The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It


My little maternal grandmother was a formally uneducated woman yet she possessed more wisdom than all the Solons we have sitting on Capitol Hill.  She had that rarest of commodities, one which is called common sense and while it had not been learned from school books it had come to her through life experience.  I recognized her genius at a very early age.

I will never forget sitting in our little living room one afternoon on returning home from grammar school.  I had helped a classmate on the telephone the previous night with a math problem and was a little miffed that when I saw him the following day he never even said, “Thank you”.

Grandma explained the whole thing in a nutshell when she said to me, “There are two kinds of people in this world.  There are givers and there are takers.”

As I advanced from grade to grade in school and the world of history opened up to me I realized how correct Grandma’s statement was.  The whole world, at least politically, was full of givers and takers.

At one time most people were ruled over by Kings and Grand Dukes, Czars and Emperors with an occasional Queen thrown into the mix.  They were the takers, empowered to be such by the Western doctrine of “The Divine Right of Kings.”

They lived, by the standards that then existed, in luxury, opulence and with the realistic expectation that all their needs, wants and desires would be supplied.  They were, by virtue of their births the entitled ones.

But in order for them to continue this lifestyle there had to be those who would provide all that they needed.  In those times, the givers were the peasants and those lesser members of the nobility who had sworn allegiance  to the Sovereign.

Mostly it was the peasants who did the back breaking work, cleaning the castles, cooking and serving the food and doing all the other mundane chores which needed to be done to maintain royalty in its rightful place of honor.  There was no token of gratitude from their liege lord for their efforts – as that was their place and why should one reward someone for doing a thing that was his bounden duty and rightful service?

Over the centuries. with the advent of more wide spread education. it occurred to more and more of us that being ruled by a person whose place was accorded to him by an accident of birth was not the most desirable way to run a country.  Thus, other political systems began to be implemented in which the governors were elected by those who were governed.

This was a movement known as democracy which was not a perfect solution but, to the many, appeared to be a big improvement over the way affairs had previously been conducted.  Beginning in the 18th century, this surging wave swept into history under the name of “The Age of Enlightenment” and it swept aside the English Colonies in the new world, transforming them into the United States of America and in later years led to the downfall of the monarchies in France and Italy and Spain and Russia  to name only a few.  While not everyone gravitated to democracy, there was a world-wide rejection of the old monarchical system and today there are few vestiges of it that are left.

As I mentioned, this new system was not perfect.  Nothing that humanity attempts, no matter how genuinely and sincerely motivated is.  As none of us is omniscient, even the best intended of our efforts often have unintended consequences which we did not or choose not to contemplate.

The “American experiment” is now well over two hundred years old.  It has provided a beacon to much of the rest of the world for most of that time.  But it is now staggering, perhaps because it is relying on its former successes, perhaps because those who crafted the dream have died off and been replaced with those who are the beneficiaries of their forebears efforts but have never done anything themselves to make the dream a reality.

While Grandma identified this struggle in her simple way as being a battle between two groups – the “givers” and the “takers”, I have a slightly different explanation as I have the benefit of having seen additional history since she taught me that lesson as a child.

Yes, there are two groups in America today.  They are those who work for a living; and those who take from the working.

I am confident that, were she alive today, Grandma would agree with my common sense analysis of the way things are – because common sense, combined with a heavy dose of morality, were her dearest and most priceless guiding principles.

Comments on: "A BIT OF GRANDMA’S WISDOM" (28)

  1. Interesting.

    The two groups for me – The first group – one that creates tangible products and services and paid a pittance. The second group – Wall Street type sharks who merely shuffle paper money and are paid millions.

    • As I remember, Eric you have an extensive background in management within manufacturing. And you are correct, the people on the assembly line are not overly-well paid which, I believe is a function of free market economics. If their salaries were tripled, the products they produce would become less attractive to consumers (including themselves) and the amount of product sold would be reduced – along with many of their own jobs. I would classify them as givers.

      The second group of “Wall Street types” I also consider givers. It is the fact that they do make millions, whether or not you believe they contribute anything concrete by way of a product or service to society. They are the ones who pay 80-90% of the income taxes which are collected in this country. If they suddenly ceased to exist, who would be left to subsidize the growing number of our citizens who have never gained an education, never worked for a living and who are dependent on the generosity of government policy for their existence?

      • A good angle of thought, I agree.

        Paper money is supposed to represent some tangible asset or service – not more paper money which drives inflation which makes it all not worthwhile for the pittance paid.

        What the farmer and miner produces, for example, and what the consumer pays – is vastly inflated because brokers shuffle “options” back and forth – they call it the Commodity Market. Other markets are Money Markets, Stock Markets, Metals Markets. Their genesis were sound but since manipulated and mutated. The free market economy is not really free – having been hijacked by money movers. The economy as we now call it is distorted by these markets.

