Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The deficit of "me"

With the increasing deficit dominating policy on both sides of the aisle, it's only natural that PEW would have something to say about the debate.

There's been a great deal of discussion concerning budget cuts, but tax increases have been a taboo subject. As of December, however, 65% of Americans favored not only cuts to major programs but also tax increases to combat the deficit.

My guess is that these opinions stem from simple input/output calculations: if you want to balance a budget, limit what goes out and increase what comes in. Makes sense.

Still, what interests me most is the following:
The public's view of the deficit is often summarized as follows: Yes, Americans agree that the nation's finances are in a precarious state and, yes, something needs to be done. Yet they overwhelmingly reject any specific ideas for reducing the deficit -- particularly when it comes to changes in entitlement programs.
In essence: we need to cut back on spending, and by we I mean you.

I can't say I'm surprised. As the "me generation" of baby boomers approaches retirement, it's only natural for self-interest to kick in. I'd like to say that as the millennials age into adulthood that we'd be more selfless, but I don't see it. I'm constantly thinking of ways to trim my budget and I don't even want to give up cable TV; imagine how hard I'd fight for social security.

I think it's only natural that in times of overt selfishness we look back nostalgically to the traditionalists, the so-called "greatest generation." Somehow they seemed more collectivist, more selfless.

Really, though, I think they just had a better understanding of how to make selfishness work. They seemed to focus more on us than me, but consider that definitionally I am a part of us. Therefore, benefiting the whole means I sacrifice for others in some way and others sacrifice for me in another way. In this manner we advance the interest of the self by consistently advancing the interests of the whole.

Some call that selflessness. I'd call it enlightened self-interest. Either way I think it would work. We might all fair better if we understood the numerous and intricate ways that all the "mes" are connected to create the "us." Maybe then we -- and by we I do mean we -- could dig ourselves out of this mess.

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