Are We Better Off?

So I guess it’s supposed to be the election of 1980 all over again, and the relevant question assumes that I and everyone else must base “better” solely on whether we have more money.  I’m offended by the smugness of the way the question is being asked.  I have a lot less money.  I chose to move toward a life that requires less money.  I now have more time, since I live on less money.  I have less debt and less stress.  I’m happier.  I have less of all things material, and more of all things intangible that have true and lasting value.  I’m a LOT better off!

What does this have to do with who’s in the White House at any given time?  Whether the country is better or worse off isn’t any easier to assume than it is for individuals.  The U.S. has a great deal of debt.  Some of it we got trying to provide services and opportunities for people, and taking care of the poor.  Some of it was from fiscal mismanagement.  Some of it we got from paying for our nationally inexhaustible fear of bogeymen, which used to be the Communists and now are the “terrorists”.  I think if we tried to learn to live less in fear, we would be better off.

Some say the only relevant issue in this election is the economy, and getting people back to work.  That’s important of course, but to say it’s the only issue is far too simplistic an approach.  There are multiple issues in every election, depending on what you individually care most about.  Perhaps few will vote based on the platform differences regarding same-sex marriage.  What if you were gay, and wanted to be married?  Is the election still only about the economy?

Immigrants came to this land and wiped out or rounded up the indigenous people who were living here before them.  As each new wave of immigrants came after them, there were always those saying we would be better off to throw the new arrivals out.  One of our oldest traditions is to treat poor people who come here from other countries to make a better life uncharitably, as if they came here to steal from us earlier immigrants.  If we had less of that attitude, we would be better off.  Immigrants have always made us a stronger, more diverse place in the long run.  They understand sacrifice better than the average person born here.

As a people, we own too much stuff no one actually needs, like oversized houses and cars, designer clothing and shoes, and electronic toys.  If you had fewer of these, wouldn’t you really be better off?  One of our most profitable industries is the manufacture and export of weapons systems.  It would mean making less money to intentionally reduce the sales of our fabulous, innovative killing technology, but we would be morally better off to do that.  Many people own guns in America.  They probably think it will make them safer.  Guns make murder and suicide easier to succeed at.  If we tried to know our neighbors by name, and tried harder to treat every stranger as a neighbor instead of having guns to protect us from them, we would all be better off.

And if an evil terrorist or a disgruntled person who was fired or an insane criminal should happen to kill me?  I’ll never have to worry about dying of a lingering, painful illness, and I’ll be free from all earthly cares, and therefore – I’ll be better off.


Filed under Ethics and Morality, Thinking about thinking

23 responses to “Are We Better Off?

  1. Sadly I see that the concept of only securing personal comfort and “what’s in it for me?” attitude becoming more and more prevalent.
    I’m shocked at the instant gratification and entitlement that many ever increasingly younger children these days expect, and the tantrums that happen when they don’t.
    Society is losing solid moral values like: an honest days pay for an honest days work, working hard and saving, starting at the bottom and working your way up, being debt free (except for mortgage) wait for what you want if you can’t afford it and being happy with less….
    You don’t need every new gadget that comes along, you shouldn’t be “upgrading” just for the sake of upgrading and that TIME is the biggest gift you have, PEOPLE are the best investment and that Life is more than what’s in it for me…
    Some of my deepest satisfactions in life have been in anonymously helping others and “giving back” often involving physical effort, time, getting my hands dirty and some personal sacrifice.
    I want my kids to be the kind of human beings who are not just interested in themselves, not trapped in the shallowness of materialism and looks, but to eventually have homes and families where inviting someone in for a meal is a usual, normal practice, where talking to one another and laughing a lot is regular entertainment and where they value all good people no matter that their skin colour is, their socio-economic background, or the quality/size of their possessions.
    The thing I find puzzling in the USA elections (and the upcoming Dutch ones too) is the apparent unwillingness of the voting public to look at the “bigger picture”… not just what’s being promised to ME right now, but how does this benefit EVERYONE in the long term. How do they want their country and society to look like in 10 years time, 20, 100?
    They want their kids and grandkids to be healthy, secure and safe, but are busy blocking the long term investments in environment, health, etc etc etc that would make it a reality. Big business too has FAR too many fingers in governmental pies…
    (or is it just me? I obviously don’t get all the USA political news and insights you do, so I’m also looking at what happens here in NL …maybe the two are too different so maybe my ideas and views are skewed?)

  2. I think you and I are in complete agreement. Big business follows the same rules everywhere, and if they can buy influence, they do, because it increases profit. I think the Nederlands has a more enlightened tradition in terms of being welcoming, and having only two viable parties here makes gridlock worse. There’s no need for compromise in order to create coalitions, as there would be with a multi-party system. Well, maybe I’ll live to see the collapse of Capitalism, or at least the reigning in of Corporatism.

