Saturday, August 20, 2011

Post No. 173: Pigs Get Fat; Hogs Get Slaughtered

© 2011, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

We once generated a post, Where Have You Gone Joe DiMaggio? At the time, we felt that the nation’s lonely eyes were searching for someone like the Yankee Clipper.

If one were to believe the rants and raves of many out there, one might be hoodwinked into thinking that the solution to our leadership vacuum lies with them. They have all the solutions (although few of them are willing to assume leadership roles), and they are so sure of their positions. To them, pulling us out of economic quicksand is a simple task (not to mention getting other world leaders to go along).

We hate to throw slop on their parade, but we have concerns about their qualifications, motives, and quite frankly, thought processes. We’d rather place our faith in the young and the untested, namely the college students to whom we direct our messages about personal responsibility. We find them less extreme in their ideological leanings, more pragmatic, and in possession of more common sense.

Recently, folks have been comparing Obama to Jimmy Carter. Both rode into office with high expectations and a message of change. Many expect Obama to join the ranks of the one-term presidents, and he probably will, although even Carnac the Magnificent figured that out before Obama was elected. Anyone with any sense knew that the global economy, of which oh by the way the U.S. is a part, was not going to significantly pull out of its slump within 3 years. There was simply no precipitating, motivating factor down the pike.

Unfortunately, the President recently made a reference to American society’s malaise. He obviously did not learn anything from Carter. A leader cannot place any responsibility or blame on the American people for the condition in which they find themselves, even if it’s true.

So we’ll do it. Simply put, we Americans became fat, lazy, and greedy. The title of this post, Pigs Get Fat; Hogs Get Slaughtered is a quote from Reggie Fountain, the Richard Petty of speedboat racing.

The former multi-millionaire, having fallen on hard times leading to bankruptcy, was asked about his demise. He said he lived too high and too fast for too long, and became bloated. His summary of his experience is the title of our piece.

Part of our problem is that we can’t handle a straight shooter. We want someone to tell us what we want to hear. George Kennedy was a friend of fellow actor Jimmy Stewart. Turner Classic Movies is currently airing a mini-biography of Stewart, narrated by Kennedy. During the piece, Kennedy refers to Stewart’s “everyman” image. What is interesting is that he refers to “how Americans wanted to see ourselves,” not who we actually were.

We talk a lot about being the greatest country in the history of humankind, but there are some very common sense things we ignore which complicate that assessment.

In the world of business, when a company performs poorly, management re-examines its business model. In the world of governance, the last thing we examine is our governance model.

What we have here - is a failure to appreciate.

Appreciate that there are limitations associated with ANY governance model.

Several (well, maybe more than that) points:

1. In terms of education, we were never really as smart as we claimed to be;

2. When you allow people to live where they want, pursue whatever educational pursuit they desire, marry who they desire, pursue whatever vocational pursuit they want, and retire when they want, you are going to have difficultly managing them. We are a very conflicted people;

3. When you allow or encourage your work force to retire when they still have valuable skills, knowledge, and experience to offer, you become less efficient and you take a loss;

4. You can’t as a people take children out of the work force and continually drive down the number of hours worked from 70, to 60, to 50, to 40, and then 35, and expect your global competitors to do the same;

5. You can’t place the burden of inspiration and motivation on the shoulders of elected officials. Either individual citizens are sufficiently motivated and ambitious enough to pursue their goals, or they are not. And oh by the way, many are not;

6. Spending more than you have coming in only works for so long;

7. When it takes one 30 to 40 years to pay for something, one should re-consider whether it is worth purchasing, since it assumes that you will have 30 to 40 years of steady income;

8. Alexis de Tocqueville warned us in the 1850s that there would be long-term negative consequences associated with slavery. That we engaged in this treatment of other humans for over 200 years says much about us as a nation;

9. When people do not care enough about their personal health to eat properly, exercise, and avoiding smoking and use of certain substances, you really can’t expect them to care about other things in life;

10. It was only so long that we could continue to make millionaires out of people betting on and selling intangible and illusory products;

11. Something is seriously “something” about a country which fought communism so vigorously, abhors socialism, and yet allows the largest communist country in the world to have it by the economic balls (and we’re not referring to Cuba); and

12. Our last point came to us during us during an exchange with a friend. He said that he knew something was shaky about America when his university offered a course entitled, “The Challenge of Leisure.”

