Monday, May 28, 2012

Free Lunches

For a few months now, Reagan has signaled that she is done eating by throwing the remaining food on her tray onto the floor (much to the delight of our dog, Sophie).  One night after she'd showered the kitchen floor with bits of food, Trey began picking up what Sophie hadn't sucked down.  As he worked, he used the opportunity to talk to Reagan about being responsible & cleaning up her messes, a speech that segued into Trey explaining to her that there is "no such thing as a free lunch."

We're both trying to convey to her that when she makes a mess, she cannot abandon it, because someone has to clean it up.  Last week, after she'd thrown half a banana to the kitchen floor, I took her out of her highchair, pointed to the discarded fruit that Sophie was circling like a vulture, & told Reagan to pick it up, because "When you make a mess, you have to clean it up," & then I added, "unless you're the federal government."  Maybe we're making progress, as she ate her Memorial Day breakfast this morning without incident:

About a month ago, I heard an excellent sermon about the entitlement mindset that is so pervasive in our country, a mindset that will certainly topple this nation if our course doesn't shift.  At present, half of U.S. households are the recipient of some type of government benefit.  By the time Reagan is old enough to work & pay taxes, who knows what that ratio will be; perhaps only 40% of U.S households will be paying taxes, while 60% accept government aide (I hesitate to use the word accept, since some not only accept it, they believe they are entitled to it - it being other people's money - simply because, I don't know, they exist).  I can only imagine the tax burden on the 40% that would (attempt to) sustain that type of imbalance, & sadly, there are those who are salivating, awaiting the day when the "wealthy" will finally "pay their fair share."  The infamous "Occupy" protesters shout about the 1% versus the 99%, but these percentages are not the numbers we should be concerned about; while math is not my strong suit, clearly the alarming numbers should be the 50/50 ratio.

While Reagan & other kids her age will grow up with the world at their fingertips, thanks to technology that was inconceivable to most people when Trey & I were young, she & her friends will likely inherit a crippling national debt that they've done nothing to generate, a fact that makes it even more difficult to teach children the importance of responsibility.  We hear a lot about our rights & our freedoms in this country, but almost nothing about the responsibility that must accompany them, if we are to remain free.  Our society teaches children nothing about responsibility, reinforcing irresponsible behavior by bailing out people who buy homes they cannot afford, suing a school official who attempts to discipline a child, sending a check so 'Daddy' is relieved of his responsibilities, or encouraging, & even paying for, an abortion to end an unplanned pregnancy.  

When I was young, I knew that if I were paddled at school (which I was, more than once if I recall), I would also be paddled at home, & other consequences were usually forthcoming (paddling was not much of a deterrent to me).  My parents were never on my side, so it seemed to me, & if they had anything negative to say about a teacher or school official, it wasn't said in my presence.  They were staunchly in my corner, as it turns out, I just didn't realize it at the time.  Thanks, y'all, by the way.  I learned early that when I messed up, I would face the consequences, & that knowledge goes a long way toward shaping a young person's decisions, even a young person as stubborn as I was (ok, as I am).  I believe that while my daughter has her father's eyes & his tendency to smile excessively, she is quite willful like me.  

I can't do much about the national debt, other than vote for people I hope & pray won't recklessly spend as much money as their predecessors, individuals with the gumption to reduce  - or even eliminate! - some of the sacred cows in D.C. known as social programs.  What I can do is raise Reagan & any future children I have to strive to be part of the group, however shrinking their numbers may be, that accepts nothing from the federal government, save the national defense it is their job to provide, & enjoys the freedom that accompanies earning a living.  Right now, it's making her pick up a banana when she throws it down, but you have to start somewhere.  

Nothing the federal government doles out is free (because they are not in the business of producing anything, other than debt); someone worked hard to earn it, & it always comes with strings attached.  You forfeit a little of your freedom with every check.  This is why many private schools  thrive; parents decide the tuition is worth it in order to place their child in an environment that isn't weighed down with the cumbersome rules that accompany federal money, one of which is the omission of God & prayer.  There are unfortunate circumstances that necessitate accepting help, but sadly it's rarely viewed as a bridge to cross troubled water (excuse me, I've been listening to a lot of Simon & Garfunkel), but as a cozy houseboat in which to set up permanent residence despite having done nothing to earn it.

