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Opinion

Economy not just responsibility of politicians

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March 5, 2009

The economy has been letting a lot of people down since last fall. Many of us see the signs and are experiencing it personally. Maybe you or someone you know has lost a job, your friend’s life savings are going to pay the rent or your retired relatives are going back to work to support themselves.

Some people have said this can all be solved with fundamental changes to how the economy works-making more, or even all of its functions government-regulated. Others have suggested the opposite-that government and its regulations made the problem much worse than it would have been otherwise, and going any further will take us down the road to socialism. And still others are just not sure, including me.

I will say that the stimulus packages and loans to corporations were probably not the best idea. The stimuli just seem to be throwing good money after bad and worsening the national debt. As for the corporations, most of them brought their problems on themselves and probably deserved to face the consequences.

But let’s look at the big picture. I think the biggest issue of all is this: at the end of the day, no matter what system you’re using and how good it sounds, people will find a way around it. They can misuse its strengths and exploit its weaknesses to serve their own purpose. Since all governments, institutions and societies were created by humans in the first place, on some level they are all equally subject to destruction.

The most effective way to safeguard these institutions is not to pour money into them, fool around with them endlessly or remove them. I think the key is to change how people feel about them. Maybe the human experience is all in our minds. If people are brought up with the belief that the long-term maintenance of the system is more important than their own short-term gratification (and in the end, more rewarding), that system has a much better chance of survival. It can stand through generations and retain its basic integrity.

To some degree, I think the United States lacks this quality. We may care deeply about our systems and fight to protect them, but in the end we often fail to protect them from ourselves. The economy was no exception. After all, don’t most of us judge it simply by how it affects our own lives, rather than statistics and studies? If more people had looked into their own spending decisions, where their money was coming from, what was being done with sub-prime loans and some less-than-responsible practices of our key financial institutions, perhaps the country wouldn’t be in this mess now.

But we’ll never know for sure. What we can all do is learn a little bit from the experience. Read a financial magazine once in a while; keep an eye on the market even if you have no investments; take a few economics classes as electives. UWRF’s College of Business and Economics is one of the finest in the state, so you couldn’t ask for a much better opportunity.

We may be only human, but humans can learn. Even if we’re unwilling to make personal sacrifices to ensure a strong system, we should at least do our part to stay watchful and prevent the system from repeating the same problems as before, some of them centuries old.

We can make a difference. The problem, as always, is that it’s just so much easier not to.