I remember well the campaign slogan of the Clinton era - "It's the economy, stupid!" Its basic message was that most of us had it wrong; that it wasn't about politics, policies, competence, or character. It wasn't about abortion, gun control or the definition of marriage. It was all about money, yours and mine, and how all around bad it was. (Interestingly, those look like the good old days now.) Today, it is the same tired mantra; but the more I think about it, it's not about money per se; and it is not the economy.
To be sure, my company and I have been affected by the economic downturn; I am challenged as much as other small business owners. But I believe the root cause of our problem lies well below the surface of interest rates, credit availability, taxes and regulation. It's does not have to do with economics; it has to do with how we view economics - our attitude towards money and how it plays out in real time.
It has been said that people don't have money problems, it's how they think about money, how they handle it, and what they do with it that are the real issues. Here are some things I have identified as being underlying causes of our economic woes:
Entitlement. By this is meant the mentality that we have certain rights to things - economic, material or otherwise - regardless of whether or not we qualify for them, have earned them, or whether they are good for us or not. This attitude permeates our culture, rich and poor alike. The reality is that, by our own Constitution, our rights extend to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They do not extend to things, but the freedom to pursue things. Thus happiness is not assured; its pursuit is. Compounding the effects of this mindset is a government that plays to it.
Debt. There was a time when there were no credit cards; if you didn't have the money, you didn't have the money, and you either saved for what you wanted or you didn't get it. The problem with debt is that it presumes upon the future; either you believe that things will stay the same or get better, or you don't care. This kind of thinking has a lot of folks foreclosing on their homes, working multiple jobs to keep up with minimum balances, or filing for bankruptcy. Certain types of debt can be useful, but for the most part it creates a false sense of prosperity, causing many to live beyond their means, often resulting in financial failure for both people and nations.
Sloth. There is a biblical proverb which goes like this: "He who is slack in his work is brother to him who destroys." In other words, laziness is not a good thing. Being an employer for 35 years, I think I have seen everything. But one thing I have noticed recently is an overall change in people's attitude towards work. The prevailing mentality is do as little as possible for as much as possible, retiring as soon as possible so we can continue to do as little as possible. And then complain about how bad the economy is. "All hard work brings a profit," is another saying. It seems to me that there are few problems that cannot be solved by plain old hard work.
Charity. "As you sow, so shall you reap." This is a truth the nation's farmers understand, but it escapes most everyone else. History teaches there is a cycle to all great nations, and part of that cycle is that they go from abundance to selfishness. Though Americans are the most generous of the world's peoples, their level of charitable giving pales with their level of income. Perhaps the answer to our economic woes is to take a larger chunk of what we do have and support those who have less - and I don't mean the forced redistribution of wealth. I mean freely giving to meet the needs of others, through the local church, charitable organizations, or directly to those less fortunate than we are. I have found that the more you give the more your get; benevolence always pays off in the long run.
In summary, the nation's economic situation is real and it affects all of us. However, the answer is not adding fuel to the fire by increased entitlement programs and debt, but by fostering a culture of generosity and hard work.