A Nation on the Precipice
By Robert Ross



As a nation, we are on a precipice. There are cracks in the ground and we nervously stand on the edge, fearful of looking down into the unknown.

Teetering, our attention is easily distracted by sports, American Idols, Brad and Angie, anything . . . anything, but the cliff we are standing on. As each day passes, the cracks grow, and the ground beneath us appears more fragile.

So what are these fissures?  Some are obvious, like a national debt that is approaching nine trillion dollars and growing. Economists will tell you that a little debt is a good thing. It might help you improve your lot, and it definitely keeps one working to pay off the debt. But the U.S. debt is different. It is not little, nor will it ever be paid off. It is nine trillion dollars and growing.

In 1971  the dollar went off the gold standard. This set the stage for the Federal Reserve, with a tacit agreement from Congress and the banking system, to create money at will; money backed by nothing, not gold, not silver, not anything. When more money was needed, we turned on the printing presses, did a little fancy bookwork and the problem was solved. History has shown that all societies which have continually debased their currencies, from the Romans to the paper money issued by the Confederates during the Civil War, have met with the same fate — a collapse of the monetary system.

Another crack in this metaphorical precipice we stand on is the war in Iraq. We hear talk of surges, of pullbacks, of repositioning our troops, of just leaving. For some of us, these calls are echoes of the Viet Nam war. For others, this war is an opportunity to be in “opposition to”,  to have a cause, to be against the current administration.

Whatever the reasons for discontent, we are very much divided as a nation regarding this conflict. Flipping through the television news channels, it is evident that division and frustration with the war is harmful, not only to the morale and safety of our troops, but to the national psyche. Without national unity and resolve the war in Iraq will probably not end well. The ramifications of a bitter ending will vibrate through every aspect of our culture for years to come.

Debt and deficits seem to have little meaning in our society. The U.S. budget deficit (the amount being spent versus the amount the government has) is in the hundreds of billions of dollars. The trade deficit (the amount of money going out of the country versus coming in) is approaching one trillion dollars. Year after year politicians promise to resolve these debts and deficits. And year after year new government entitlements are added to the budget.

The much-touted housing bubble has finally arrived. Many homeowners were counting on the appreciating value of their homes to be used as a savings account, of sorts. But, as housing prices began to fall, rather significantly in some areas of the country, these savings accounts also began to shrink.

The American lifestyle apparently does not encourage or reward savings. In the U.S., the savings rate for the last quarter of 2006 was reported to have dropped to a negative 1.2%

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke recently warned a Senate Budget Committee that America could be headed to a fiscal crisis if Social Security and Medicare aren’t revamped. With little or no savings, and some twenty-million boomers approaching retirement, the question has to be asked: “Where is the money coming from to pay for these entitlements?”

As we stand on the precipice, it is no wonder that looking down is not an option. Any one of these issues — the war, budget deficits, national debt, declining housing prices, medicare, social security — are enough to send one to their television, rooting for the next American Idol, hoping that somehow this will all work itself out.

In the meantime, the ground is weakening, and the fissures are widening.

Robert Ross can be reached by e-mail at:   
Copyright 2007 by Robert Ross, all rights reserved

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