Saturday, September 20, 2008

No, No, No

My little boy says "no" these days.

Well, he actually says "Oooooooooo" with an exaggerated mouth motion that puffs his cheeks out and makes him look like he ate something sour. It would be so cute if he wasn't practicing disobedience every time he does it.

Experts say that "no" is one of the easiest words for children to learn. It makes sense because in most households it's one of the words they hear most often with "stop" not far behind. Toddlers get into a lot of trouble, and all parents are hard-pressed to deter them without using the word "no."

America is in trouble. Rather, from my fairly uneducated and uninformed vantage point, it appears that the country is in trouble. Everybody is realizing that our money isn't worth jack, our homes aren't worth jack and our jobs are disappearing faster than an Oxy tablet in the Palin household.

At the core of this problem is our inability to say no.

I'm not just talking about politicians, although I will get to them. I'm talking about we, the American people.

Granite counter tops, Kohler faucets, stainless steel kitchens, second mortgages, balloon payments. I love me some HGTV, but if you watch that channel for any length of time it becomes quite obvious that the vast majority of Americans have some serious issues with the word "no."

This crisis was in part the result of people borrowing money to purchase things they couldn't afford. Sure, lenders preyed on the uninformed. Sure, some folks lost their houses because they lost their jobs or had some other family disaster. There were tons of factors including corporate shenanigans that led to our current state.

But, the real problem stems from everybody being unwilling to deny themselves the American Dream they thought they deserved, even if that American Dream was outside of their means. Wall Street gurus who needed that extra million or five. Susy Homemakers who just had to have granite because anything else might make the neighbors talk. Joe Schmoe's who decided that environment and gas mileage be damned, they just had to have that Big Boy truck. (And that last one includes me since I drive a gas guzzling pick-up truck.)

Phil Gramm got pilloried for calling Americans whiners, but there was some truth in his comments. Not because Americans are natural complainers, no, he was telling the truth because we, all of us, make dumb, short-sighted decisions and then whine when we have to deal with the consequences.

As I watch our government prepare a $1 trillion bailout, the value of self-control and the virtue of moderation has never been more evident to me. I know everybody who reads this blog isn't a Christian, but man, The Bible is an amazing book when it comes to life lessons.

We have become comfortable with satisfying our present day desires instead of concentrating on our future needs. All of us are guilty to a certain degree. I pray that this country can right itself and forge a brighter future, but that will only happen if we learn to control our cravings.

And tonight I'll work on teaching my son when it's the right time to say no.


Anonymous said...

Good luck with teaching your son about no. I have a 3 yo, so we recently went through that stage. Ugh..

As far as your post, yes most Americans do have issues saying no and that even includes me. How many times have I mindlessley consumed when really I should have said no.

You are right about HGTV or any programming of that nature, people these days all want to live large when they don't have large money. I remember back in the day when folks used to save up for large purchases or rather than putting Christmas on the credit card, put stuff in layaway and paid it off.

Yet you don't even see layaway anymore, even Wally World did away with it. Now its all about the instant gratification and as a nation we are now paying the price.

As for your large truck, sometimes there is a good reason to have a huge vehicle. We are a 1 car family and its 1 small car and truthfully it sucks. Yet I think its all about balance, if you have that big truck but a relatively modest lifestyle otherwise then its all good. Problem is most of us don't live balanced lives at least fiscally.

Darth Whitey said...

Wow that was an awesome post Big Man, and I agree with every word!!

You know, I think it's my French roots but I myself never buy anything I don't have the cash to pay for (when the CC bill arrives I pay it fully.) I drive a 1998 Honda Civic (30 MPG baby!!) I am still dutifully saving to have the 20% down payment for a decent house (no small feat in the bay area.)

Not to say I haven't bought things I didn't need, but at least I could pay for them. I sell all the stuff I don't need any more on ebay too, I am the anti-pack rat :) It's quite liberating, I recommend it :)

I don't understand YOU Americans (haha) but you nailed it.


Imhotep said...

I hear you Big Man, but that saying no is not that easy when everyone is telling you or subliminally suggesting to you to say yes, yes, yes!

We live in a market economy, we are marketed around the clock, how you gonna fight that off? Our self esteem is constantly being challenged by the marketers, we're told that if we don't have certain things or look a certain way that we're less than. We're marketed to have things that suppose to make us socially acceptable, and to feel better about ourselves. Who among us don't want to be socially acceptable? Even if it cost us all our retirement savings, we gonna be the bomb, or atleast look the part.

The idea of class identification along with vague class boundries don't help. Some of us get jobs, not so much to save money, but to aid us in our class climbing. We get advanced degree to aid us in our class climbing. For many saving money becomes an after thought.

After you get that MBA or that good paying job, why should you say NO? After all don't you then feel a sense of entitlement? Have'nt you earned the right to go out and buy some chit?

Practicality is good and I'd like to pay for things as I go, but in those instances where I can't, thank God for the plastic and gainful employment.

Chris said...

I agree with whitey, this was an awesome post, a message that America needs to hear from parents, teachers, and pulpits. I stumbled across a dave ramsey podcast a couple years back( barely) and have been struggling hard to change my thinking and behavior. Andy Stanley Recently gave a sermon "Letters to the next President" where he addressed this very issue. Because of this failing in the character of the American people, the truth, which I believe, is that some painful changes need to happen in our way of thinking and living, Is unwelcome to our ears as a nation. It makes it difficult for a leader with vision, and integrity to campaign honestly and still have a hope for victory.
My hope, is that this is about to Change. We find ouselves in a catch-22 where the leader we need is one who will make some unpopular decisions, but we need to "elect" him. May God have mercy on us.

