Sunday, October 19, 2008

Is Socialism Inevitable? Part 2: Responsibility

To be a free people means to also be a responsible people. One of the great hallmarks of US history has been the pioneering and "do what it takes" attitude the people. In the past, people didn't sit around and wait for someone else to take care of them, they went out and did what it took to take care of themselves and their families. Taking "charity" was unheard of. A person's pride was at stake and few would accept a handout unless they faced extraordinary and dire circumstance.

Granted, sometimes folks honestly need a hand up or help through a bad situation. Although their families and friends should help them first and foremost, it's not completely outside the realm of local and/or state governments to help the truly unfortunate to get them going in the right direction again.

It often appears, though, there are fewer of  us who need a hand up compared to those who just wish to get on the dole and make no effort to take care of themselves. We don't see a reason to work hard to earn our way and feel the government should take care of us and ours. Instead of working hard and learning how to better ourselves, we tend to opt for the "easy way" of letting someone else (read: the federal government) take care of us. We scream life is unfair (and it isn't, nor was it ever) and insist on getting what we feel they are entitled to be it "free" health care, "free" day care, "free" senior care, other "free"things.

Nothing is really "free" though. Those things we will rely on and, indeed, already rely on are not "free." Someone has to feed the government money machine. So we happily elect leaders who promise us more "free" things and promise they will "stick it to" the "rich" and the "greedy corporations" in order "to make things fair." Then we complain bitterly when those same "rich" people move their money into tax shelters and the "greedy" companies cut staff, raise prices or move overseas because it costs too much to operate the US. Because most of us, are blinded to reality, the cause and effect relation of "taking from the rich" and "giving to the poor" is not seen as the reason the rich and the corporations take their money elsewhere.

There is quite a bit of irresponsibility among the leaders of corporations, too. Instead of being responsible and looking to the long term in their attitudes about employees and customers, many companies look to the myopic view of the short-term bottom line and try to squeeze every last penny out of their efforts. Instead of rewarding the loyalty of employees many companies cut benefits, institute salary caps or let full-time employees go and hire all part-time staff. It's appalling how those companies operate, and yet we really don't hold them accountable at all by witholding our money from them. We customers blindly buy products and don't complain to the companies or vote with their checkbooks when quality and value suffer because they cut too many corners in order to make an extra buck. *

Probably the most irresponsible entity on the face of the Earth is our Federal Government. Money is wasted here, there and everywhere. The $100 screwdrivers and toilet seats are the stuff of legend - and they are true. It is amazing how much money the government can piddle away in such a short time. I'm not referring to the big-ticket items like the war against terror or the space program, but the money wasted on "bridges to nowhere" or endless bureaucracies. This isn't a "Democrat" or "Republican" problem - it's a government problem which trandscends party affiliation. Most people just shrug off the growing national debt and ignore the money wasted just so long as they get "theirs." And this is the government we want running our health care system?

Because we don't bother to look, we don't see how government-run programs in other countries fail to meet the needs of their citizens. Because we don't bother to look into matters for themselves, we assume when TV or a politician tells them we should have, for example, free health care the same as Canada or England do, it's true. We don't bother to check and find the people in those countries don't like their health plan and wish theirs was more like ours.

We also don't see that in every country where socialism was tried it was an utter failure. We can look at the former Soviet Union, countries of the former Warsaw Pact, or the former Yugoslavia and can see socialism/communism did not work. Although the ideal of socialism is to make all things fair and equal, in the countries where it's been tried there was still a social class system where, as Orwell put it, "some are more equal than others." Unfortunately, power corrupts and those with the power tend to live outside the very system they insist is best for everyone.

I had chance to visit the Czech Republic in the months right after the Iron Curtain fell. As I drove through the cities, I couldn't help but think that the entire country needed a coat of paint. I asked a person I met during my business there why everything looked so drab and dreary and in disrepair. His response was that if everything belonged to everyone, then it really belonged to noone. I guess if something belongs to nobody, then nobody will care enough to take responsibility for it. After instituting a number of reforms between my first visit and another visit 3 years later I could see drastic changes. Buildings were fixed up and painted and everything seemed more colorful. Even the clothing worn by the people I saw was brighter and more cheerful. It was almost like leaving the black and white world of Kansas for the Technicolor world of Oz.

A great story is the one told in the movie "The Pursuit of Happyness." The main character in that movie finds himself in a very bad place. His wife left him, he couldn't make any money selling medical equipment, he lost his apartment, his car and ended up out on the street with his young son. Instead of wallowing in self pity, he pulled himself up and pursued a career selling investments with a large firm by joining as an unpaid intern. There was stiff competition as a dozen or so young people were going out for the one open position. It took a lot of determination, hard work and guts, but despite all the disadvantages he faced he got the job by outworking everyone else and doing what it took to make things happen. It's a great example of someone working hard to achieve a goal and make their life better.

But today it seems that there are fewer and fewer of us who are willing to go an extra 5 feet, let alone an extra mile to make things better. We often don't look beyond what instant gratification will provide us. Instead of working hard and educating ourselves to get out of a minimum wage job, we complain bitterly that we can't make ends meet on minimum wage and that it needs to be raised. We make excuse after excuse and keep ourselves down instead of taking advantages of opportunities - or even making our own opportunities.

There are still many, many opportunities left in this great nation of ours. And it can be even greater still if we all would "ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country." If we don't wake up, then the government will have to step in and take care of things, but only because we won't do it for ourselves.

* Please note: I'm not in favor of forcing companies to change their ways through more government regulation. What I advocate here is to let the market handle things. People will often shop with causes they support in mind; such as they purchase from companies who are making efforts to be green or to purchase from suppliers overseas who don't run sweat shops. The same could apply to purchasing from those companies who treat their employees with loyalty and respect. The products those companies produce may cost a little more, but the quality and care that goes into a product made by happy employees will more than make it worth the little bit extra the item might cost.

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