How are we as a nation handling the changes going on in our country?
Change is stressful, especially when the change is involuntary. The ability to adapt to change is critically important in order to minimize the stress, maximize the opportunities, and move forward in life. The ability to adapt to change and prosper from it is the premise for one of my recommended books in the Sense on Cents Reading Room, Who Moved My Cheese?: An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life by Spencer Johnson, M.D.
I first read this book in early 2001 prompted by the merger of Chase Manhattan and JP Morgan. Dare I say the changes ongoing in our economy and world render the merger of two large banks rather pedestrian. That said, the lessons in Johnson’s book apply to professional and personal situations. I have recommended this book often.
I was reminded of Johnson’s Who Moved My Cheese? this morning when reading an article in the Financial Times, When Austerity Does Not Come Easily:
When the global economic crisis first hit, it was natural to assume that the poorer and more recent democracies would be most vulnerable to a political backlash.
But perhaps we are looking for trouble in the wrong places. It could be that it will be the richer democracies, such as Britain and the US, that find it most difficult to adapt to the politics of austerity.
While this message is neither pleasant nor easily broached, I truly appreciate it and commend Gideon Rachman for writing about it. In regard to change, our country needs to initially understand, willingly accept, hopefully embrace, and then boldly move forward. I think we are still in the very early stages of the “initially understand” phase.
While the Obama administration has put forth large measures and grand programs under the guise of change, I view many of these measures as “more of the same.” That is, inflated government spending and bureaucracy to facilitate living beyond our means. The simple fact is, a country, corporation, municipality, or individual that perpetually lives with an excessive and growing debt burden is postponing and potentially eliminating the chance for real prosperity.
Market analysts, media mavens, and government officials regularly call for an end to our recession in 2009 and a return to “normal.” I view this time in dramatically different fashion. I believe we are experiencing not only an economic test, but also a test of national character.
Rachman offers fascinating insight on the manner that some emerging countries are handling the current turmoil:
Faced with hard times, some central European countries have had to take drastic measures. They do not have the British and American options of borrowing hugely to avoid making painful cuts. In Estonia, public-sector salaries have been sliced by 10 per cent. In Hungary, pensions have been cut by 8 per cent and the retirement age has been raised.
So far, their publics have reacted with remarkable equanimity. Perhaps countries that have recent memories of real turbulence and hard times are better able to shrug off the consequences of a sudden economic setback. The experience of Latin America after the economic crisis of 1998 shows that new democracies can be reassuringly resilient.
As Michael Reid writes in a recent book on Latin America, Forgotten Continent : “The region’s democracies were subjected to a severe stress test during the lost half-decade of 1998-2002, which saw unemployment rise, real incomes fall and progress in reducing poverty halted. Democracy held up – but not unscathed.”
Juxtapose those measures with the massive borrowing programs being launched in the U.K and here in the United States:
Now consider what would happen if the UK or US were to attempt Hungarian or Estonian style cuts. There would be a huge outcry. Long periods of economic expansion mean that citizens in the US and the UK have developed a sense of entitlement (LD’s emphasis). Many people have come to believe that, in the words of the campaign song of Britain’s Labour party in 1997, things can only get better.
So rather than taking the axe to public spending, the British and American governments are borrowing madly, with no sign of any credible long-term plan to balance the books.
How long can we continue to live beyond our means and expect things to get better? Perhaps we can take a lesson from the people of Estonia, Hungary, and Latin America.