The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It


My family used Revere cookware to turn out mom and grandma’s fabulous, well-balanced meals. The bottom of each of these pieces was plated with copper – and I still use them today. The copper helped spread the heat from the range evenly in the pot. The only problem with them was that they tarnished quickly and needed to be cleaned with something special. Enter Cameo Copper Cleaner.

One day grandma came into my room as I was doing my homework and handed me a coupon that she had removed from an empty can of Cameo. It was good for five cents – to be applied to the purchase of a twenty-five cent Savings Bond Stamp – available at the U. S. Post Office.

When you purchased the stamp you placed it in a little folder (available for free at the Post Office). And when you had collected $18.75 worth of them, the folder was turned in to purchase a $25 face value “Series E” U. S. Savings Bond.

To be honest, Savings Bonds weren’t that great an investment. But many of us were taught that we had a duty to purchase them voluntarily to help out our country. It was the same spirit of responsibility that motivated people to purchase “War Bonds” during WW II and to accept food and gasoline rationing during that conflict.

Whatever happened to that American spirit of volunteerism?

Well, since the title of this blog is “The American Dilemma And How We Can Fix It” I would like to offer two suggestions that I think might help us get back on track.

The first concerns the Post Office. I am not going to dispute the fact that this institution needs to trim fat and get its act together and do all the things that any successful business needs to do. It’s easy to find fault with the P.O. – but if it were to go out of business, most of us would find we are more dependent on the service it provides than we thought.

When I began collecting world stamps, I learned something interesting. A number of European countries issued stamps that were referred to as “Semi-Postals.” If the going rate for postage for a French stamp was fifteen francs, the semi-postal would contain a surcharge of five francs. The stamp bore the inscription 15f+5f.

The five franc excess was collected and distributed to a worthy charity. Purchase of the stamps was strictly voluntary – but these countries found that people were happy to buy them in support of a good cause.

Why not call upon that tradition of American volunteerism and offer our mailing public the opportunity to make a small contribution to help save our postal service by buying a semi-postal at an additional five cents per letter? What’s the worst that could happen? We find out that we are so selfish that we are unwilling to make this minor sacrifice and the stamps don’t sell?

The second thought stemmed from my Savings Bond stamp folder. Clearly, the American debt is out of control – and by that I refer to more than its $15 trillion dollar size. It is out of control, and in large measure out of our hands, because so much of it is held by foreign governments.

Let me put it this way. If someone were holding your I.O.U. – would you rather that person be Joe the Enforcer or your maiden Aunt Livonia? Of the two, who do you think the more empathetic might be?

Clearly we need to reduce the amount of debt that the United States owes. That can only come about if our elected representatives both in the White House and in the Congress get serious about increasing revenue and curtailing spending. (I believe this is not an either/or but a both situation). But even if intelligent solutions are implemented, we are looking at years before we see significant debt reduction.

I would prefer to see as much of this debt as possible re-repatriated to “Aunt Livonia” and taken from the hands of “Joe the Enforcer.” Reducing the debt held by other countries firms up our position in being able to negotiate favorable terms in international trade agreements and diminishes our dependence on these nations when a re-funding auction is held by the Treasury.

So how do we accomplish the goal of having our own citizens control our own debt? One simple thought is to make the interest on it exempt from Federal Income Tax for owners who are U. S. citizens. That makes it a more attractive investment than it is currently.

We begin an educational program – “Volunteer America” might be a good choice of names – in which we explain that we are all in this together and we all need to make sacrifices. (If the Congress would vote themselves even a nominal pay cut that might help sell the idea).

We encourage the idea of saving America by Americans in offering a payroll deduction to our employees to be used for the purchase of our debt (which would certainly improve our personal savings rate) – and encourage the sponsorship of programs by organizations like the Boy and Girl Scouts, the Kiwanis, the Elks, the Rotary Clubs to help spread the word.

Most importantly, we set aside the divisive rhetoric of them and me and replace it with the unifying language of us. That’s us – as in U.S.

I’m not so naïve that I believe these proposals are going to resolve all our financial woes – but they might be a start in the right direction.

Or have I just watched “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” too many times?

I invite your thoughts and comments.



Comments on: "ON VOLUNTEERISM" (2)

  1. Well, I can say that if you were running for any office even remotely connected to the Treasury, you have my vote. But here’s the thing that would and is derailing this beautiful plan: the “us” & “them” outlook cannot even begin to change until “they” – our government officials – remove their feet from our collective ass.

    You do point this out – more pleasantly worded 🙂 – and I wholeheartedly agree. “They” have laid the groundwork for this mess “we” now live in. And to compound the injury, they show absolutely no desire to honestly rectify it. Instead, we are being fed further “solutions” which involve ever less sacrifice on their part but more sacrifice on ours. For example, Newt Gingrich’s “solution” to extend tax cuts for the wealthy, while eradicating unemployment benefits for all those thrown to the wind at the height of this economic crisis – created, let’s not forget, by “them.”

    I believe the onus is on our leaders – “them” – to set an example, a new example of honesty & genuine concern for citizens in place of rampant, sociopathic gluttony & rape. Obama is going gray trying to do this, but is being met at every turn with a stone wall of greed which is staunchly, facetiously erected in front of his every effort. If leaders who endeavor to turn the tide – to begin creation on a new order such as the one you describe in this post – are quashed before they begin, then how are we ever to get there? We need our leaders to implement the measures needed for us to do all the things you suggest in this post – which, btw, I wholeheartedly support. It’s a beautiful life, you’ve painted for us. I want to live there…

    • I guess the simple answer to your very thoughtful response is this. “They” (I prefer to call them elected officials rather than leaders – because if they truly were leaders we wouldn’t be having this dialogue) need to realize that they are vulnerable either not to being re-elected or to being recalled if they fail in their duties. I have a tendency not to vote for an incumbent – simply because once installed in office they are virtually impervious to removal. (And frankly, I haven’t seen that many elected in the first place who I thought were worthy of that honor).

      They will only continue to be elected officials as long as we permit them to hold office. Let us never forget that WE are their employers – and the imperial attitude in Washington is something that we should neither expect nor tolerate. After all, we fought a War of Independence to free ourselves from just exactly that.

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