A Nation of Whiners & the Need for Principled Spending

Article highlights: Conservatives need to stop talking about being conservative, and need to start acting like it.

Let me state this right off the top: I am part of the problem with today’s conservative movement. I drive a GM truck, shop at Big Box stores, own four computers; and I complain about the current state of our nation. When Senator Phil Gramm said we are a nation of whiners he was criticized for it- but in fact, he was right. We like to complain about big government & big business failures, but we seem to have little desire to actually make the changes in our own lives that would bring about some modest solutions. It is time to put our money where our mouth is.

  • Conservatives across the country were quick to criticize the auto executives who came crawling to Washington to beg for funds, but how many of those same conservatives drive around in GM SUV’s or minivans? When gas was $4 a gallon you couldn’t find a Prius on the lot, now they are there in abundance.
  • The media and the rest of us readily complain about the questionable methods of agribusiness every time a new salmonella scare comes up or mad cow disease rears it’s crazy head, but how many of us shop at the local farmer’s market where you can talk to the man who grows your food?
  • Republican legislators have not been in short supply when it comes time to criticize the too-large-to-fail financial institutions that over-extended themselves to Olympian proportions. However, I am sure many of their constituents are the proud owners of McMansions, 2 new cars, plasma tvs, rider mowers and in ground pools purchased on the backs of easy credit and low equity.

There is a lot of talk, rightly so, about how the GOP and conservatives in general need to refine, remold and rebrand. A great place to start would be to align with the definition of the word conserve. Conserve: to keep in a safe or sound state; especially : to avoid wasteful or destructive use of.

Let’s start with the auto industry. Yes, they failed to make small economical cars like Honda and Toyota did; but this was because the American consumer demanded bigger and bigger SUV’s. This is the only country where a military assault vehicle could become every suburban dad’s dream car. However, not every American car company failed to plan for the future. Ford alone has resisted taking government bail out cash, and could be the last one standing when all is said and done. It will be interesting to see- will Americans reward Ford for solid business practices? Will Ford out-sell GM over the coming year? If we were true to our principles it would. Conservatives need to move their political activism into the marketplace. We need to make principled decisions with our money. Everyone knows an oil dependent auto industry means uncomfortable ties to the Middle East, not to mention the destructive environmental factors. We need to start supporting, with our wallets, the kind of cars that will rid us of this burden.

The same idea of principled spending can be applied to our grocery bills. In Walter Goldschmidt’s classic 1940s study of California’s San Joaquin Valley, As You Sow: Three Studies in the Social Consequences of Agribusiness, he compared areas dominated by large corporate farms with those still characterized by smaller, family farms.

In farming communities dominated by large corporate farms, nearby towns died off. Mechanization meant fewer local people were employed, and absentee ownership meant farm families themselves were no longer to be found. In these corporate-farm towns, the income earned in agriculture was drained off into larger cities to support distant enterprises, while in towns surrounded by family farms, the income circulated among local business establishments, generating jobs and community prosperity. Where family farms predominated, there were more local businesses, paved streets and sidewalks, schools, parks, churches, clubs, and newspapers, better services, higher employment, and more civic participation.

While the clock can not be turned back to some dream of an idyllic 1940’s farm town, recent studies confirm that Goldschmidt’s findings remain essentially valid. If conservatives made a concentrated effort to shop locally when it came to food we would be helping local economies, eating healthier, and taking away one of the left’s talking points to the young. The GOP was the original party of environmental conservation; supporting a modified slow food movement would be economically sound, and politically expedient.

Finally, we need to conserve that most important of resources, our own money. While it is right and proper to admonish Washington for their “economic-crisis” induced spree, our politicians are just a microcosm of our ethos as a nation. We are all big over-spenders. If we want a conservative government, and by conservative we mean small, thrifty and cautious, then we need to lead by example. This is the hardest point of all. After years of cultural movement towards a credit fueled society we need to think more strategically about our money- in some sense it may be too late for some of us, but the next generation can be taught the values of disciplined and principled spending.

“Criticism is necessary and useful; it is often indispensable; but it can never take the place of action, or be even a poor substitute for it. The function of the mere critic is of very subordinate usefulness. It is the doer of deeds who actually counts in the battle for life, and not the man who looks on and says how the fight ought to be fought, without himself sharing the stress and the danger.” – Teddy Roosevelt

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