        This is the reason why we get the periodic and increasingly frequent market “crashes”.

        If prices and curencies are not inflated by blue suited crooks, blue collared coolies would not have to pay so much and would not need to be paid so much.

        This is my humble opinion.

      • Although you know, Eric that I have a high regard for you personally, I do need to take exception to your last comment. Putting on my economist’s hat for a moment inflation is defined simply as “too much money chasing too few goods”. Bankers don’t print money, nor do those on Wall Street. That is a function expressly reserved to central banks and – so if you want to blame the cause of inflation on anyone, it should be on government(s).

        There is nothing inately wrong with any of the markets that you cite if they are indeed free and properly regulated. They provide an opportunity for individuals and industry to buy and sell and to run their businesses and personal portfolios in a prudent manner.

        The commodity markets are essential to any number of industries. For example, the airlines routinely buy gasoline futures because knowing they are guaranteed a particular price enables them to price their routes profitably and efficiently. Similarly, farmers utilize these markets so that they are able to lock in a certain price for the crops they are growing.

        When gas approached $5.00 a gallon in the U.S. in early/mid-2012, President Obama took to his pulpit and screamed about the evil speculators who were driving up the price of this essential commodity for their own gain. He promised to add hundreds of investigators to ferret out the evil doers. We probably did add hundreds of investigators to the Federal payroll. And in the eight months or so since this proclamation, not a peep has been heard out of any of them.

        Markets for the most part reflect the consensus of opinion. Sometimes events, such as 9/11 distort those markets in the short term. But things normally revert to the mean. But they can only do so if those who would manipulate them are prohibited through intelligent regulation from fulfilling their intentions. And it is sad that one of the biggest financial scandals – as it impacted individuals – a man named Bernie Madoff who stole billions, had been reported to the appropriate authorities three years before he turned himself in – and the appropriate authorities, the SEC, did nothing to investigate the well-documented charges against him.

        All of the finest, most insightful and efficient regulations in the world will have no value if they aren’t enforced by those whom we pay to enforce them.

  2. Reblogged this on Oyia Brown and commented:
    Very profound thoughts – but today, what will happen when the takers exceed the givers I wonder; assuming that has not already happened!

  3. I suspect history will repeat itself. Today’s variation on the theme is that it is not royalty who are the takers but a large component of our society who have never contributed to their own or society’s well-being. Today’s givers are not the serfs or peasants but those who have worked their entire lives to support themselves and their families and in a very direct way had their quality of life compromised by society’s view that they must provide additional effort and support and tax dollars to pay for those unwilling to fend for themselves.

    When a sufficient number of people who are being fleeced say, “Enough is enough”, the only realistic expectation is that the social fabric will change in either a peaceful or bloody revolution. Which of those two eventualities occurs will depend on whether we begin to unwind the decades’ long policies that have led to “legalized enslavement” and dependency and how we implement those policies.

  4. Very well said, both the article and your comment with which I also agree. Thanks.

  5. nearlynormalized said:

    I think you generalize with the statement of “additional effort and support and tax dollars to pay for those unwilling to fend for themselves.” Do you know any of “themselves”? Who are the unwilling? I don’t personally know them…Where do they live? I feel like I would like to get to know them.

    • if I indeed, “generalize” it is only because of the overwhelming volume of statistics available to the truly concerned and inquisitive individual. As I know you are a person both of conscience and insight, I will leave it to up to you to find for yourself the statistics which document the generational aspects of our “welfare system”.

      If I were to respond to your fair question, “Do you know any of ‘themselves'” in the negative, I suspect that would negate the validity of my post on a “prima facie” basis. I am sorry to disappoint you in that. Sadly, I do know some of these people personally, and I see a lot more of them regularly, though I don’t know them as individuals. I see them as they swipe their EBT cards at the store – and, you’ll forgive me because this is non-judgemental, merely an anecdotal observation – I see how they spend their dole money which you and I pay for. Because they are victims of a corrupt and inefficient educational system – their food choices are often unwise and unhealthful.

      But, as I said, I do know some of these people. I do not make that statement as a “badge of honor”. Nor is it offered in the context of “one of my best friends is …” That we have, through governmental action, enslaved an increasingly large segment of our population in dependency is, in my opinion a more disgraceful action than what we ever did to the Native American population.

      You might enjoy reading about one personal encounter I had with a member of this community about which I wrote in this post:

      If you would, indeed, like to meet members of this community, Las Vegas has ample opportunities to fulfill your desire. According to recent census data, there are over 10,200 homeless who live here. (You can find some of them at any major intersection – usually posting a cardboard sign and asking for help).

      If you have difficulty locating them, take me with you on a little expedition. I have contributed to many of them – and they know me well.