  3. You make some very good points, Mikey, with which I agree. This country in this election does need to be looking forward at the bigger picture of what makes people better off in many ways more than just having more money.
    More money and the pursuit of it just causes more unhappiness and more problems many times, I think. This is one of the fundamental problems with our society. This coming from a place of scarcity and fear.

    We, as a country, have to stop basing decisions and policies on fear and division and realize that we are all human beings with basically the same hopes, feelings and needs. We all want to give our children better lives, be able to support ourselves, and be treated with some respect and dignity no matter what country we live in, under what governing power, where we originate or what our sexual orientation may be. We have got to start realizing that we are much more alike than different. Shifting this perception alone would alleviate many of the issues.

    I watched Michelle Obama\’s speech last night and, boy, it sure conveyed these sentiments to me. To implement the actuality though….a different story and damn near impossible. Baby steps, right? / credentials can be used.

    • Baby steps is an excellent way to put it. We do what we can by working on ourselves. The individual efforts link up. There are so many levels to the question “Are we better off?” Who’s “we”? I only focused on the “what constitutes better” part, and there are MANY definitions of that besides the few I mentioned. As always, I’m trying to encourage readers to look at a bigger picture. I know you seek understanding from a deeper perspective too, Debbie. Thanks for your reaction.

  4. mylifeinfocusblog

    You’re not concerned with all the millions of Americans out of work? The 1 in 5 people who are on food stamps? The 16trillion dollars worth of debt this country is now carrying? The $4.50 price for a gallon of gas plus the rising costs of energy to heat one’s home? The higher prices for food? I don’t know where you live but when I go to the city I see a lot more homeless people sitting on the sidewalks. I can’t go into a coffee shop without being greeted as I exit by many out-of-work people begging me for my change. Is this what you want? You like America being in so much decline?
    I watched the Dem Convention last night and noted there were 19 speakers and not one of them mentioned the word ‘jobs’. Is this what you want: a political party that is uncaring? Yet women can get free birth control and abortions? Brilliant.
    I lived in New York City and my family and I experienced 9/11/01, so obviously you people have no idea what it is like to be attacked. Fear? You’re damn right we experience real fear! Every day. You have no idea what it is like to feel that each day may be your last. I might not see my children tomorrow.
    Obama was supposed to cut the debt in half NOT double it. You’re comfortable with our country being so over leveraged as it is now? That’s being better off? Michelle Obama’s speech last night addressed not one thing worrying the common people. People need jobs not speeches. Not government handouts.
    It has nothing to do with how much money one has in a bank account. Is everyday life for our fellow American citizens better for them now in 2012 than what it was in 2008? Looking at the long unemployment lines, pantry and food lines, I’d say NO!

    Clint Eastwood was very correct in depicting President Obama as an empty chair. Obama is a disgrace.

    • I appear to have offended you with my opinion, for which I apologize first off. However, if you go back and re-read the third paragraph, the position I took was that although the economy and jobs IS important, there are also other issues of importance, and I can’t jettison them all to focus solely on making sure some McJobs are created for those in need, which is what happened the first time this came up in 1980.

      I have been watching homelessness increase since the 1970s. It’s no recent phenomenon, and it has been unaddressed through many administrations by both main political parties. I’ve written about the historical causes in great detail in earlier posts. I lived and worked in downtown Los Angeles for years. Because the weather is milder in California, there are thousands more homeless there than in New York City, and always have been.

      I had to deal with being “begged at” agressively from 1982. That was when the numbers of homeless first exploded. One third of them were veterans of the war in Vietnam. This isn’t something Obama or Bush caused. It’s no recent decline. It’s part of a lack of cultural charitability and xenophobia that goes clear back to the “Know Nothings” of the 19th Century. It won’t be fixed in four years, no matter who wins the election.

      I have been a victim of violent crime, and I do know exactly what it’s like to feel as if each day might be my last, as a child, a survivor of physical abuse. The men who killed people in New York, Washington and who had to crash the other plane were criminals. They were fanatics who died for their distorted view of what they thought was right. But they never were the international highly-organized threat they were portrayed as. How many died on both sides in Iraq, a country completely unrelated to the actions of those criminals? How much was spent on that? What is it exactly we are still fighting for in Afghanistan? How much do these wars cost in PTSD? Is it worth it? It had better be, since it’s a big part of why we have the debt.

