Q Los Angeles 2013
Arts + Entertainment
Science + Tech
Is America the New Greece?
Last week, the Greek government voted to severely reduce spending in order to win favor with its creditors and secure another round of bailouts. The move was intended to ensure that Greece could continue to borrow money and not default on its obligations. Economists, of which I am not, feared a collapse in Greece would trigger bank failures throughout Europe and deepen the worldwide, economic recession.
The new austerity measures, however, have not been well received by the Greek citizens. Many have taken to the streets in violent protest. They feel they have sacrificed enough after an earlier bill already cut public sector jobs, lowered pensions, and raised the retirement age from 61 to 65. Unemployment has also risen to over 16 percent.
The fiscal problems rocking Greece were not sudden; the country has a lengthy history of spending beyond its means. For half of the last 179 years, Greece has been in default. Mark Blyth, professor of international political economics at Brown University, says, “The Greeks have been lying about their budget deficit for years; they haven't been paying their taxes for years.” When the global recession hit, says Blyth, "We've found that everyone was swimming naked when the tide went out."
Some who are watching the drama in Greece wonder if the United States, with its record-breaking deficits, might be next. Fareed Zakaria, editor-at-large for Time Magazine, argues that the Greek and American economies are
apples and oranges
. There are, however, important lessons the United States can learn from what we are witnessing in Greece.
What both Greece and the United States have in common is a profound lack of maturity. Psychiatrists define maturity as the ability to delay gratification. M. Scott Peck, author of
The Road Less Traveled
, writes, “Delaying gratification is a process of scheduling the pain and pleasure of life in such a way as to enhance the pleasure by meeting and experiencing the pain first and getting it over with. It is the only decent way to live.” The riots in Athens might be interpreted as a collective temper tantrum by a citizenry unaccustomed to sacrifice.
For decades, the Greeks have borrowed money to pay for inflated wages, benefits, and early retirement. Compounding the problem was a government in denial that apparently “cooked the books” in order to avoid the painful economic realities and to keep the citizens placated. As a result, the pain now being forced upon the Greek people is worse than if they had accepted it incrementally over the previous three decades. Instead, they opted for short-term pleasure rather than long-term prosperity--the very definition of immaturity.
Sadly, we can see similar trends at work in the United States. President Obama’s inaugural address called upon the nation to exhibit a “new era of responsibility.” That is an ambitious call in a society gripped by consumerism, a worldview that, according to one economist, celebrates “perpetual adolescence.” Still the President made his appeal: “We remain a young nation,” he said, “but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.”
He spoke of reducing deficits and smarter government spending. He also promised to reform the largely unregulated investment banking industry that created the housing bubble, which sparked the global recession. But these problems remain unaddressed, and in some cases have worsened, with only symbolic changes passing Congress to appease constituencies on both sides of the aisle.
“The great truth facing the U.S.,” says Zakaria, “is not that we lack solutions to our problems but that our political system seems unable to do anything.” Our politicians seem unwilling to make the painful but necessary decisions to lead us to long-term, sustainable prosperity. The reason? Democrats don’t win elections by cutting spending, and Republicans don’t win elections by raising taxes. Americans, much like the Greeks, do not have a culture that values delayed gratification. Compounding the problem is a political system that dispenses rewards and punishments on short two and four year cycles--hardly conducive for fostering maturity.
Ultimately, the painful austerity measures in Greece and the resulting riots must cause us to pause and examine our own values. How have we allowed the puerile values of consumerism to shape our behaviors--both
individually and nationally
? Are we practicing the very biblical value of delayed gratification in our households, our churches, our communities? And when we enter the voting booth, are we assessing our elected representatives merely by the short-term pleasures they promise (tax-cuts and lock box entitlements), or will we reward the women and men who go to Washington with the maturity to see beyond the next election cycle and make harder, even painful, decisions?
President Obama was right in his inaugural address--it is time to put aside childish ways (1 Cor. 13:11). But was anybody listening?
Editor's Note: The header image was used from
Kenneth Ethan Frantz
I agree ,but... that doesn't mean things well change. Americans are spoiled brats.
What is the way to achieve the solution? We all know the solution of balancing the budget; that has been done before. Do I surrender my Social Security and Medicare? I paid for those programs out of my wages. Will the wealthy and the great corporations reengage in American society--its schools, income taxes, employment of Americans--or continue to take their business elsewhere? Will the organizations that refuse to support public education continue to work with governors to remove students from public to private schools?