Our forefathers left us with many astute words of wisdom, but their fiscal advice is perhaps the most poignant & applicable today, because without a sound fiscal foundation, we will not survive.  All of the things we argue about - abortion, marriage 'rights,' gun control, health care - we will not be free to argue about, or vote on, if we continue on the destructive financial path we're currently on, & our forefathers knew that our very freedom depended on our ability to remain financially sound & independent, both as a nation & as individuals.  Two gems from Thomas Jefferson:

I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.

The democracy will cease to exist when you take from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.

I was flipping through a book of John Donne's poems, looking for something else, but I stumbled on & read "Love's Growth," & while it is a love poem, I was struck by the lines I've bolded below in the final stanza:

I scarce believe my love to be so pure
As I had thought it was,
Because it doth endure
Vicissitude, and season, as the grass;
Methinks I lied all winter, when I swore
My love was infinite, if spring make it more.

But if this medicine, love, which cures all sorrow
With more, not only be no quintessence,
But mix'd of all stuffs, vexing soul, or sense,
And of the sun his active vigour borrow,
Love’s not so pure, and abstract as they use
To say, which have no mistress but their Muse;
But as all else, being elemented too,
Love sometimes would contemplate, sometimes do.

And yet no greater, but more eminent,
Love by the spring is grown;
As in the firmament
Stars by the sun are not enlarged, but shown,
Gentle love deeds, as blossoms on a bough,
From love's awakened root do bud out now.

If, as in water stirr'd more circles be
Produced by one, love such additions take,
Those like so many spheres but one heaven make,
For they are all concentric unto thee;
And though each spring do add to love new heat,
As princes do in times of action get
New taxes, and remit them not in peace,
No winter shall abate this spring’s increase.

John Donne died in 1631, long before our nation was founded, but government, be they princes or elected officials, taking & taking without remorse isn't a novel idea.  Our federal government is growing exponentially larger & larger & taking more & more from the ever shrinking group of those deemed "wealthy."  As John Donne knew, they find new reasons to tax us daily, & once a new tax is instituted, it never goes away.  Ever.  Its permanence is as certain as the continued existence of the government committee that was likely formed to institute it & research ways to squander it.  

Sometimes I am beside myself with worry over the world Reagan will inherit.  I try not to think too hard about the larger picture, & instead focus on my corner of the world, remembering Ronald Reagan's words that, "All great change in America begins at the dinner table."  Ironically, I want a new dinner table, but I don't have one because Trey & I understand & agree it's not worth going into debt over.  Whatever else happens at your dinner table, may I suggest that it's a great place to start teaching your kids whom they have to thank for the food they have to eat, & to clean up the messes they make. 

 Freedom isn't free.  You may hear that today during a Memorial Day celebration, or perhaps just in passing.  Every now & then I see it on a bumper sticker.  Not only is freedom not free, nothing worth having is free, & it's usually not easily attained either.  To again quote my wise husband, "There is no such thing as a free lunch."  I don't want to be a downer on this Memorial Day, but I imagine if they could speak from their graves, graves scattered all over the world, our deceased service men & women would likely echo my thoughts.  They didn't make the ultimate sacrifice so we could mortgage our future to China, all while cultivating a generation of young people who know nothing of personal responsibility & hard work.  Debt is dangerous, & while we've dealt with deadly adversaries in the past, our inability to reign in spending is just as potentially treacherous as Nazi Germany, a nuclear Soviet Union, or a plane full of crazed Islamists.  We've been quick to name our enemies in the past, pointing fingers & hastily making plans to attack, but now we sit idly by while unprecedented debt swallows us whole.       

Reflecting on the fall of Rome, Cicero wrote the following:

A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious.  But it cannot survive treason from within.  An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly.  But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself.  For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men.  He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to fear.

Our soul is slowly rotting, eroded by selfish, irresponsible, apathetic people who may not consciously wish America any ill.  It is this nation, after all, that is their enabler, funding their narcissism and complacence.  What they fail to realize is that they are gradually destroying their host, exhausting her resources, & when the host dies, so too does the parasite.  There is nothing more American than desiring more, & once upon a time hard work - your own, that is, not others' -  was synonymous with wanting, & earning, more, but as this concept becomes foreign to more & more Americans, & people clamor for their piece of the pie Washington so readily serves, it is frightening to consider what the catalyst will be for change, because a change in course is inevitable given the unsustainable path we're currently hurtling ourselves down.  


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