Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Manifesto of the United States of JP: Fiscal Responsibility

There are times I believe that the disagreements in the political and social arenas stem from people trying to force the wrong answers on to the wrong problems. The more I listen to the arguments, however, I see that opposing groups often operate from completely different spheres of understanding. What one person takes for granted as the standard way of living may seem completely alien to another.

Rather than push an agenda either for or against more taxation as a fix for the economy, I believe we need to change the dynamic of the question. At the onset of the recession, a variety of special programs emerged to help the average citizen better handle their financial situations. The problem with special programs is that over time people tend to erroneously believe there is no more cause for concern and the lessons are forgotten. Eventually these special blue ribbon programs just go away.

I will reiterate what I said in a prior post: We need a national education standard that requires every high school student to understand fiscal responsibility and private finances. No one should be handed a high school diploma if they cannot budget and prepare for real world situations at a variety of income levels.

Before you say this is too much to ask, let's consider a few points. When someone graduates high school, they are typically of age to vote, drive a motor vehicle, and serve our country in the armed forces. However, there is no guarantee they know how to plan to fiscally fend for themselves.

We assume that kind of lesson will be taught at home by their families, but that may not happen because their family has no idea how to plan for their own future.

Some will argue that it's a "free country" and people must learn to stand on their own. I am not arguing against that---for the most part. My issue is that we are not all trained to thrive in this society. We don't all learn to function with the same kind of financial responsibility and I am sorry but there is nothing instinctive about it. Patting people on the head and saying "Now remember to pay your bills" just does not cut it.

We would not be having such heated discussions these days if that method worked. Furthermore, we have already proven that having hordes of people build up debt that can never be repaid can crush the system.

You can't wish away people who are in debt and out of work---unless you believe we should roundup such people (I don't want to finish this thought because it sickens me).

Imagine for a moment that 90 percent of the graduating high class of 2012 nationwide knew how to balance their own personal budgets and prepare for layoffs, salary cuts, medical emergencies, and other surprises. I would love to see high school students take classes that made them apply their math and other lessons in real world cases:

How do you provide for a family of four with a single income of $30,000 per year? What do you do if you are high-net worth individual with multiple homes that are heavily financed and the market value of your properties suddenly plummets? You're a business owner who just lost your primary customer and no new contracts are coming in; what do you do?

Eventually this nation of high school graduates would become employees, supervisors, businesses owners, and politicians. In other words, fiscal responsibility would be the standard in both the private and public sectors. Companies would know not overreach their means and government, at all levels, would expect to be held accountable for its spending.

That would turnaround the argument about "handouts" and "bailouts". Some people willfully abuse economic support, others are frankly clueless and scared even though they watched their problems mount up. But if we all were exposed to the same fiscal preparedness, the discussion changes.

What if before a private citizen or business requested temporary financial assistance they were required to lay out a plan to recover and thrive on their own? What if they actually had a real idea what to do?

It astounds me that this kind of critical change is not part of the national debate---but I know why it happens.

Those who already understand this scream: "You should already know how to play this game!"

Those who never had anyone in their family or school lay out the rules of fiscal responsibility shout in response: "You never told me how!"

At the moment, parts of Wall Street are occupied by throngs of people protesting for change but their demands---the few that have surfaced---are too nebulous to address.

Instead of trying to speak for them, let me share a little truth from my perspective. At the beginning of this year I had an abrupt change in employment. Having already endured one mental breakdown in my life, I decided I would not let this situation to plow me under. I also had squared up my own personal finances in advance so I had no outstanding debt anywhere, not even credit cards. That still did not make it easy to get by. I could not simply apply for new jobs; I had to revamp my skill set and that would not have been possible without having saved up. I busted my hump taking classes, learned knew skills, and applied for jobs until I got lucky.

Had I been living the way I was a few years prior, I would have been at a total mess. Things changed only after I faced the fact I had no idea what I was doing financially. Sure, I had a college degree and a job but I had no instinct for fiscal responsibility. We NEVER talked about it in my family. It just never came up. Even my Dad, who owned his own pharmacies before I was born, did not really know how to manage his finances. This became clear to me later in life and more so after I had to sort out matters after he passed away. There were times when I asked him why he handled things as he did and he looked at me quite honestly and said: "I didn't know."

Maybe he didn't want to admit it to himself, maybe he really had no idea what he was doing. But there was a definite disconnect from financial reality.

If we are going to move forward, this country must first admit that many of its citizens are trying to go about their lives without first understanding how this system works. And those citizens must be willing to learn the lessons they either overlooked or were never taught.


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Flame and Bone

When I was made from fire
Poured into the tender vessel of caution
That keeps my smoke from rising
Quickly did I discover that apart from crisp drizzles or falling snow
The world chilled my touched
Walking the narrow cornered gap between girders and cut stone
One learns to tuck his shoulders in or risk
Jostling a neighbor passing by rapt with want
For a clear path without the distraction
Of another man's boiling eyes
The tip of a finger
That oldest of all weapons
Grown deadlier and pristine in its invention
Gathers a mote of a cinder on its bare flesh
And turns pondering how best to scratch the impious itch
Prying open the tender seam
Where the oil of thought dews
Offering a new wick to ignite
Squirming alive as a salamander of mischief
That yearns for a taste of air it is so ready to devour
The steam of breath betrays me
Before the glint of orange spreads
In popping bright waves
Eroding the fibers feeding it
Leaving naught but ash
As my shell of quietude falls away