Sunday, July 31, 2011

Debt Ceilings and Living Responsibly

The political storm surrounding the debt ceiling has given much food for thought concerning responsible living. Both parties accuse the other of irresponsible spending and have demonstrated little willingness to compromise. Republicans blame the Democrats and the Democrats blame the Republicans. No one seems to accept that both parties are responsible for the mess we're in, that the overspending that has brought us to this point has been going on for years. Of course to admit that would be to admit that we have built our entire lifestyle around consumption. We have established a mindset that we deserve it all and we deserve it now, regardless of whether we need it or can truly afford it. If government has grown used to spending more than it earns, ultimately it has done so because we the people have asked more and more of it while wanting to give it less and less of our money. It seems that what most people want is a solution that will allow them to continue living this lifestyle without pain or sacrifice. From what I hear people say around me and on TV, from what I see reported in the news, people are wondering how long it will take to get through this time of difficulty so that we can get back to living the “good life” again.

What if living the good life is precisely what has brought us to this brink of collapse? What if we all accepted that we don't have to have it all and we certainly don't have to have it all now? A friend of mine posted a link on Facebook to an article in an Australian newspaper. This article pointed out that we do not hear the word austerity used in any discussion of how to bring the country out of this difficult time. We're not willing to live responsibly, if responsible living means giving up all those nice extras that we believe we deserve.

I do not want to see our country go into default on its debt. That would not be responsible. But I wonder whether, if it does, the ensuing collapse might in the long run be good for us and for the world. Would it force us to live more simply? It would certainly be painful and the effects would be far-reaching. But even as I fear the possible consequences, I can see how they might produce a beneficial result in the long run. (I am not advocating for default nor do I intend to indicate support for either political party's preferred solution here.)

As I reestablish myself and my family in this country after a period of living overseas, I am trying to determine what it means for us to live responsibly. What things do we truly need and what things would simply be nice to have, should we be in a position to acquire them? How can we live such that we free up as much of our resources as possible to share with those in other parts of the world who live in much more difficult circumstances? I don't have definite answers to these questions, but I have written three principles to help guide me in my decisions: 1) Strive to live with less, 2) Strive to give more to others and 3) Strive for a healthy, sustainable lifestyle (environmentally, financially, emotionally, spiritually, etc.) These principles don't define every choice in every situation, but they give me a framework to help me as I make decisions.

I'd like to think that the current political impasse will result in fundamental changes to our consumer culture. But realistically I doubt they will. However the issue is resolved, I fear that we will simply continue to try to maintain an unsustainable lifestyle until we really do reach a point of collapse. Maybe this will not be the case, but personally I want to try and live responsibly so that other people, both the poor of the world now and those who will come after me, might be able to live balanced lives as well. If a little austerity on my part can help that happen, then it will be well-invested.

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