      • nearlynormalized said:

        I have also noticed the EBT card being used for totally unhealthy choices in purchasing food. I have also noticed the ringing up of bread, milk, and other food items but what was really purchased was alcohol and cigs. Push the right button at the local Mini Mart and there you have it. I know this is the low level con game but to a higher level, hasn’t the Government bailed out the billionaire thieves? Don’t we as tax payers pay for the constant bail out of white collar
        criminals? Scams, thieves, cons all we can do as individuals is the best we can and have a clear conscience about what we are doing. For every law there is made I’m sure minds are thinking about how to get around it.

      • There will always be people who either bend or break rules that they find inconvenient. I can think of no more obvious example than driving down the street and noting how many people ignore the speed limits that are posted. That a great many engage in an activity doesn’t legitimize it for the conscientious person and citizen.

        “…hasn’t the Government bailed out the billionaire thieves? Don’t we as tax payers pay for the constant bail out of white collar criminals?”

        In order for me to respond to this question which is very broad in nature, please give me some specific examples. But let me say in advance of your reply, even if your statement were sound and provable, that does not validate the behavior of the group about whom I wrote in the post.

        One ancient bit of wisdom that I am sure both of us know is that “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

      • nearlynormalized said:

        The constant that I see is, “Rules are made to be broken.” Unless their is a solution to that human behavioral pattern it will continue from top to bottom. Example of the billionaires…Fraudulent money game that has gotten us into the major mess that most people are crying about. Real estate BS that we in Vegas are a prime example of and the phony paper work that allowed all this almost unnoticed. Phony real estate boom…Yes, phony. Noting in Vegas ever moved the $ value overnight like the BS of inflated value of land, buildings and so forth. From the top down it has been deceptive practices for many years and those that feel the pressure are truly the ones in need. I might have rambled but unless philosophies change, this ramble is in vain.

      • I agree with your statement that, “rules are made to be broken” is the mindset of an amazingly large number of people. To return to driving for a moment, if you think about it the only reason that people ignore speed limits is that there is virtually no enforcement of the prudent rules which are on the books. How does this impact the law-abiding citizen of Las Vegas? Well, to start with we are at far higher risk of being a victim of a driver who believes himself above the law; we pay far higher insurance premiums than we would if the law were enforced, reducing the number of accidents which occur here; the City of Las Vegas is deprived of revenues it should and could collect and all of us here pay higher rents and property taxes in order to add revenue to its budget. This is an obvious example where good regulations are on the books – but are ignored by those who passed them. Consequently, they do nothing to improve the quality of life for any of us who live here – except for the speeders whose behavior the City is unintentionally encouraging.

        With respect to your comment on the “boom/bust” of real estate, I would again look to government as the primary cause of this problem. Traditionally, a minimum of a twenty percent down payment was considered standard for a bank to write a mortgage. That was the case when I bought my condo in 1972 and continued to be the practice for many years. If you didn’t have enough to put down, no bank would write a mortgage for you. But then things changed.

        The Federal government through the aegis of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac deemed home ownership to be of great value for the general populace. And so that twenty percent down standard was systematically degraded to the point that nothing at all was required to make a home purchase – if a person had sufficient income to justify the loan. That was a tragic mistake and one which any number of conservative economists argued would result in disaster. And it did.

        But, in order to make the numbers work and to fulfill the edict that these quasi-governmental agencies insisted upon, many of these mortgages were written with baloon payments or terms which greatly increased the rate of interest that would be charged a few years down the line. In an atmosphere, fueled by greed, the individual was not really buying a home but viewed himself as making a “surefire investment” – one that was going to net him as much or more as working at his job for a year or more. That scenario continued to play out as prices ratcheted higher and higher. But when the bubble burst, all of a sudden, people found themselves “under water” in their home mortgages. It was only at that point that people began crying “foul”. “I didn’t know what my mortgage said,” they screamed. Well, shame on them.

        For most Americans, their home is the single biggest purchase they will make in their lives. If a person genuinely “didn’t understand the terms of their mortgage,” they should have gotten an explanation, before signing it, from someone with the professional expertise to explain it to them – wouldn’t you think?

        If there had not been the government-created frenzy to get people into buying homes, the robo-signing and all the rest would not have happened. Once again, it’s always useful to learn the real source of any specific problem – in order to make sure that it never happens again.

      • nearlynormalized said:

        We learn, what we have learned influences for awhile and then, little by little we seem to go back to the SOS that got us in the mess in the first place. I thought what we went through during the depression of the 30’s was not going to happen again. I seem to believe in the trust factor, but that too seems to be up for purchase. All we can do is the “best we can” and not as a nation get sucked into more wars of the world. Rambles, I trust but a very few people to do the right thing whatever that may be.

