Friday is now joined by its youthful cousin Cyber Monday. This is next Monday. The term and apparently the practice have been around since 2005. Cyber Monday is ostensibly the day online retailers experience their biggest, busiest shopping day. People surf the Internet, pick and click, PayPal, and Confirm. It gives new meaning to “Shop Till You Drop.”

I have no problem with people shopping. Unlike how a majority of men feel about shopping if folklore and anecdote are guides, I like to shop. At least I like to go malls and walk retail space looking at the sights. I don’t buy much, if anything, but especially at Christmas time I like to experience the Christmas lights and wonder.

When I go shopping with Sarah she usually works maybe 3 stores, thoroughly and purposefully, while I case the entire mall. This has been our pattern since our dating years. Even B.C.P., Before Cell Phones, she knew where to find me. When she’s ready to do something else she looks for the Barnes and Noble or other bookstore, knowing I’ll be in one of the aisles or sitting in the bookstore coffee shop (Starbucks at B&N) enjoying a java and reading whatever I’ve gleaned—great way to wrap a shop-walk workout.

Yet I get weary when media outlets offer running reports on how worried retailers are and how far we’re likely to be behind financial projections in the year’s final quarter. This is not this year’s report. The moaning and groaning sound the same every year no matter what the economy is doing, because we’re always spending less than retailers wish we’d spend in their stores.

This is understandable, but what concerns me more is when media equate our happiness and even our general wellbeing with how much we spend. Spend more and be happier is the underlying mantra of economic news reports.

This spending equals happiness philosophy is more bothersome when it’s attached to Christmas. The spirit of the season, a truly special time of year affecting people of no-faith as much as people of faith, is co-opted, transposed, and reissued. Spending rather than the babe in the manger becomes our savior. If we’d just spend more in the Christmas season it will all be a better season.

I don’t think I overstate this feeling, nor do I think I’m turning into Ebenezer Scrooge. Far from it. I’ve already said I like the time of year and shopping, and I like to spend money on nice things for loved ones as much as anyone.

What I’m saying is that how much we have to spend has nothing to do with our happiness and certainly not our wellbeing. Discerning this truth is one of the great messages of Christmas.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow Dr. Rogers at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

A young French woman was asked why she felt justified in protesting the government’s plan to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 years. She replied, “Because we’re French and we do things differently.”

But then, that’s the problem. The French aren’t as different from the rest of the world as they’d like to think they are. They, like the Greeks and the rest of us, have to pay the piper. Wish though they might, there ain’t no free lunch.

The recognized retirement age in the United States stands at 65 years. Most European countries are similar: Britain-65 men, 60 women; Germany, Netherlands, Belgium-65; Austria 65 men, 62 women; Switzerland 65 men, 64 women, Norway and Denmark, 67. All of these countries are considering raising their retirement age in order to deal with deficit budgets.

Spanish citizens recently protested officials’ plans to raise their retirement age from 65 to 68 years. Greece made international news earlier this summer with riots protesting government budget cuts including changing their retirement age from 58 to 60 years. Italy bests them all with a retirement age of 57 years, 56 for manual workers.

This is all well and good, except someone must pay for the benefits being dispersed and, given global economic downturns, 35-40 years of pension contributions cannot now handle the expectation. So who pays?

The protesters would have us believe a) governments are stealing and/or hiding money, b) pension managers have mismanaged funds (which may to some extent be true because they aren’t infallible, but it’s not the root of the problem), c) the government can simply increase debt and take care of the challenge for now, or d) if you live in America, increase taxes.

Some of the French I’ve heard interviewed act as if an early retirement age is a birthright intrinsically French, that it’s been around forever and how dare anyone suggest anything different. But the French 60-year retirement age was adopted in 1982 by the socialistic government of Francois Mitterrand. His legacy is an indebted, burdened society.

Of course increasing debt or continuing unfunded benefits simply passes along the cost to pension-holders’ children and grandchildren.

The French think they’re different, but they have to pay for services rendered too. They, and many Americans, want to live beyond their means, which translates to live off the next generation. If we don’t change the path we’re on our legacy will be an indebted, burdened, possibly backward future for our grandchildren.

Retirement is not immoral, but it’s neither a biblical mandate nor an ideal. If you can afford it, more power to you. But the operative word is “afford.” If you or we can’t afford it and we forge ahead anyway we’ve got our heads buried in the sand. The French seem to be walking the beach ahead of us.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow Dr. Rogers at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.