Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A New American Ideal

Over the past few weeks as the financial crisis boiled over, I have been thinking long and hard about the problems facing the United States. Bob Herbert summed it all up in a recent Op-Ed in the New York Times:
"We’ve been living for years in a fool’s paradise atop a mountain of debt. The masters of the universe on Wall Street lost all sense of reason, no doubt. But most of us have been living above our means through the magic of easy credit, ever lower taxes, ever rising property values, stock market bubbles and the gift of denial, which we used to assure ourselves that the bills would never come due. We’ve even put our wars on a credit card."

- From "A Fool’s Paradise" : Oct 6, 2008 : registration required

All of us are guilty to some extent. We buy things we don't need and we put it on a credit card. We buy cars for status not transport. We live in houses to make statements about ourselves. And through it all, Americans save less than ever before.

As a nation we have stopped making things. All we make is debt.

Our nation has acted like irresponsible teenagers out shopping with Dad's credit card. Cars, houses, trendy clothing, wars, bailouts, all bought with debt. We have mortgaged our grandchildren's future and all we have given them is a weaker, more despised America.

Politicians love to argue that some people want to "blame America first." The fact that they keep missing is that there is more than enough blame to go around for everyone. We must all shoulder a fraction of the responsibility for this debacle. We may not have profited from the greed on Wall Street, but we gave it our adoring consent when we worshipped at the altar of wealth.

We must end our fasination with consumption. It is time for a new American ideal of conservation. We must become a nation of savers, wiser after our excess. We must stop chasing the symbols of status and begin to embrace a far more adult attitude.

America must grow up and stop believing we can solve all our problems either through war or by throwing money at it. We must stop being the wild and reckless teenage nation or we risk further alienating a world that will soon surpass us.