It seems that those who can afford it are absenting themselves from the American community. I think the truly Christian duty--at least for my wife and I--is to remain engaged in our community, its institutions and its people.
Yes, and it is time for believers to approach this from biblical and not political perspectives. Christianity can no longer be hijacked by the right or left if we are to grow up.
And will you stop collecting Social Security and stop claiming Medicare after you receive back all you have put in? Changes need to be made to these programs, they are unsustainable. And yes the wealthy should pay social security tax on a larger percentage of their income than they do now. And the age to collect on Medicare should mirror the age for Social Security.
The last sentence of this piece:
"President Obama was right in his inaugural address--it is time to put aside childish ways (1 Cor. 13:11). But was anybody listening?"
My question is was the president listening?
He is the preacher who preaches one thing and lives quite another.
How about this from 1 Corinthians...
1 Corinthians 9:27 "... lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified ."?
In the past, it was not the government that took care of "the poor, the widows and the orphans." It was the Church. Unfortunately, the Church's churches have been caught up in the "American Dream" and are now all in debt to huge mortgages, and other things. To compensate for that, they are preaching the Prosperity Gospel. People are giving to the church, but what they are giving goes to the heavy mortgage and maybe new theater lighting for the sanctuary. The money going to the church is not getting back to the community and those who need it.
One of the reasons people are turned off by the Church is that they see there is no difference. We take care of ourselves first instead of doing as Jesus did. We invest more into the pretty fountain in the lobby or the big statue outside than the people who walk in the door. This almost forces the church to give more attention to the deep pockets that walk through the door instead of the homeless person who walks through the door- and if I am not mistaken, that is the opposite of Biblical teaching and truth.
A serious warning that the American church needs to hear !
I agree that the USA and Greece are very different, but they are also the same.
Both have neglected to act in a mature way to solve their problems. Could it be that the USA thinks it is too big to fail ?
In his "the Future of Freedom" Fareed Zakaria points out that "the political system has never been as dysfunctional. Perpetual campaigning and plundering, money-raising, special interests, and lobbying-most acute in America- have all discredited the system in people's eyes....'
American needs a Reformation, the present system is too dysfunctional to fix.In this way, Greece and the USA are similar. Will the Church stand up and make the changes, or will the system have to collapse before God's people hear ?
Obama has spoken well, but his hands are tied by those who pay his bills.
Americans went to the streets in Seattle, in this way they are the same as Greece. I don't think that the riots in Greece were a "collective temper tantrum", but an outrage against injustice and a self-centered government. The USA has a Gini coefficient that shows a huge disparity between rich and poor. That is not a good sign.It points to economic pressure causing unrest. I think that the people of America are also losing patience with an impotent government. The only way for Obama to act is for the people to give him a mandate. Maybe it's time for America to hold a referendum ? But alas, I think that the system is too dysfunctional to fix.
God's people need to think about what to do in the light of a pending ecomomic collapse.CEO's need to create jobs and not profit as the highest priority. But alas they are also beholden to shareholders who have only economic gain as a motive.
Americans need to learn from the Quaker businessmen of nineteenth century England. Although the Quakers were only 0,2% of the English population they made a significant impact on the English economy. Lloyd's of London, Barclays Bank, Cadbury's , Fry's and Rowntree's Chocolates, Clarke's shoes, Carr's biscuits and even British rail were all Quaker companies. They practiced good business practices and made good profits, but they also changed the condition of their workers by creating new villages, pension schemes, nursing facilities and community projects that made their companies favorite places to work. They were also at the forefront in the war to abolish the slave trade.
The USA needs to consider the high social cost of outsourcing. What's the good of low prices that bring unemployment and economic hardship at home ? Sweat shops need to be exposed and closed down.
God' s church needs to be prophetic. Slavery has been abolished, the battle for civil rights has been won, now an economic model of Compassionate Capitalist needs to be embraced.God bless America !
could this also be true of most of our new bigger church's? i have seen newer church's designed to be instantly huge and thus be called successful and sadly glorified by many christian leaders as the model for today's church.
is instant growth really a sign of inmaturity as christians or is it the new way of design? for example, you take a good minister with good bible knowledge, give him a building with enough money to lure other ministries and there congregation's, pay the pastor and his leaders a salary and with-in a year it has become a 1,500 member church due to transfer growth and other incentives.
do we call it todays new way of doing church or do we call it instant gratification?
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