What Can Anyone Do About This Nightmare
Recently, one of my favorite clients (who owns a very strong business that is prudently managed) and I were having lunch. We were discussing all the issues facing America. We discussed everything from our federal government issues down to state and local budgetary issues, from unemployment to wage deflation, and from asset values to defunct banks. And with all the negative data staring us in the face, my client asked a profound question: "What can I do, as an individual about all of this". Not what are the solutions, but how does an individual do anything about our issues to help create solutions.
Since 2003, I've been warning anyone who would listen about the very issues we have today, and for one of the few times someone I know asked a great question. It seems almost impossible for one person these days to do anything but moan and groan about all that faces this country and we tend to do very little or nothing because we don't feel like we can make a difference with the limited time and resources we have. I didn't answer his question that day because my mind was racing through a number of issues and possible responses to that question.
There was one particular reason I did not answer his question! If he, I or you are not willing to change to help ourselves or your fellow Americans than why would any politician change to begin to do the right things for the majority of Americans and establish any kind of financial prudence and a more fundamentally sound economy? Often in this world when people are not happy, we immediately seek someone else to change their behavior to make us happy, but it is often the case that approach simply fails. We can only really control our own thoughts and behavior and by doing so, maybe we can collectively command the appropriate change from others in time.
What Can an Individual Do About All of This?
There are several things as individuals we can do, and collectively if we choose to do them they can work like water washing over a rock, and over time erode the establishment mentality in place into behavior change that is beneficial to the majority. There are a number of fronts we can change our thoughts, expectations and behavior.
1) On the Political Front: Is there anyone in the world that thinks the US government is too small? Yes, some of our current US political leaders, some of them want to continue adding layers of government in every walk of life. Is there anyone outside of that? Probably not many. We simply need to change our expectations of what appropriate government is, but it needs to happen collectively as Americans to create the sheer size and power of a unified voice.
To plagiarize and slightly alter a quote I love, "All that is required for evil politicians and their crony bureaucrats to win out is for good men and women to do nothing". Things to consider in your personal value model as an individual:
I believe that both political parties have failed Americans because both cater to over spending the tax payer's money, both support failed federal reserve policies, and both support the extremely wealthy, lobbying groups, and large corporations.
It's simple. There aren't many individuals who can contribute the kind of money they do. Essentially, our government has turned into something by and of the select few (super rich), lobbying organizations, and large corporation for the very same group. We have as individuals failed to realize that politicians are supporting a select few while de-unifying this country along party lines and lesser important political topics.
It's no longer a government by and of the people for the people, and our political affiliation has failed us all. So, what can any individual do specifically about this issue? Directly, not much, but indirectly there is something I like very much.
I believe it's in the best interest of Americans to change their political alliance from Republican or Democrat to Independent status. Most people vote by party association without ever really thinking about the issues, or demanding far greater honesty of details about candidates and their views or their solutions.
If we became a nation of greater independent voters, we would make every politician earn the American vote. We would also reduce the power of the current two political parties who have great control over their members. Take away the party power and we might get more independent politicians who are free to do the right things.
And, over time one of the side benefits might be an increase in the number of political parties because we diminish the power of the current two-party system. Currently, we have the Coke and Pepsi world of politics. And, while I don't really need more cola companies selling cola, we have limited voice and representation in the current two-party system because each party has too much power and new political parties can not come to life. Wouldn't it be great if there were more than two parties? Greater competition might create better government and a more representative government for all.
If you believe it's the government's job to provide economic stimulus and your block of American cheese, you're actually part of the problem. If we expect the government to protect the economy in bad times, then we are always going to get these short term ridiculous solutions they roll out that create the next asset bubble and future set of problems.
We create this cycle that only truly benefits the rich who have the assets and ware for all to benefit from it. And, we never really get fundamentally sound decisions from government nor prudent use of tax payer money because their solutions are short term and overly political in nature with little to no fundamental reasoning behind them.
So, I believe we should stop asking/expecting the government to stimulate assets prices and the economy, and yes this would create short term financial distress but it would allow us to get back to true capitalism and a more efficient government and a healthier America for all, not just the rich.