  6. Another great post. The people who went through the depression years certainly knew not only how to work but how to see opportunities no one else could see, and thus survive. My Father was one of those and I will be eternally grateful to him for modeling the fact that free lunches are not to be relied on and we need to get up off our butts and do something to earn our lunch. In today’s world it appears increasingly that when the free lunches stop those who are used to receiving go out and rob rather than find some way to earn their way. Now there are genuine cases where people are incapable of doing that for health or other reasons. My Father then taught me that to those people he needed to share the little he may have and I saw that in action throughout his life. He despised government handouts for political reasons without assessing genuine need and as a local politician he was often the scourge of the haves causing them to keep their noses clean. Obviously they resented him for this but he survived in spite of them.

  7. You Father sounds like a wise and prudent man and it is sad there are not more like him involved in our various political organizations.

    I would be the first to agree that there are some who have legitimate needs which they cannot for whatever reason fulfill. I would be the first in line to try to assist them – because that is what a member of a conscience-based society should do.

    When those who believe that they should not have to work because they are “special” or “entitled” – I have zero tolerance. Because that person has degraded him/herself to a point that their own humanity is in question – and they have negatively determined the issue of their own self-worth.

    It’s tragic. But if I had to make a choice, I would choose those who have the potential to elevate society through brilliant thought, innovation and creation, rather than support those who view society’s role as something established to provide them with their meager subsistance.

  8. Good article. Who can argue with the application of intellectually guided common sense. Thomas Paine would have been proud.

  9. I wonder what Grandma would have to say about Grass Roots? 😉

    • Grandma was a private person – not one to sign on or initiate movements. Her life centered around making sure that her family was better this year than the last and that her home-cooked meals were served every night. For her family, was everything which is something that anyone who was invited to dinner took away with them (as well as a doggie bag).

      And isn’t that in very large measure the essence of what we have lost? I suppose in her own way, although it was unconscious, this was her contribution to a Grass Roots movement.

  10. nearlynormalized said:

    What happens when as we go on to ‘States Rights’, no government hand outs as you say and then we have these natural disasters that occur? Whose hands are the first to go out and demand government aid? My grandmother use to say, “Poor people don’t commit suicide they can’t jump out of basement windows.” You mean to tell me that our parents did not benefit from the FDR administration? GI Bill, Erie Canal, US Highway system, come on boys get real with you are saying these are but a few of the GOVERNMENT hand outs to Americans.

    • Any rational society understands that there are certain of its population who are not equipped to fend for themselves. If we are to call ourselves human, we need to adopt a philosophy of helping those who are genuinely in need.

      But that assistance can be more efficiently delivered by those on a local basis, rather than having a committee of bureaucrats make up some “one size fits all” regulations that might be well-intentioned but overlook the fact that some of us are just a little more different than others.

  11. Grandma just dispensed with the B.S. The government these days, controls all from kid’s school lunches to farmers’ planting choices to the products of auto makers; it runs the banks as a sponsored cartel. As you say, it’s government in charge, so its government that must be held responsible for its results; unfortunate that government obfuscates that with media help.

    Curious fact: Why haven’t politicians noticed that when votes are counted by machines, it’s better to control the machines than to control the votes? Other places seem to complain a lot about ‘rigged elections’ but we never see that, right? We’re really blessed to have such honest politicians, compared to all those other places… Now, I’ll go don my tinfoil hat…

    I wish more writers would address basic economics as you do…

  12. Grandma was nothing if not honest and direct. She would never have made it in politics.

    It’s remarkable to me that the comments on this post have greatly exceeded the length of the post itself. That’s a first! And thank you for adding yours.

    The most intriguing part of being involved in the election process in Chicago was finding out the truth of the statement that, “It wasn’t a matter of who voted; it was a matter of who counted the votes”. I guess the fact that having dyslexia was a requirement because it was amazing to see how many votes got transposed – and I need not mention in whose favor.

  13. Your column offers a great deal of wisdom, as did your grandma. Capitalism in its true, non-crony-form, is the greatest vehicle for promoting the wealth of a nation. Indeed, it will create sufficient wealth for an effective social security blanket for those who fall undeservedly into poverty. The distinction between the deserving and the undeserving poor is crucial. The deserving poor should not be bailed out. They require the stick of pverty to encourage them to change their ways.

    You have great insight and an excellent understanding of economics.

  14. I was fortunate to have grown up in an era and in a family where there was truly the belief in “an American dream” and that no one was limited except by his or her own drive and desire.

    I will never forget at age 10 asking my Dad what all those numbers in The Herald Tribune were. He explained that was the “stock market”. By the time I was 12 I had memorized all the ticker symbols on the NYSE and spent free time sitting in brokers’ offices watching the ticker tape. To me, all those companies encapsulated the idea of how capitalism, when exercised conscientiously and effectively could enable a country to achieve the heights of true greatness.

    I still hold on to that view – but am saddended that there are so many who regard these same corporations as evil and the root of all our problems – in direct contravention of the facts.

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