Prepare for Austerity

Posted on November 30, 2011 by Dr. Jerry Rankin in Rankin Connecting

It has been fascinating to read reports of record spending on Black Friday in the midst of a depressed economy. $52 billion was supposedly spent on retail purchases by shoppers during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend followed by record online spending last Monday. The question in my mind is, “Whose money?”

Americans have developed a pattern of spending money they don’t have. We live in a society which feels entitled to the material things of life, and credit cards entice us to get it now and pay later. The problem is that most are unable to pay so the interest on unpaid balances continues to accumulate at 18% and higher. Not realizing if we are unable to pay now we will not be able to pay later, we face debilitating indebtedness.

We are critical of our government’s irresponsible financial management and spending that has put us trillions of dollars in debt. Congress is stalemated in looking for a solution because there really isn’t a solution to spending more than you take in. Every generation since the great depression has been more prosperous than the previous one, but the millennials will be the first that is not as well-off as their parents.

The government is just a reflection of what has become the attitude and practice of businesses, families and individuals. Families are saddled with mortgages that exceed the value of their home, foreclosures continue at a rampant pace, lay-offs feed a frightening level of unemployment, surviving on credit continues to build billions of dollars in indebtedness. Outstanding student loans have now passed a trillion dollars. It is being fed by the attitude that I deserve an education, a home, insurance, medical care, a car, television and the latest smart phone even if I can’t afford it. Someone else can pay for it. But who?

I am not so pessimistic to predict a crash, but it is evident we are in so deep we have leveraged the future, and the prospects are not pretty. We have moved from an industrial economy to the information age in which the blue-collar jobs that provided income and security for the majority of Americans no longer exist. A work ethic of doing whatever it takes to provide for one’s family has vanished. This generation wants a job but doesn’t want to work.

We have lived in places overseas where an austere lifestyle was the norm. Unemployment rates were more than 50%. If people didn’t find work from day to day their family did not eat. Luxuries were out of the question. Security was a roof over your head and a bowl of rice. Higher education was only a dream. We may not reach that level of widespread poverty, but we need to realize prospects for continuing prosperity in the future are beginning to dim.

States and municipalities are struggling with bankruptcy and employees–a prominent segment of the work force–are being laid off and services curtailed. Businesses with diminishing market shares are not hiring. Vacant malls and boarded up stores are a blight in every town and city. A reduced defense budget will thrust thousands of discharged military personnel into a suppressed job market. The government will no longer be able to provide the entitlements on which a high percentage of Americans depend.

Are we capable of living without? Are we willing to cut back spending to only the basics of what we need? Do we have the ethical compassion to care for one another and share with the burgeoning number of victims of this economic scenario who are needy and deprived? We can hide our heads in the sand and deny reality, but the trend is evident. It won’t come overnight, but a day of accounting is coming. The noose is tightening, and we need to anticipate an austerity we have not known for a long time!

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