Wall Street has been squarely in the crosshairs of those looking to place blame for our economic woes. The same villains are at the front of the line. Greedy corporations. Greedy bankers. Greedy mortgage companies. Greedy investment companies. Greedy capitalists. Obviously we have a recurring theme here. Greed is the villain. Gordon Gekko would not approve.
Greed tends to get equated with success. Obama has famously gone on record as saying that at some point you’ve made enough money. Of course, what the level is never defined. Suffice it to say that if the economy is going well, then greed (success) is tolerated. When it’s failing like it is today, then greed becomes the villain even though it is detached from success. If too small a percentage of Americans are experiencing success, they must be greedy. You can only have success when enough other people are doing likewise. Obama told Joe the plumber he thought those successful people needed to “spread the wealth around”. It was their responsibility to pull those below them up. Socialism creates this untenable paradox. You are vilified for being successful, yet you are expected to be successful so that you can help others.
None of this is new, of course. Capitalism has been a target of the greed patrol since its inception. Having a system in which opportunities are created and success is determined by those that take advantage of those opportunities will naturally create a class envy scenario. The have-nots will always want what the haves have. Successful capitalists love the system for its ability to reward hard work. Unsuccessful capitalists hate the system because there are no guaranteed winners. This brings us to what system is in place today in America.
You could conjure up whatever creative name for it you wish, but it is a hybrid mix of capitalism and socialism. Supporters of each wish that we would go all the way their way. America doesn’t have free markets. Nor does it have full-blown free market capitalism. We also are not a full-blown socialist country. The political winds dictate that the administration in power can shift the pendulum one way or the other, but it never goes either way to the extreme. Some may say this is good as one serves as a check for the other. Some also say this prevents either method from ever working efficiently for the same reason.
The point of this post today is to point out the similarities with greed and dependency. Dependency is becoming the norm because of our pathetic economy. 99ers may qualify as the new term of the year. It’s those that have been receiving unemployment benefits for 99 total weeks. 26 from their state and federal extensions that add up to nearly two years of government assistance. Some call it handouts instead. That’s not completely true. The state portion is paid from employer contributions they make on your behalf each paycheck. You never get to see it, but they have to send that check to the state unemployment insurance fund just in case. However, the federal extensions are all taxpayer-funded, so those certainly qualify as handouts.
That’s just one example. There exists a huge laundry list of government welfare programs. Many of them don’t have that stigma attached to them, so they aren’t viewed negatively. Take the earned income credit. If you qualify, you can receive this credit regardless of whether or not you owe taxes. This is the point of a tax credit. You get cash money in your pocket regardless of whether or not you are due a refund or have to pay. That’s a government handout pure and simple. Other taxpayers are picking up the tab for you. It’s socialism. It’s spreading the wealth around. You may be OK with that if you believe those with lesser incomes deserve a break, but it doesn’t change what it is.
As the economy continues to tank, we are facing the dilemma of voluntary dependency. Jobs are scarce. If you are able to find a job, it’s likely not in your career field or not something you prefer to do. We’re seeing people simply not take those jobs. Not if they still have the government handouts available. It’s a double-edged sword. Tempt fate too long and when your benefits finally run out for good, you may not be able to find any job at all. It’s easy to see why many people would prefer to stay on the free lunch program rather than accept a non-appealing job. You’d like to think Americans would have more pride than that. You’d like to think we would prefer to carry our own weight rather than rely others. But that is the cancer that dependency is. Just like greed. Brothers in arms.
Perceptions are always changing. The left is now the proponent of big government. It wasn’t that way just a few decades ago. The right is viewed as anti-government. Now I dispute both of these assertions, but that’s for another day. Those are the common perceptions, so we’ll leave it at that. The left vilifies greed as the cancer we must eradicate. The right vilifies the dependency culture as evil. That it leads to preferred dependency. That it stifles our competitive spirit. You can easily see the similarities. But it’s the glass half-empty/half-full dilemma.
Most of what we hear is simply for public consumption. It’s not the way they really feel, but the way they want to be viewed. The left outwardly despises capitalism and success as greed and it is evil. Yet, they personally aspire to these things. They want others to pay for things as well. They want personal success. They simply can’t proclaim that though because it detracts from their ideology. The right does the same. They cry out against dependency, yet should they fall on hard times, they also want a safety net. Everything is posturing and image related. It seems they all think we’re just idiots who don’t have a clue. To a certain point, I agree. Far too many of us are ignorant to what is going on around us. We just don’t want to have to deal with it. So you get the hand you’re dealt.
They may be at opposite ends of the spectrum, but greed and dependency have far too much in common. Both are cancerous. Both are self-serving. Both are a detriment to us as a nation and as individuals. Just as we have a hybrid capitalist-socialist economy, we need a hybrid solution. I fully support free markets and capitalism. We need to do all we can to ensure that opportunity always exists for those who persevere so they can find success. But it can’t happen at the expense of others. Capitalism isn’t designed as a system in which one must fail for another to succeed. It is designed as a way for others to benefit from your success. Yes, the hated trickle down economics for those on the left. But I also support safeguards to be in place to prevent your success occurring at the expense of others. I don’t see greed as the equal to success. You can have one without the other. But you must protect against having one without the other. It can be done.
Dependency is an equal to greed. It also can’t be tolerated. It goes against everything we value as Americans. I do believe that nearly all Americans support a safety net to assist those who are really in need. That’s a benefit of living in a civilized society. We don’t want a winner takes all, survivor of the fittest mentality. That will surely end miserably. Charity is still considered noble and helping out those who need it is still a good thing. But it can’t be open-ended. It also needs safeguards to prevent its abuse. It’s no different from any other vice we may face daily. Humans are a pretty weak lot when you get down to it. We are pretty easily tempted and call fall prey to the dark side without much effort. Obviously, some more than others. But that can be mitigated with some checks and balances. Usually, you can do this by appealing to one’s pride. Most of us all have a healthy dose of that as well. Maybe it gets put on the back-burner at times, but it is the key to empowering people to lift themselves up. That’s the way to break dependencies back. Help them out temporarily while they need it, but make sure they see the need for them to get back on their feet and take advantage of the opportunities out there.
The bottom line is that greed and dependency can both be controlled. We need to change our culture to do it. We used to have it. It’s the spirit our country was founded upon. Of course, you’ll never have a perfect society in which everything just hums along and everyone does their part. But we can re-ignite the spirit of what made America great. That’s the key. You can’t solve our problems with legislation. You can’t solve it with policies. You can’t do it by force. You can do it by leading by example. You can do it by restoring our family values. You can do it by educating our youth as to the benefits of a free society and restoring opportunities for all. You can do it by explaining that equality doesn’t mean everything equal for everybody. You can do it by explaining that fairness doesn’t mean limiting our potential. You can do it by explaining that social justice will lead to the same result as affirmative action, it dilutes everybody and places a limit on your potential. We can all do it by restoring individuality as a virtue. It’s a long fight ahead of us, but we have to do it.