Letters

Letters 8-18-2014

The Climate Clarified

Climate change isn’t an easy subject. A class I’m taking compared it to medicine in a way that was helpful for me: Climate scientists are like planetary physicians. Our understanding of medicine is incomplete, but what we know is useful...

Beware Non-Locally Grown

The article “Farm Fresh?” couldn’t be any more true than exactly stated. As an avid shopper at the local farm markets I want to know “exactly” what I am buying, from GMO free to organic or not organic, sprayed or not sprayed and with what...

Media Bias Must End

I wish to thank Joel Weberman for his letter “Seeking Balanced Israel Coverage.” The pro-Palestinian bias includes TV news coverage...

Proud of My President

The world is a mess. According to many conservative voices, it would not be in such a mess if Obama was not the president. I am finally understanding that the problem with our president is that he is too thoughtful, too rational, too realistic, too inclined to see things differently and change his mind, too compassionate to be the leader of a free world...

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Back to the Basics

Robert Downes - August 29th, 2011
Back to the Basics
My dad worked on his father’s farm outside Rockford until he was in his early 30s, just as countless sons had done for thousands of years before him.
He started out plowing the fields with a team of horses, tilling up the arrowheads of the Ottawa and Pottawatomi that my brother and I still own today. Later came a tractor, but not much in the way of a paycheck. Yet with his food and board covered by the farm, Dad was able to throw nearly every cent he earned into savings because there was no greater virtue in our family than thrift.
Dad’s family had survived the Great Depression by dint of the fact that they were able to grow their own food. Their one misadventure was when some desperate people stole a pile of newly-harvested beans.
Mom had lived the dirt-poor life on a farm too. By the time I came along, my parents were what would be considered the “working poor” today. Dad had saved enough to buy a Ford (no car payments, of course) and our family lived in a succession of run-down rental homes.
It wasn’t until the Eisenhower administration launched the massive public works project of building the freeways of America that my parents had any hope of buying a home and becoming middle class.
President Eisenhower had witnessed firsthand the inadequate roads of Europe and North Africa during World War II and decreed that the United States needed to build freeways as a matter of national defense. Thus came the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, a freeway network of 46,876 miles which took 35 years to construct. Millions of Americans were employed -- directly and indirectly --- during the 1950s through the ‘70s on what would probably be called a “socialist“ endeavor today. My father was one of those who benefited, serving as a highway inspector on I-696 and later the freeways of Detroit.
This colossal, federal project catapulted my parents into the middle class. At the age of 40, Dad was able to buy their first home, and it was smooth sailing from then on.
But they never forgot the benefits of saving, and I don’t believe that Mom and Dad ever bought a car on credit -- they saved until they had enough money to buy their cars outright. They put their money into stocks and bonds, following a pay-as-you-go plan through life. This strategy led them from dirt-poor farmers to a net worth of more than $1 million by the time they passed away.
That is an aspect of the American way that we’ve somehow lost. We‘ve lost a government that serves its people in their time of need, but also a people who show responsibility by not getting neck deep in debt.
If President Obama has a lick of sense, he will propose a sweeping jobs bill that will put millions back to work, building or renovating our freeways, bridges, subways, train system and parks. He could stand on the shoulders of Republican President Eisenhower and Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt and make a pitch for jobs that America is eager to hear. His own job depends on taking dramatic action now.
Do it!
Where might these funds come from at a time when America is deep in debt with a reluctance to borrow?
For starters, we could wrap up the wars we‘re fighting (covertly and otherwise) in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Columbia and let someone else play World Policeman while we get our own house in order. A recent report claims that the U.S. spent $698 billion on our military last year -- nearly twice the amount spent in 2001. Those billions could be better spent lifting Americans out of poverty and rescuing the middle class.
But if and when prosperity returns to America, one suspects that the new economy will look rather different than the one we knew. As one pundit has noted, “the new norm“ in the world is that of extremely slow economic growth -- possibly for years to come.
For my parents, “economy” went back to the traditional sense of the word: saving money, living within their means, deferring gratification. They never considered buying a lavish home or cars that were far beyond their means.
By contrast, since the 1980s, our economy has been dependent on the principle of “borrow and spend” to the point of exhaustion. Credit cards with 20% interest rates, million dollar homes bought with no money down, the endless cycle of debt that comes with an auto purchase... We’ve seen where that approach has taken us.

Downes‘ ebook: Planet Backpacker: The Good Life Bumming Around the World, is available on Amazon Kindle and Apple iBooks, illustrated with 75 photos from around the world.
 
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