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The Little Fix

The Little Fix

May 4th, 2011 // 2:45 pm @

Sometimes small and simple things make all the difference. Malcolm Gladwell called this “the tipping point,” and an old proverb speaks of mere straws “breaking the camel’s back.” In my book FreedomShift I wrote about how three little things could—and should—change everything in America’s future.

Following is a little quote that holds the fix to America’s modern problems. This is a big statement. Many Americans feel that the United States is in decline, that we are facing serious problems and that Washington doesn’t seem capable of taking us in the right direction. People are worried and skeptical. Washington—whichever party is in power—makes promises and then fails to fulfill them.

What should America do? The answer is provided, at least the broad details, in the following quote. The famous Roman thinker Cicero is said to have given us this quote in 55 BC. However, it turns out that this quote was created in 1986 as a newspaper fabrication.[i] Still, the content of the quote carries a lot of truth:

“The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt.”

Consider each item:

  • Balance the budget. There are various proposals to do this, nearly all of which require cutting entitlements and also foreign military expenditures. Many do not require raised tax rates. But most Americans would support moderate tax increases if Washington truly gets its outrageous spending habit under control. Paying more taxes in order to see our national debts paid off and our budgets balanced would be worth it—if, and only if, we first witness Washington really fix its spending problem.
  • Refill the Treasury. This is seldom suggested in modern Washington. We have become so accustomed to debt, it seems, that the thought of maintaining a long-term surplus in Washington’s accounts is hardly ever mentioned.
  • Reduce public debt. This is part of various proposals, and is a major goal of many American voters (including independents, who determine presidential elections).
  • Temper and control the arrogance of officialdom. This is seldom discussed, but it is a significant reality in modern America. We have become a society easily swayed by celebrity, and this is bad for freedom.
  • Curtail foreign aid. The official line is that the experts, those who “understand these things,” know why we must continue and even expand foreign aid, and that those who oppose this are uneducated and don’t understand the realities of the situation. The reality, however, is that the citizenry does understand that we can’t spend more than we have. Period. The experts would do well to figure this out.

The question boils down to this: Is the future of America a future of freedom or a future of big government? Our generation must choose.

The challenge so far is that the American voter wants less expensive government but also big-spending government programs. Specifically, we want government to stop spending for programs which benefit other people, but to keep spending for programs that benefit us directly.[ii] We want taxes left the same or decreased for us, but raised on others. We want small business to create more jobs, but we want small businesspeople to pay higher taxes (we don’t want to admit that by paying higher taxes they’ll naturally need to reduce the number of jobs they offer).

The modern American citizen wants the government programs “Rome” can offer, but we want someone else to pay for it. We elect leaders who promise smaller government, and then vote against them when they threaten a government program we enjoy.

Over time, however, we are realizing that we can’t have it both ways. We are coming to grips with the reality that to get our nation back on track we’ll need to allow real cuts that hurt. The future of America depends on how well we stick to our growing understanding that our government must live within its means.

[i] Discussed in Gary Shapiro, The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore The American Dream.

[ii] See Meet the Press, April 24, 2011.


odemille 133x195 custom A Case for InnovationOliver DeMille is a co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of Thomas Jefferson Education.

He is the co-author of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller LeaderShift, and author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

Category : Blog &Citizenship &Culture &Economics &Education &Foreign Affairs &Generations &Government &History

5 Comments → “The Little Fix”

  1. Blake Elliott

    12 years ago

    Yes, It’s crazy and true what you say about many Americans. Perhaps the problem is that most Americans are stupid. What should the convincing message be about?

  2. John Williams

    12 years ago

    I heard government surpluses discussed once. When Greenspan did the round of interviews for his book, he specifically said that when the government deficit disappeared during his time, they decided that it would be a bad thing if the debt went away because it would mean the government would become a major player in investing.

    2 of many fallacies in that statement: Should that situation ever really happen, excessive surpluses are easily avoidable by cutting taxes. (A fact which is so blindingly obvious that I doubt Greenspan’s sincerity.) The government became a major investor a couple years later in the bailouts anyway, so apparently he didn’t convince anyone that it was a bad thing.

  3. Oliver DeMille

    12 years ago

    I know you’re quite young, Blake. 17, is it? With no condescension intended–you are truly engaged and capable at a level that would be a blessing if all our citizens followed your model–I think you will find that over time you gain an increasingly deeper sense of purpose and a message that you can scarcely be quieted about.

    Because of your great precocity, you may find that you say much now that you would say differently later (at least that was my experience, LOL). We may flatter ourselves to be in good company on that point, at least. A careful study of Jefferson’s writings show some interesting evolution over time. And that’s a good thing, right? If time and experience do not make us wiser, then why…?

    In any case, this is one of the reasons to experience the Great Ideas by reading original sources. As we have a conversation with other curious and engaged minds, we begin to learn how and why we agree and disagree with them, and how our own life’s purpose may be to share a little bit of light that shines through us in a unique way. Godspeed on this. We all expect great things from you…

  4. Oliver DeMille

    12 years ago

    Ah, if only.

  5. Blake Elliott

    12 years ago

    I know what you mean about saying things differently; I wasn’t very Dale Garnegie like, was I (chuckles)? I was being blunt for the sake of being blunt in this case which wasn’t right. Perhaps I should have instead said that “The Closing of the American Mind” is a choice which most American’s are making instead of “most Americans are stupid. I know I will progress in how I say and write things which I’m very thankful for, I Keenly feel the need to improve my lingual abilities (Milton is my Hero).
    Your right about my age by the way, my years make it especially hard to discuss ideas with those of my age, but at least I can discuss great ideas with my mentor (an Aristotle, an Aristotle, my kingdom for an Aristotle). You said in your comment “LOL”, which I can scarcely comprehend! Am I more traditional in my languege than you Dr. DeMille? I suppose next you’ll start using the word “like” all the time as my parents do, and their in their 50’s! All joking aside, you say that over time I will gain an increasingly deeper sense of purpose? I have always had a sense of purpose, and it’s always grown, it’s grown so large in fact I wouldn’t know how to stop myself from fullfiling it and my heart is filled with it to bursting! I just need the education. To be frank, I Know I can change the world in a profound way, I just need to sieze the present day (this sentence rhymes). Thanks for the kind encouragement Oliver!

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