Perspectives: Mirror mirror on the wall, whose debt will make the US fall?

Mirror Mirror on the wall; or, spend as I say not as I do
Mirror Mirror on the wall; or, spend as I say not as I do | Image by Brett Barrett, St. George News

OPINION –  One recent Fox News poll caught my eye.

Fox News asked over 100,000 voters which issues were influencing their vote for President of the United States. Over 86 percent voted for the economy as the major issue in deciding how they will cast their vote.

It’s interesting that America’s budget fiasco is so reflective and indicative of our own personal household budgets. We want. We spend. And we don’t care who pays for it.

The mirror-like image is rather unmistakable.

Until the turn of the 20th century, we bought products because of their quality, value and their ability to last. We purchased according to our needs and saved to buy the items we wished to obtain. Our nation, as well, only had several million dollars of debt at the time and functioned mostly from the tax system. The average family did not go into debt and our nation took debt very seriously as well.

Enter Edward Bernays.

Bernays, a marketing genius, played a huge part in altering our view of satisfying our needs; he turned them into “wants.” Instead of concentrating on selling value, he influenced companies to sell products based on desire.

Bernays was instrumental in breaking the taboo surrounding women who smoked at the time, after being hired by the tobacco industry to increase sales of tobacco to women. At the time, women did not smoke in public; only men did. The tobacco industry wanted Bernays to make smoking desirable and acceptable for women. So, Bernays developed a marketing strategy in which he referred to cigarettes as “torches of liberty” and enlisted high society women to smoke cigarettes in an ad campaign that revolutionized that market. Tobacco sales sharply increased and women who smoked became envied and appeared strong.

Bernays had the ability to change public perception and his career thrived.

Bernays helped develop the store window displays to make products desirable and launched the concept of celebrities endorsing products to appeal to our envy of those in the limelight.

Bernays exploited our egos by using our buying power to have the “latest” and “greatest” and feed our desire to show others how important we were. Instead of buying a car to last, we started going into debt to buy the newest, flashiest car every few years. This new marketing influence changed the way we looked at debt and ourselves. Image trumped everything.

Our temporary desires became more important to us than the ability to pay for them.

This new debt overload weighed heavily into the collapse of the market known as the Great Depression – the worst financial collapse America has ever witnessed.

Right now, our nation is teetering on financial collapse. Our national and personal debt is out of control.

Are we ready to make hard changes and sacrifices as a nation? We blame our elected officials for their spending habits but rarely criticize our own.

I look at my own budget and the choices I have made. I recognize the things that I have purchased on credit and wanted to buy instead of purchasing solely on a need-based lifestyle; house, cars, clothes and even vacations have all been purchases that I have made on credit.

The days of savings are also obsolete these days.

According to a survey by bankrate.com, reported by CBS news, we are dangerously unprepared for a personal financial emergency. Only about half of Americans are prepared at all for a financial emergency and only 24 percent have 6 months worth of sufficient savings. Most Americans not only do not possess an emergency fund, they are greatly in debt and in over their heads.

Our nation has no emergency fund either. Our country has borrowed itself into oblivion. Just as we enlist more and more credit cards to increase our buying power to maintain our standard of living, our nation borrows from other nations to maintain our nation’s standard of living. Most Americans do not want to “feel the pinch” of a budget while the debt continues to exceed our ability to pay it back.

Our nation has racked up over $16 trillion in debt and it’s growing by the day.

When I think of budget cuts on a broad scale, most Americans agree on making sacrifices, as long as those sacrifices do not involve them. We want a president who talks tough and says he will cut the budget, but are we willing to support those cuts? We applaud when the politicians promise financial frugality; we would not vote for someone who said otherwise. Yet, will we still applaud when the sacrifices become real? The government was not originally designed to bail us out financially or continually rescue us from our own personal financial demise. But we have come to count on them to save the day. What happened to personal accountability?

If we cannot sacrifice on a personal level and rid ourselves of the conveniences we achieve by going into debt, we do not have the right to expect it from our elected leaders.

No matter who wins the presidency in November, our economic mindset needs to change.

The character of the individuals in our nation would be so much stronger if we said “no” once in awhile to our temporary desires and walked away from our own selfishness, exercising restraint and control. If we can get our citizenry to change their perception about debt, maybe we can once again become the great nation that we were meant to be.

Words that sound nice and win elections need to become a reality, but it will need to start with our own financial spending habits and bank accounts first. If we advocate Uncle Sam paying to meet certain needs, we need to ask ourselves if the tax was eliminated would we reach into our own pocketbook and make a direct contribution to that need ourselves.  If we advocate the tightening of Uncle Sam’s spending habits, how about we tighten our own self-indulgent belts and consumer credit. It is time for each of us, individually, to be as accountable for our own spending habits as we would have Uncle Same be.

Change begins with ourselves; failing that, our message – from whatever side of the aisle we stand on – is nothing more than: “Spend as I say, not as I do.”

 

Kate Dalley is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives morning show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are hers and not representative of St. George News.

Email: kated@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2012, all rights reserved.

 

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2 Comments

  • Mike H October 26, 2012 at 10:23 am

    For one of the few times in following your articles do I find myself in complete accord with what you are saying. While people will point their fingers at the sitting POTUS (regardless of the era) it is the responsibility of the individual to manage their own debt. It can be problematic if you lose a job and find yourself unable to pay bills that you had managed before with no difficulty. I’ve had this happen myself, and I learned that I have to be more fiscally responsible and look at what I can afford even on the lowest wages. I bought a modest home with a sub 1000k payment, I drive a paid-for car and have low credit card debt, but it is debt all the same.
    I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that we have become a nation of want instead of need when it comes to purchases and possessions. It’s developed into a vicious cycle though. I contemplate what it would take if everyone actually lived within their means and purchased just the needs and I keep coming to the conclusion that although it would be good for the individual in the short term it would be bad for the economy in the long term. What happens to all the products and companies that make them if people realized they didn’t need them and didn’t buy them? Those companies go broke and their employees find themselves unemployed and no longer even able to buy the necessities.
    Like begets like. I’ve seen where our society came from but I don’t know where it will end up. Everyone is in everyone else’s business while they ignore their own. People blame a figurehead while ignoring their own contribution. I wish there was an easy answer; isn’t that the way of the world? Everyone wants the pill to make them thin and beautiful in a week’s time. But no one wants to make the effort or take the time, it’s always, now now now.
    I fear for the future of this country, especially when so many people expect to find the cure behind the next door or the next guy to sit in the big chair. Good luck people.

  • suburbanSG October 26, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    Debt created by Congress.

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