Thus, one of the things we can do is join the Ron Paul cause to audit the Fed. For more details please see: http://www.ronpaul.com/on-the-issues/audit-the-federal-reserve-hr-1207/ He's on absolutely the right war path, which supports the American way of life. His legislation calls for a complete audit of the Fed. Take the time to write and fax your congressman that you're in favor of auditing the Fed.
The size of government! I think it's safe to say, "Most Americans feel the US government is too big and spends too much money it doesn't have. So, how do we change this issue? Personally, it might be too large of an issue to change until the angry voice of Americans is collectively large and loud.
So, until such a time, I would like to see Americans getting far more active in local and state government and begin by writing and calling your local and state representatives. And for me, the two most prominent ideas we should be voicing over and over is:
1. Demand an independent financial audit of every municipality every 3-5 years. Start the process by a grass roots movement at the local level. Transparency of government spending should be issue number one for all of us, or at least very close to the top of the list. We need to learn specifically, how and where all municipalities are wasting money. Our budgetary issues are for the most part massive over spending, and having a regimented independent audit would show us all where the problems actually lie. Until we know that, it's very difficult to specifically direct our concerns on what needs to change, and allows our politicians to play the shell game with tax payer money. Every corporation and family lives by a budget, which is constantly reviewed. Why don't we expect that from our local government/municipalities?
2. There are over 8,000 local municipalities in this country. I believe for those that are financially distressed, we should all be writing and calling demanding and conveying the need to file bankruptcy. There are many cities, counties and states that are broke to the point of no repair, and to a large degree because they have lost control over spending, especially related to union payroll and benefit plans, and bankruptcy will allow these entities to right those contracts back into the publics best interest. If not, your taxes are going much higher, so it's not a difficult choice.
2) Vote Your Wallet: Nothing speaks louder than your money! You can use it by voting with it as often as possible as you spend it.
Increase your personal tax deductions and increase your monthly net income. This is a sneaky idea, but if everyone increased the number of personal deductions by 1, less money would go to the state and federal government every month, thereby exacerbating their budgetary issues. Yes, you might owe some taxes at tax time. And yes, they will eventually get the money you owe them.
You have the chance to exacerbate the budget problem throughout the year and maybe create more pressure for substantive change. A side benefit is that you won't get an IOU like the state of California issues for refunds that you can't cash until they have adequate cash balances. Voting your wallet sends a clear message to poorly behaving politicians.
Have your house re-assessed as often as you can and lower the amount of real estate taxes you pay. Again, in mass this would lower the income collected by states who charge real estate taxes and put more pressure on the budgetary problems, possibly forcing them to get real with solutions. Secondly, higher taxes are on the way, so you might as well use every opportunity to lower taxes in other ways.
Do your major consumer shopping in a state that does not have retail sales taxes, or a much lower raet. Make a list of the items you think you're going to buy in the next 12 months, and if you can, buy them in a state with no retail taxes. Again, it sends a clear message to politicians via a reduction in retail sales tax revenues. In my state (California -- The Bubble State Nightmare), its 9.75% retail sales tax where I live, and that's a joke.
Here's a list of the state sales tax rate per state, which may not include local sales taxes on top of the state rate.
So, I can buy a new lap top, Mt. Bike, cell phone, big screen TV, etc. in another state and save $300-500 while I'm on vacation in one of those states. And, that pays for a portion of that vacation with my savings. And since I know I'm going to take a vacation in one those states, it's a no brainer and a solid savings for me.
Let your house, rental or vacation home go! Please read the following article by a University Professor from the University of Arizona:
Yes, if you are upside down on your house, you might want to think about a strategy for letting your house go and when it would be beneficial to you. There's no reason for making monthly payments and covering taxes if you are out of work or have diminished income. There's no sense in burning your savings when cash is king and far too important.
Nowadays, one can live in a house for 12-24 months without making a payment before the bank actually forecloses and kicks you out, and they might turn around and lease it to you for less each month. Letting your house go sends a clear message to those in charge at the top you've had it with this insanity.
Please, please, please: Check with an attorney before you implement this strategy to understand the laws and implications in your state, and your obligations in total. And, if you need good credit for your employment, you may want to think about this more closely.