Gye Greene said...

The mega-bailout made it to the Australian news (not surprisingly).

It actually makes me angry: If you're a small (or medium-sized) business, and greed and/or stupidity makes you over-extend, so you trash your business... then, tough luck.

But, if you're a large enough, you can be As Stupid as You Wanna Be. If your gamble pays off, you make a gazillion extra dollars; and if it doesn't -- well, the govt. has to bail you out or else you'll take the whole economy down with you.



Kit (Keep It Trill) said...

Big Man, I totally agree that individuals, business, and government needs to be responsible, which calls for saying no to irresponsibility and greed.

You mentioned Phil Gramm and his comment about whining. He's equivalent to a child abusing parent who complains his kids are crying after being beaten within an inch of their lives.

I don't know if know, but he is one of the key people who made the economic meltdown crisis happen.

In this excerpt of the 9/17 Houston Chronicle article, "Phil Gramm's Fingerprints Are All Over Market Mess":

"McCain's former economic adviser is ex-Texas Sen. Phil Gramm. On Dec. 15, 2000, hours before Congress was to leave for Christmas recess, Gramm had a 262-page amendment slipped into the appropriations bill. It forbade federal agencies to regulate the financial derivatives that greased the skids for passing along risky mortgage-backed securities to investors."

This made Enron possible.

"And that, my friends, is why everything's falling apart."

OG, The Original Glamazon said...

That is the same thing I alluded to on RDB’s blog the other day. While I am angry because the greed of the corporations got us into this, but so did we. The gotta have it mentality. I remember saving for a wedding and part of a house down payment ( my in-laws gifted us the rest). Anyway back in the day you use to have to save for your dreams, however in this new world one can finance anything s/he dreams of having.

It’s a sad situation but the successful folks learn from their failures. I think it iis funny how ow both Bush administration will be responsible for big bailouts (S&L and all of America basically).

Silver lining is hopefully it can’t get too much worse.


Big Man said...

Thank you all for your thoughtful comments. Let me address the ones that stuck out.

BGM--I didn't know Walmart had given up on layaway. I remember as a child making those layaway payments on winger clothes in the summer and fall.

Imohotep--Trust, I know that the lure of spending is strong. Like I said, I watch HGTV and you can't help but want more and better when you watch those shows. If I wasn't deathly afraid of credit cards and large debts, I would probably be in trouble too because I like things. I spend money on stuff, but I usually make myself scrimp and save before I make those purchases.

KIT--I was aware of Phil Gramm's past eff-ups, but I had to admit that what the man said made some sense. He was making his comments for self-serving reasons, but that didn't make them totally false. I find it really sad that Americans need to have their egos constantly stroked by politicians. (I may write a post about this and expand further.)

Gye--I had the exact same thoughts about small businesses! I think a lot of Americans see the unfairness of the situation in that respect. But, we really keep getting told that we have to do this or the world will end, so we feel powerless to really complain.

Air-Cooled Head said...

Good thought provoking post.
I’m in agreement w/ Imhotep. Ours is a market driven economy. We are bombarded w/ everything to want; from clothes to cars to vacations to lifestyles. Along w/ the implication that “You deserve it now. You can/should have it, NOW!”

As Chris states: “some painful changes need to happen in our way of thinking and living”, and it is most certainly “unwelcome to our ears as a nation”. As a nation, we’ve been raised to believe that wasteful consumption is a sign of wealth & superiority. (How else can you explain Hummers in the projects?)

But, at the root of this consumerism, is capitalism. It’s all designed to make the average person spend money. That money is designated for the oil/corporate/financial/et al, barons of today. They then buy politicians who enact legislation that allows them to make even more money, then bail them out when their greed, (a.k.a. capitalisim) get them (and the nation) into deep do-do. The “good of the people” is not a priority, and has only received lip service, at best, throughout most of American history. This lastest form of lip service is called a “bail-out” of the financial industry. (As an aside, I wonder if the officers of Lehman Brothers, AIG, Washington Mutual, et al, will get their usual salaries. Shouldn’t their share of the “bail-out” be proportionally as large as their profits were, when compared to Joe Average?)

But since the traditional American answer to any crisis is to throw money at it, what else can we expect of the government? What makes me mad is that they’re throwing my money at it. And since when is buying something that has proven to be worthless a good idea?! This is a classic example of “Throwing good money after bad.” The result can only a worse disaster.

the uppity negro said...

I'm quite sure you meant $1 TRILLION and not $1 billion.

And by the way, this post sounds mildly socialist in it's leaning. But, meh, that's the ideals America sells--these "everyone can do it" ideals and values, but then you run into capitalism which says "no, just a select few can."

Sucks if you ask me.

Air-Cooled Head said...

Yeah, I did note the socialistic slant to my post, above. I'm not a Socialist; I wanna make mo' money, mo' money, mo' money, just like any true American. ;)

Indications of WORSE disaster ahead:
I just read that crude oil jumped $25/barrel. The highest single day jump in history. Combine this w/ refineries being shut down due to the weather, and I'd say $5/gal is only weeks away.
Frightening quotes:,0,6226038.story
"At this rate, crude is within striking distance of its all-time record of $147.27, reached in July."
"Investors fear that the government will have to dramatically ramp up borrowing to pay for the mammoth rescue effort, an inflationary move that could further devalue the dollar"

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