      I’m afraid I can’t respond to what went on at either convention, because the only part of either of them I watched was Eastwood vs. chair, because it became an Internet meme. I like many of his films. I found his, uh, performance confused and sad, but also absurd and strangely familiar. I used to care for dementia patients. It was easy to imagine Romney staffers backstage going “Nooooo!” I don’t think the appearance turned out to be what they either expected or were looking for as a set-up for Romney’s speech.

      I appreciate very much the passion and committment you’ve put into your comment. I love long responses, for or against.

      • mylifeinfocusblog

        well, people see what they want to see. i thought clint was brilliant. his mumblings and fumblings were all planned. that’s how he got away by telling obama to go eff himself.
        i’ve been watching both conventions. i understand the republican message precisely. the dems have me all confused. not one mention of jobs, unemployment, national debt, BUT women will get free birth control & abortions.

        • Yes, we agree on that. People perceive things based on their own experiences, and maybe you saw something in Clint’s act that I didn’t. I didn’t see it in the context of the convention broadcast, only after when it was shown as a separate clip by many outlets.

          Since I consider both conventions to be theater, intended for effectiveness as a show rather than an accurate representation of candidates or party positions, I saw no real need to watch. I will watch the debates, though.

      • mylifeinfocusblog

        well, people see what they want to see. i thought clint was brilliant. his mumblings and fumblings were all planned. that’s how he got away by telling obama to go eff himself.
        i’ve been watching both conventions. repub made their case understandable. dems not so.
        thanks for your comment. i appreciate it v v much

  5. Dear mylifeinfocusblog,
    Jobs are clearly the thing that you think will fix the current problems in the USA…I’d agree, people DO need jobs, but you also need a responsible network of care so that if you have early-stage dementia at 50 and can no longer work that you are properly cared for,,
    …a system that ensures that if you suffer a catastrophic accident that you can be retrained and not put on the scrapheap or that your medical bills bankrupt you… that all kids have an equal chance of education and that society is not all about “me, me, me” and sod everyone else mentality.

    Take my own situation: I had a fall from a staircase a year and a half ago, I’m still on crutches today… I managed to do maximum damage with minimum effort and I work now 32 hours instead of 40, my work arranged though it’s insurance that a taxi delivers me to and from work and I am doing my best to recover in the meantime.
    On a global scale my company takes the view that loosing a highly trained employee is detrimental to the company so they take steps to keep people like me, this ensures I can work as much as possible as soon as possible, and my manager will be the first to confirm that I’m one of the highest producing colleagues in the department. My own insurance pays my physiotherapy, all of my hospital and specialist bills and even extra things like my Crutches only cost Euro 3.75 per week and then were free for me to keep after 15 weeks (I wasn’t even out of plaster at 15 weeks!)

    If Europe can make heath-care work like this then why can’t the USA? The unemployed here get a government benefit and also are pushed to find work but it’s also recognised that if you are over 50 that the chances of finding work are greatly reduced so the requirement to find work is less. The problem is that just “making stuff” isn’t enough, are we supposed to just buy, buy, buy for the sake of it?
    Where are the resources coming from? are we only in the business of buying “stuff” to keep the circle of producing and consuming in perpetual motion? societies needs to find a way to sustain an ever growing world population with ever decreasing resources because without a massive re-think there simply won’t be the resources to carry on the way we have been.
    You mention fear… ok 11 September 2001 was a terrible day and YES all sane human beings around the globe grieved with you but if you are STILL living in fear then it’s my humble view that you are letting the terrorists win !

    They don’t need to attack again because you are still quaking in submission… the way to fight hate is to show that you can rise above it… that no matter what anyone does to you, you still are a proud citizen of your country, … you have given them dignity by living in fear and that’s reprehensible if you want to live fear free. Cowering to the bully means they retain their power… why give them that?.
    As for the fear of not seeing your family tonight.. come on , statistics show that the chances of a fatal traffic accident are greater than a terrorist attack and not coming to our families is a risk we ALL take every day when we leave for work no matter where in the world we live.

    People need to be shareholders in society, we all need to be educated in the idea that it’s what you can give to society that counts, not just what you take… the bubble of jobs and consumerism has burst and we need new ideas on how to face the future as a consequence of this (globally) so that people contribute to a society that is about everyone and not just about the ever widening gap of rich and poor, haves and have-nots.

    • mylifeinfocusblog

      Using Europe was a very bad analogy, in my opinion. Greece is ready to detach from the Euro because they can’t pay back their debt. Spain is in free fall and facing unemployment of 56% for those under 30 years old. Many Spanish are fleeing Spain to find jobs in Africa and Ireland. They are also transferring their money into British banks. Italy is in very bad shape also (my family lives there) and I can name some other European countries also. Why is this happening to them? Unsustainable ENTITLEMENTS. Medical and pension costs that are impossible to pay.
      Our country already has been taking care of it’s ill quite well. But the line has been redrawn and our citizens demand more and more entitlements, thus eventually bankrupting us.
      Yes, I do believe that right now, JOBS are the solution. The only solution.

