What Are You Prepared To Do?

Margaret Atkins MunroLet's Talk About MoneyLeave a Comment

Judging from the composition of the Gang of Twelve appointed by the House and Senate leadership in the wake of the default crisis, the coming deficit-reduction talks will consist of a great deal of “my way or the highway” rhetoric, and little or no compromise. As a result, painful across-the-board budget cuts are coming, cuts that will bite hard into our local communities that are already struggling. By now, it should be clear that expecting anything constructive from Congress is a waste of time and energy.

The early symptoms of “austerity” surround us. I cannot erase from my mind the stories of elderly freezing to death in their homes, of children whose only meals come from free school breakfasts and lunches, of food shelves standing empty, unable to keep up with the demand. The rioting that sparked regime change across the Middle East this year was caused by corrupt governments, by vast inequities between rich and poor, by lack of opportunity for the young. Sound familiar? If you think it can’t happen here, just take a look at the rioting and unrest in Great Britain right now.

Over the past seventy-five years, since the days of the New Deal, we have become complacent, relying on the government to act for us, to protect the weakest among us. But today, we are blessed with a government that does neither, one that is too married to the idea of its own self-preservation to do the first thing about preserving economic viability for the majority of its people. We have abdicated our collective responsibility to the young, the old, the infirm and the impaired to a group that has no apparent interest in honoring that trust.

This is life and death, right and wrong. This is not a question of people pulling themselves up, of learning self-reliance, and of making tough choices. Do we, as a group, find it acceptable that someone may freeze to death in their home this winter because heating assistance funds will surely be cut? Or that malnutrition and even starvation may appear in increasing size and scope because food assistance decreases? Is it fair that economics once again relegate smart students to second-class educations because public schools are deficient, and college tuitions are out of reach? And what do we do with those students leaving school who cannot find jobs because they lack that all-important experience?

We, as a society, are failing. Those of us fortunate enough to be watching the rampant infantilism in Washington from a position of economic strength and security continue with our lives, knowing we will not be directly impacted by governmental cuts. So long as we focus on our own households and turn from others’ suffering, we should be fine. Fine, that is, until the day a bridge collapses, our child’s school fails, or our own job heads to a city whose name we can’t even spell.

Much as we’d like to look the other way, this is a problem of our own making, and its solution is fairly straightforward: so what are we each prepared to do? Every one of us, from the greatest to the least, has a contribution to make, whether it’s checking daily on the well-being of an elderly neighbor, buying extra food to help stock the local food shelf, or mentoring a young person or an immigrant family. We are responsible for each other; if the government will no longer take the lead here, then we must step up.

To every business owner of whatever size, I challenge you to not only create at least one new job, but make it a job of substance, and train the person you hire.

This insistence that new employees must have years of experience in order to be valuable to you is nonsense; when you take the time to train someone, you create a loyal employee, providing value to your business and your customers. Yes, you may take an initial hit against profits when you hire someone who cannot jump right in, but you’ve given that person an opportunity which will, in most cases, more than repay you in the long run. We seem to have forgotten that.

The days of social service safety net cutting are only just beginning. These are today’s realities. But an alternate reality exists that the need for these services has never been greater. We are balanced on the cusp of a humanitarian disaster that could potentially lead to revolution and/or anarchy similar to what is currently being experienced around the world.

The New Deal has expired and our Great Society has fallen—the concept of collateral damage of lives and opportunities lost is not acceptable.

To paraphrase a great American, now is the time to ask not what you can do for yourself, but rather to ask what you can do for your neighbor.