Any one of these issues would be a problem for any country. We have all of them at work.

We’ve got some work to do.

P.S. The Roman Empire lasted how long?


  1. There is so much wisdom and common sense above, IC - you really pulled out the stops!

    Anyway, the US IS the greatest country the world has ever known, just like the air-breathing fish was once the greatest creature in the world. However this creature survived.

  2. "The challenge of Leisure" is indeed a sickening concept - unless it means "how to survive" when peak (cheap) oil has gone and life has become REALLY hard for the fat and weak majority of the Great West. That is, in the near future.

    NO stupid! (not you my friends) There is NO alternative to oil which is cheap enough to power the life-style of (even) your average over-weight, unskilled, under-educated Westerner.

  3. Thanks much CorfuBob. The concept of "common sense" can actually be a tad amorphous and illusory. Plus, if it is so common, why haven't more of us bought into it?

    We're glad to know that someone else thought that some of the points we made represented common sense. We're looking forward to reading the responses.

  4. Nicely written and nicely laid out argument. I could take exception to some of your points with one word "freedom". By that, I mean that freedom is what is behind all the good and bad. We could pull this country out of this "malaise" easily with a dictatorship. But the cost, to me, would be way too high. If we are to have freedom in the form of personal liberty then we have to suffer the "slings and arrows" that accompany it.

    The Roman empire lasted around 400 an empire (about the same amount of time prior to that as a "republic"). But it was wracked with even worse ups and downs than we have experienced.

  5. Oh, forgot to mention a couple of things... Every country I can think of has engaged in slavery at some point in its history. Old Alexis was not being all that brilliant or insightful when he made that warning. He also made it at a time when we were clearing headed toward a major confrontation over it (slavery). On some of the lingering consequences note, I just watched Danny Glover's "Honeydripper" yesterday. I may disagree with Glover's politics (and I do) but that was one very good movie.

  6. Very well stated Douglas. If we could get more people to appreciate BOTH the pros and cons of any action or policy. There are always competing factors which have to be balanced. Many of the absolutists out there today think that it is all or nothing, their way or the highway.

    Out of necessity, our governance model is arguably really a consensus model.

  7. ‘Spector,

    Okay, so we are fat, lazy, under-educated and under-motivated – and no, I am not being facetious; that describes me to a “T”.

    So: how will you fix that, short of totalitarian dictatorship as Douglas suggested? Like Douglas, I believe that such a price will in essence destroy the village in order to save it, so where do you go from here?

    College students? Well, maybe . . . but for how many generations have college grads been pinned as “The hope of the next generation”? The operative word here is “hope” . . .

    Back to my first sentence: I have long contended that the road by which we arrived at such a condition is that our system of government is already so oppressive to the individual and so skewed toward perpetuating only big government and big business that we have collectively said “Aw, to hell with it!” The balance of your commentary encompasses so many large concepts that I simply wouldn’t know where to start . . .

    The Independent Cuss

  8. I believe that certain events in our history, within the previous century, fed power to the federal government creating the idea among politicians (and many citizens, the media, and academia) that we want a strong central government. Among these events, the two most significant were the Great Depression and World War II. We are a bit schizoid in our political philosophy. We want the government to provide "safety nets" at the same time we want it off our backs and out of our lives. Like many in my generation (I am an old fart), I fear for the future of my grandchildren.

  9. Douglas,

    I agree -- to an extent. I take exception with identifying the Great Depression and WW II as the events which triggered our recognition of and our dependency upon a strong centralized government. They were indeed a component of that dynamic; however, the War of Northern Aggression must be credited with seminally impressing the concept of central authority upon the citizens of the several states seventy years prior to the New Deal.

    The Independent Cuss

  10. Yes, Indy (can I call you "Indy"?), it was the Civil War that imposed the concept of a strong central government on the States. I chose the Depression and WWII because they triggered the beginning of dependence on that central government for sustenance (Depression) and protection (WWII). Once those became part of the common citizen attributes, things began to unravel pretty fast.