3) The Media! In some ways, the media is supposed to be the part of society that keeps a skeptical eye on those in power (government and CEOs). Unfortunately, the majority of television news media has for all intended purposes failed this country. It seems as though they are more interested in getting watered down interviews just to get interviews with politicians and CEOs, and have failed at hard-nosed journalism and the quest for answers and less spin.
So, expand your news gathering to well written and far more un-biased websites, the blogger nation. They tend to look at the problems, data, and solutions in a far more common sense and real manor. Less viewership of mainstream news media will force lower ad revenues, which will in turn force the media giants to begin to change the way they report the news, and maybe they will get tougher on politicians, Wall Street, and CEOs, and quit treating them like royalty or celebrities.
Stop buying the products of those companies who advertise on network TV companies, and let the corporate backers of TV news stations know why via a letter or email. That might force a very frank conversation between advertisers and the media in what you're looking for: more honest, hard-hitting news journalism as it relates to our economy and our government and politicians at every level.
4) Corporate America! There are many corporations that have failed to be good corporate citizens, and there's a real disconnect between the views and actions of celebrity CEOs and that of main street. In some regards they need to know your discontent at their bottom line.
If it bother's you that your big bank is on government funds, then simply move your business or personal checking accounts to a regional or community bank that is not on government life support. If you don't, then by default you are approving of years of mismanagement by big bank executives, and more importantly, you are approving of the government spending tax payer money to bail them out. This is your chance to vote the subject matter by where you do your banking.
Check with services that rate banks or look up a bank at www.fdic.gov and review any banks balance sheet to help guide your choice. Why not give your business to banks that have behaved in a prudent manner and are not sucking off the tax payer? This one is easy, and as long as you have the FDIC insurance what difference does it make where you bank?
There are over 8,000 banks and some of them are well managed and have not put out their hand for tax payer money. Frankly, as someone who has banked at smaller banks for the past 15 years, they are much better in customer service and quite often lower in fees.
Recently, I purchased a new car and for my entire life, my family had been a big GM product family. But with GM's recent financial mess and their inability to manage themselves effectively combined with the failure of unions to make supportive cuts, they stuck out their hand for US tax payer money. To me, this is as un-American as it gets. For years, highly compensated executives at GM benefited from managing the company into the ground, and on top of that, the auto unions failed to do the right thing. With these two poor behaviors combined, GM was forced onto the government subsidy plan.
So, I purchased a car I liked from another manufacturer who is better managed and not on the tax payer's dime. I voted with my wallet on a major purchase. It's my opinion that GM just doesn't deserve my business. All big companies really care about is profits and getting your business. They won't listen until you start doing business with someone else. Frankly, I bought a car that will last longer and probably requires less maintenance than a GM product, so it's a win-win for me.
On the other hand, I love giving my business to Southwest Airlines. During the airline crisis after 9-11 they didn't file for bankruptcy, and they consistently and prudently run a tight ship, and typically offer great service and airfare pricing.
It's time to quote the most famous Vulcan we all know, "The needs of the many out weigh the needs of the few". And no, I'm not some Star Trek following junky. That quote fundamentally represents the thought process that should be behind our views, expectations and actions at every level of society if we are going to dramatically improve upon where we are today.
I'm not suggesting anyone stop voicing the frustration or anger they feel, but think about the ways you can change your thoughts, expectations and behavior to effectively channel how you feel into more pro-active actions. Understand how you spend your time and money, and use it when you can in part to voice how you feel.
Hopefully, together we can create the erosion affect on the entrenched rock that is our current political system and corporate culture. They won't change until you do. I encourage you to put aside party affiliations and be a staunch independent in name, mind, and action. Make the politicians fight for your vote and money and diminish the power of the large political organizations, who often control individual members.
Create positive actions that send a clear message that you're unhappy with the status quo. But most of all, get involved at the local level of government, convince your friends and/or business groups to do the same, and begin a grass roots movement to change your thoughts and behavior, it's really the only way to get the appropriate change from policy and decision makers in this country!
Live Long and Prosper!