      • Mylifeinfocusblog,
        Yes Greece is deeply in debt, but truth is they haven’t balanced their books for the last 3000 years and they lied rather than change their ways when they joined the Euro, they never should have been admitted into the Euro in the first place.
        Tax evasion is bad in Greece (“national sport” a Greek friend called it) and corruption in Italy and Spain haven’t helped their causes either, they have less of a “savings” culture than the northern European Euro partners. You Can afford to pay out when everyone is paying in fairly, and my Greek friend tells me she like many Greeks are very angry that half a dozen of the richest companies in Greece OWE almost enough tax to cover the entire national debt. This makes the “average” Greek less inclined to stump up for their own taxes (but she also said it was not to be used as an excuse).
        Sure the Dutch have economic pain like everyone does, but far less than most because banks always were tough when lending money for mortgages and getting an overdraft has always been difficult.
        People have been forced to live within their means and for the most part most do so.(of course they are exceptions, there always will be)

        I don’t mind paying more tax if it ensures a decent pension and yes medical bills are high, but I’d still take our system over yours because when it works it works well… Italy and Spain have political issues that have often gotten in the way of the system working well… I do feel very sorry for the young Spanish and Italian people who can not get jobs because of it…many of them ARE finding work in Germany or the Netherlands btw and they are most welcome here.

        You say they are going to Ireland for work… seriously? unemployment is chronic there at the moment due to so many Irish thinking that the property bubble was never going to burst and investing like there was no tomorrow…
        Jobs ARE important, I am in complete agreement with you there, but in my opinion focusing on really small stuff like the availability of birth control instead of other bigger issues within society that cause the various socio-economic imbalances needs addressing too.

        • mylifeinfocusblog

          I read an article about one particular man in Spain who had gotten a job in Ireland. Most, however, were going to Africa. Some to Iceland. Still not a good thing nor example.
          You have to remember that America is a BIG country with over 330million people. Going to be tough to transform us. Once people have secured a job and stabilized, they can concentrate on birth control etc. etc. I am in the age group that first got birth control in USA when it was legalized back in the 1970’s. I always got it for free from Planned Parenthood since my college days. So, I really don’t understand why all the fuss NOW in 2012? Same with abortions. It’s a done, moot issue.
          You are a very fortunate person. Be well.

  6. Matt Erickson

    Mikey, the email I have for you must be out of date. Mine is (bla-bla-bla, fingers in ears) – let’s talk! It’s been too long!

  7. galenpearl

    If we lived less in fear–so true. Sometimes I reflect on how many of our decisions, as individuals and as a nation, are based on fear. How business markets fear. How fear leads us into war. How industries are built on fear (think insurance…and one closer to home–law). What would a fear-less response have been to 9/11? To recession?

    Powerful article and comments/responses. Glad I came to the party late so I could read them all.

    • There was a lot of fear/vengeance residue left over from Pearl Harbor I think, otherwise we might have realized that the 19 hijackers were just a gang of thugs rather than a world-class threat. The proper, non-panicked response would have been to send “cops”, secret agents, CIA assasins, special forces and the like – which is what finally happened to Bin Laden after thousands of wasted lives and billions of wasted dollars.

      As far as the non-fear response to recession, the Great Depression provides plenty of examples. The Roosevelt administration created a far larger and varied stimulus package than the one employed in 2008-2010 including the CCC, the WPA, and government-subsidized art, music and theater programs. They created programs of direct effort to allow people to help solve all kinds of infrastructure problems with direct labor, both skilled and unskilled, for minimum wages to allow people to have the dignity of both work and service – oh yes, and they invented Social Security.

      They were terrific comments. weren’t they? That’s so cool when that happens. Thank you for adding to the collection of careful thought, Galen.

    • RJ

      Galen, that is certainly a log of insight there my friend and so true. Thanks for sharing. It gives me some ideas for future posts on my blog.

  8. I loved every word of this post, from the ‘inexhaustible fear of bogeymen’ right down to the points about immigration. There is so much we could live without, that getting rid of would leave us much better off, it’s the kind of notion that breaks my heart most nights when I think about the necessity of money for living. I can’t tell you how much a life of less materialism sounds appealing, it’s these sorts of things which are the most important, and some of the hardest choices.

  9. In the interest of preserving general tranquility, I’ve decided to moderate the comments for awhile. I also deleted a few that went far afield from the subjects under discussion. I’ve got something happier and less controversial to put up next. STAY TUNED!

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