On Personal Responsibility

On Personal Responsibility

During the 1980 Presidential debates, then candidate Ronald Reagan gained political points against President Carter when he insisted that the president was misrepresenting his position. Do you recall that famous line?

There you go again.

Well, a generation and a half later, perhaps that phrase should be re-stated:

Here we go again.

Why so? According to a February 7, 2012 press release from the National Consumer Bankruptcy Association, the next American “debt bomb” will be student loans. Having finished shoveling houses to individuals who could not afford them, in society’s infinite wisdom, we have moved on to Biff and Buffy at Moo U to devise yet another bubble scheme. And with those loans now exceeding total credit card debt within the U.S. economy, it appears that many students (and parent co-signers) have opted for the Hollywood version of academia, namely: sprawling big-name college campuses complete with dormitories, student centers serving up lattes 24/7, fraternity and sorority houses that image John Belushi, and athletic facilities that wow the senses. Given all of these amenities, one would think that today’s crop of students had, in a proverbial sense, “died and gone to heaven.” A far cry from their parent’s modest experience of higher education, these lavish accommodations provide one additional benefit: an opportunity to stand in a growing line of recent graduates who are attempting to discharge or restructure their college-debt obligations.

But, O Practical One, is this not a harsh charge to foist upon unknowing students and parents who have bought into this national tragedy? And by the way, what tragedy?

Am I not entitled to Harvard or Princeton despite the reality that my pocketbook indicates that the local college, living at home, and working my way through school may yield the correct calculus?

And perhaps this is the question that should provide seed for our national pondering, especially for an increasing number of Americans who cannot, or rather, have chosen to not recognize the laws of economics that dominate their lives.

No, not supply and demand. But rather, to borrow from Adam Smith, that we economic actors are called to be rational decision makers. For those of you who are “old fashioned,” that would mean that we should exhibit a certain trait or virtue. And that would be? Oh, yes.

Personal responsibility.

Across this fruited plain, however, it appears that an increasing number of us lack this virtue. Or worse yet, we have never even received this gift from those who have been charged to give it. For those in this latter category, while pondering its consequences, their voices may be heard:

This saying is hard, who can accept it?

In my lectures to students and conversations with others, I have increasingly felt the need to play the prophetic role. Anxiously, I point to the reality that the U.S. national debt now exceeds our GDP and that annual interest on that debt appears the equivalent of a financial tsunami. It is though we have been inserted into a play without knowledge of the next act. And so we continue with our familiar lines.

Recently, a deacon friend, Rev. Mr. Donald Cox, pondered this very topic and noted that Pericles, the ruler of ancient Athens, once gave a speech in 398 B.C. in which he said:

Our nation, this most powerful, wealthy, and dominant people on the face of planet Earth, shall shine on for millennia to come.

My friend noted that just one year after making that speech, he was dead. And four years after making that speech his nation was gone, completely broke, battered, and ravaged. To directly quote him:

History tells us that many great nations have come and gone before us. Each disappeared by making the exact same mistakes. Each overextended themselves militarily and financially. Each bankrupted their nation through uncontrolled domestic spending. Each experienced internal corruption through the moral decay of their culture. And each gained far too many enemies by their belligerent, aggressive behavior. In our arrogance, are we allowing ourselves to repeat the same mistakes?

And for myself? As I write this, I gaze upon a picture of my grandfather standing proudly before his simple home during the Great Depression. I wonder whether he and others of that generation knew how they got there. But perhaps I am old-fashioned.

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Written by
Deacon Kurt Godfryd