Delayed gratification. From an early age, we teach our children that work before play is a vital part of growing up. Whether it is homework before games, or wholesome food before dessert, it is every parent's job to instill discipline and a sense that a greater good or pleasure can and will come after enduring a less pleasant task. Indeed, research shows that measures of success, from income to mental health, highly correlate with the ability to delay gratification when young.
The parent's role in instilling self-discipline is necessary for survival of our species. It crosses history and cultures. It is definitely part of our American DNA. Indeed, the American Dream is about sacrificing: work hard, and your children will be given the opportunity for a better life than you had. It is how we began and continues with each wave of immigrants. Many come here and work two or three jobs, simply so their kids can have a shot at being the first in their family to attend college.
The concept of us collectively sacrificing our short-term needs for our children's long-term future is also part of our American tradition. It bound us together in our journey to greatness, from the days of the Mayflower and our earliest settlements, to our expansion across the continent. Our shared sacrifice united us for the exceptional wartime effort following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. War rations and war bonds deepened our support of the U.S. military. During that time, almost every able-bodied male served.
The closest we have come to national sacrifice since the 1940s emanated from President Carter's request that Americans cut fuel usage following the Arab oil cartel-induced gas queues in the late 1970s. I remember lowering the thermostat in winter and shivering with my college roommates. The adage "one flight up and two flights down" became part of our lexicon, and perhaps the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Olympics became our last symbolic national act that caused collective discomfort.
Since then, our leaders have not asked much of us. President George W. Bush had the chance after September 11, 2001, with a nation eager to help. Years later, in a State of the Union address, he complained about our "addiction to oil," but never asked us to cut back our driving, carpool, or move closer to our jobs. Instead our bureaucracy focused on cars rather than drivers in cutting fuel usage.
Our idea of sacrifice today is tolerating inane airline security. That's it. We not only fail to sacrifice but also we insist on entitlements we cannot afford. So our government gives them to us and pays for them by stealing from our children's future. We block our politicians from telling us the truth. We do not vote for them if they say they will cut what we get or raise taxes to pay for what we get.
We must face the truth. We cannot afford what we enjoy today: retirement at age 66 with everyone getting benefits, two years of unemployment insurance, health care for the poor and the aged, special benefits for home owners, subsidies for agriculture and government favored industries, no taxes on non profits, open immigration by all family members, government-backed loans for students at non-performing universities, gold-plated government pensions, bad teachers impossible to fire. Plus we give away all this largesse while fighting two unwinnable wars, and deploying hundreds of thousands of Americans in Europe and Korea. Just in the last three years, we added bailouts, two stimulus packages, tax cuts, first-time home-buyer benefits, "Cash for Clunkers," and a new health plan for the working poor.
So as we spend on ourselves, we take from our children. Our current spending from bailouts to tax cuts are all about taking care of our current needs, when we should be thinking about our children's future and investing in education and infrastructure. Instead, we are cutting their school days, increasing their class sizes, and slashing their language and music programs. We are divesting our infrastructure and thus shorting our children's future. We will soon see crumbling bridges, pothole-filled roads and diminished police and fire service. Basic services like electricity, water and sewage will become less reliable. We will give our children a second-rate, debt-ridden country.
Sadly, we have relegated national sacrifice only to the brave young men and women in uniform who are risking life and limb to serve our country. They and their families are the only ones willing to risk so much. Meanwhile we steal from our children so we can maintain our comforts. Will they forgive us?
We can regain the American Dream if we collectively agree we need shared sacrifice. No one group - the rich, the unions, the government workers, the farmers - can suffer alone and solve our problems. The deficit is too high, and our children are too important.
The facts are the facts. Our taxes will need to go up. Entitlements and defense spending will have to be cut. Longstanding programs giving unwarranted benefits to specific industries, such as farm subsidies, will have to go away. We will have to prioritize - and if we are great Americans - we will put our kids first.
So let's start talking shared sacrifice and asking our leaders to do what we hire them to - make decisions for our children.
Gary Shapiro is the president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, which represents more than 2,000 technology companies and hosts the International CES. Shapiro is the author of The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream.
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