    After the Civil War, people still headed out into the frontier to seek their fortunes, believed in self reliance, and didn't think it was up to government to solve their problems. Government was still something imposed on people. It was the Great Depression when people began seeing the government as the entity which should provide for them in hard times. World War II reinforced that (understandably, I think) but it also allowed government to broaden its power and control and the people, feeling it was necessary, became inured to it.

    Anyway, that's why I see them as the turning points.

  11. Well, we've talked about those "unintended consequences" before, haven't we? People tend to dismiss the possible bad results when they are in favor of some action or policy.

  12. Douglas,

    Point well-taken.

    The Independent Cuss (or "Indy" if you prefer)

  13. Independent Cuss wrote: "Okay, so we are fat, lazy, under-educated and under-motivated – and no, I am not being facetious; that describes me to a “T”.

    "So: how will you fix that, short of totalitarian dictatorship as Douglas suggested? Like Douglas, I believe that such a price will in essence destroy the village in order to save it, so where do you go from here?"

    From what we know about you in our dealings with you, and your commentary, you are being somewhat facetious. However, assuming that a citizen is as described, we don't fix it Independent Cuss. Those are choices available to individuals who have freedom to choose. Such individuals also have freedom to bitch and complain.

    As you know, our position is that people are the result of their choices, for the most part. Although we appreciate that there are limitations to that construct, if we as individuals did not view the world in that manner, there really would be no reason to be motivated, would there? Why would one expend much energy and time doing things when one has little control or choices in life?

  14. Douglas and Independent Cuss: Was the evolution of a strong, centralized government what brought about the 12 points mentioned in the post?

  15. Put another way, are you suggesting that the 12 factors mentioned in the post would not have occurred, if there had not been a move toward a strong central government?

  16. Put another way, are you suggesting that the 12 factors mentioned in the post would not have occurred, if there had not been a move toward a strong central government?

    Not exactly. Some are closely related but may be just "encouraged" by it. Let's say those are 3, 4, and 5.

    Item 1 is a natural misunderstanding. Education does not equate to "smart". That is, it doesn't make a stupid person smart (giving the scarecrow a diploma was sarcasm).
    Item 2 is true. The alternative (suppressing individual liberty) is, in my opinion, much worse.

    Possible consequences of a reliance on a strong central government can be found in 3, 5, 6, & 12. Perhaps indirect consequences, perhaps direct.

    I commented on item 8 already. 9 I simply disagree with (it is stereotyping). I maintain you cannot count on any person caring about other things at all. Item 10 merely points out the result of marketing and the advancements in it.

    Item 11 refers to China, I presume? China is trying to do what the USSR tried to do just before it fell. It is being more careful, having the lesson of the USSR's collapse to learn from. Our willingness to place ourselves in debt to them is an unintended consequence of trying to be that strong central government which acts as "parent" to the "children" by catering to their wants and needs rather than as arbiter of disputes.

    Item 12 is not all that new. There were articles and studies done decades ago about the need to deal with our increasing leisure time. I could be wrong but I believe I saw things like that in the late 50's or early 60's. Adding it to curricula could be a milestone.

    Like children who press against the boundaries set by their parents, citizens seem to do the same with societies. I feel it is a natural part of being human. It's a delicate balance between unfettered freedom and social order, isn't it? Dictatorships try to mold a society into a single minded entity and thereby maintaining a productive social order. Democratically based governments try to reap the rewards of individual freedom while keeping a lid on social anarchy.

    We must continually ask ourselves "which is better?"

  17. Later today at 3:15 pm EDST, CSpan2 Book TV will air a book discussion around the book, "Let's Do What It Takes to Make America Great Again"

  18. At 3pm EDST, C-Span2 Book TV will once again air a book discussion featuring the author of "Let's Do What It Takes to Make America Great Again"

  19. We just came across a statement or quote on Twitter which, although we express no opinion as to its truth or accuracy, caused us to think:

    "It is not in the nature of politics that the best men should be elected. The best men do not want to govern their fellow men."

  20. We read your comment again a few minutes ago Douglas, and thought about the good and bad associated with freedom. And as Irving Kristol once said, in the realm of human affairs, there are no benefits without costs.


"There Are More Than 2 Or 3 Ways To View Any Issue; There Are At Least 27"™

"Experience Isn't Expensive; It's Priceless"™

"Common Sense Should be a Way of Life"™