Thursday, January 15, 2009

2009: What Matters Most

“Strangers stopping strangers, just to shake their hand” –The Grateful Dead

I just got off the phone with one of my oldest and best friends. He’s getting married this summer to a wonderful girl. Congrats again, eh’.

Housing is my business, my passion. I wish it were simple, but these are not simple times. “Housing” has morphed into the state of the economy…and in many ways, the health of our country and our culture.

Over the past few days, a few brave souls have asked for my thoughts on housing in 2009. Some places will get worse faster, and some will get worse more slowly. But that’s not what matters most anymore.

Jobs are being lost. There are more homeless and hungry. Charities can’t keep up. But, it’s deeper than that.

For the first time in several generations, we may be facing tough times. I don’t see any quick fix or turnaround, but, instead, a slow, painful slog. Just like bad seasons define good fans, the next few years will define good employees, good friends, and good citizens.

When we do come out of this funk, we will be different…not just because of the experience, but because of decisions – good and bad - made in times of stress. We will have new laws, regulations, and a much larger government.

For the last 18 months, policy-makers have been crafting cure after cure, but those cures may end up being worse than the disease itself.

Alas, the only real cure is a slow and frustrating mix of time and price.

I believe that we, the people and citizens of this great country, are ready for this. We will make the sacrifices. We will help our fellow man. We are much stronger than our policy-makers give us credit for.

The American Dream is the freedom to succeed AND the freedom to fail. By attempting to prevent current failures, our economic leaders are all but ensuring that we, the people, will be less free to succeed in the future. Capitalism, itself, is at risk.

I HIGHLY recommend that you read What Matters Most, by James Quinn and the Minyanville Staff.  It is all too easy for us to turn a blind eye to what is happening…after all, our lives are busy and stressful enough right now…but these are the times that will define this generation, and shape this country, better or worse, for decades to come. Here are some highlights:

Historian and writer Jame Truslow Adams wrote in his 1931 book, Epic of America:

“The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position."

Mr. Adams penned these words in the midst of the Great Depression, the worst economic crisis in our history. It’s timely to reflect on these words, as it appears that the American Dream is slipping further out of reach for most Americans because of the actions of the politicians running our government and the bureaucrats running the Federal Reserve. And if this dream is lost, it will truly mark a turning point for our great Republic.

Those with ability -- who have earned a better life through their hard work, intelligence and integrity -- should be attaining a higher position in the social order. Instead, our government is rewarding those Americans who have taken unwarranted risks, made careless decisions and willingly chosen the course of excessive debt to climb the social ladder.

As the politicians scurry to save capitalism through the use of communism -- defined by Webster’s as “a system in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed” -- more Americans are becoming disheartened.

…My parents believed that they could provide a better life for their 3 children. They worked hard and sacrificed: My Dad toiled for 42 years as a truck driver for ARCO, bought used cars and never earned more than $32,000 per year. My parents deferred their own gratification and saved: They bought a 3-bedroom row home in Delaware County in 1955, never borrowed against it and methodically paid it off over 30 years. We didn’t eat out 3 times per week or go on exotic vacations.

My parents had only high-school degrees, but these two hard-working, blue-collar people from South Philly, through determined efforts, provided my siblings and me the opportunity to obtain college educations and climb the American social ladder.

The point is, the American Dream was not founded on wealth and materialism, rather, it revolves around achieving a better life based on the merits of your intelligence, hard work and contribution to the national community. There’s a moral aspect to the American Dream that’s been lost over time. James Truslow Adams addressed it in an essay he wrote in 1929:

"There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live. Surely these should never be confused in the mind of any man who has the slightest inkling of what culture is. For most of us it is essential that we should make a living...In the complications of modern life and with our increased accumulation of knowledge, it doubtless helps greatly to compress some years of experience into far fewer years by studying for a particular trace or profession in an institution; but that fact should not blind us to another—namely, that in so doing we are learning a trade or a profession, but are not getting a liberal education as human beings."

The crux of the problem is that Americans with a strong sense of morality are no longer steering the American ship.

Thomas Jefferson declared that Americans had the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence. The government’s obligation is to protect this right. Representative Ron Paul bluntly speaks the truth about our government:

"The obligations of our representatives in Washington are to protect our liberty, not coddle the world, precipitating no-win wars, while bringing bankruptcy and economic turmoil to our people."

Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Johnson Field further clarified “pursuit of happiness” in an 1884 opinion:

Among these inalienable rights, as proclaimed in that great document, is the right of men to pursue their happiness, by which is meant the right to pursue any lawful business or vocation, in any manner not inconsistent with the equal rights of others, which may increase their prosperity or develop their faculties, so as to give to them their highest enjoyment."

Our current system of incentives is inconsistent with the equal rights of others. The pursuit -- by any means necessary -- of excessive wealth, power, and influence has become the “happiness” we shoot for in the “Me” generation of today.

…I’m convinced that the majority of Americans are decent human beings who simply want a fuller life and a legitimate opportunity for advancement. The last 25 years of materialistic psychosis was a temporary deviation on the road towards the American Dream. If the authorities would let capitalism run its course and allow the painful deleveraging that’s needed, we could get back on course. If it takes a depression to accomplish this, so be it. We’ve survived depressions before. It’s time to resist the Fed’s criminality and the government’s abuse of power. Ron Paul’s call for new patriots must be our rallying cry to reclaim the American Dream:

"The original American patriots were those individuals brave enough to resist with force the oppressive power of King George. I accept the definition of patriotism as that effort to resist oppressive state power. The true patriot is motivated by a sense of responsibility and out of self-interest for himself, his family, and the future of his country to resist government abuse of power. He rejects the notion that patriotism means obedience to the state."

Many people are looking for an easy answer to the tyranny that’s being imposed on us by the oligopoly of government, corporations and media, but there isn’t one. The original patriots struggled for 14 years to free themselves from British tyranny. Failure meant the hangman’s noose.

Our politicians, corporate CEOs and media pundits will provide comforting “solutions” that have been crafted by PR lowlifes whose talking points are lies. The only question is whether rational change will come when the existing system collapses under the weight of propaganda, or if we’ll take back the country through grassroots efforts by spreading the truth through the internet.