Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Forgotten Word: Sacrifice

More frequently I have been looking at the world today and think we all suffer from a supreme case of wanting to have our cake and eat it, too.

I don't consider myself brilliant, but it seems apparent to me that we're all going to need to pinch in if we want to: lower the debt, create jobs, fix the environment, improve our schools and have more money in our pockets.

One look at the U.S. budget is a case in point. I am not sure I understand how anyone ever got to the belief that we can dramatically grow tax revenues by dramatically cutting taxes. It seems counter intuitive to lower taxes in order to raise tax revenue. And yet, that's the tax philosophy that has been in place in the U.S. since the Reagan years. No wonder Reagan's Vice President once called it "voodoo economics."

Like modern chapters of "Alice in Wonderland," I find fellow citizens creating weird rationale for gluttonous behavior. There's so much information out there, and so much blather on talk and commentary shows, that it's easy for anyone to connect the dots to reach a conclusion that's convenient.

There was a time when a call for sacrifice was met with a puritan response. Roll up your sleeves and get it done. But none of our leaders is willing to ask for sacrifice today because it's not what the voters want to hear. President Obama's latest attempt aims directly at our patriotism. He wants to make the U.S. the best place on the planet to do business. It's a good message, but the specifics on what we might need to give up to get there are vague.

Well, I am willing to sacrifice. Here are two good examples.

From a federal perspective, I know that social security is in trouble. While I am acutely aware of the money that's being deducted from my paycheck to fund the social security program, I am equally acutely aware that the program itself will go insolvent unless changes are made. Rather than issuing platitudes regarding some amazing scheme that might exist to make it all better, and rather than just saying social security is sacrosanct but [enter in successful government assistance program here] is not, why not just say we need all to sacrifice and fix the problem. You know, tell us what we need to hear and not what we want to hear.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, at the local level here in Boston and in my neighborhood, I am ready to sacrifice some convenience in the local trash collection options I have to save the city money, increase recycling, and make the streets cleaner. It's the reason I strongly support switching to two days of trash pick up, mixed with two days of recycling. It's called 2 + 2. Some of my neighbors are greedy about the third day of trash pick up we currently have on Beacon Hill. Or they think that giving up a day sets a precedent as part of a broader scheme by someone to take away benefits we enjoy in the neighborhood. The ironic part is, many of the people who argue for the third day are the same people complaining that the streets are filthy.

In many ways, it comes down to common sense and looking at situations from a mature perspective. I realized as a little kid that when my parents grow up and live longer, there won't be enough money in the social security program to pay for them, or me. In my neighborhood, it's elementary cause and effect to understand that less days of trash pick up means trash is on the street curbs less often. However, seeing the common sense and then having the courage to talk about it are, unfortunately, two entirely separate things.

When I was in high school, Connecticut Governor Lowell Weicker held firm to a highly unpopular proposal implementing a state income tax. He talked straight with the people, arguing the tax was necessary to fix Connecticut's financial problems. Lots of people didn't like him, but the governor was resolute. Connecticut still has an income tax today, and shortly after the tax was implemented, the budget problems that dominated the headlines went away. I think the courage that Governor Weicker showed then is something we need to see more of now.

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