In a previous blog, I wrote about our crushing national debt, and how the “Me Generation” (aka Baby Boomers) would leave this earth and our nation in a much worse financial condition than any previous generation. In this blog, I will relate one government policy that has helped greatly in this intergenerational theft (what else can you call it when one generation borrows money and leaves a subsequent generation to pay the bill?), and what we are buying with this borrowed money. Read more
Posts By Dr. James A. Davids
For a number of years, I served on the Robertson School of Government admission committee. As a member of the committee, it was my job to discern if applicants had the requisite gifts and passion to succeed in the School of Government. To discern this, I would look at the following in the applicant’s file: the standardized test score, the undergraduate school(s) attended, the undergraduate GPA, the academic transcript(s) (courses taken, and how well the applicant did in courses like history and political science), the writing sample, and the references.
Of all the elements in the student’s admission file, the items I weighted heaviest were the standardized test score, the GPA, and the reputation of the undergraduate school. If the school had a reputation for “grade inflation,” I would give the standardized test score more weight and the GPA less weight. On the other hand, if the school had a reputation of not inflating grades, I would give by far the most weight to the GPA. Read more
One of my greatest heroes is my deceased paternal grandmother, Theresa Davids. Born and reared in the northeastern Dutch province of Groningen at the beginning of the 20th century, young Theresa had eight years of formal education before being placed in the house of a rich Dutch farmer where she performed household chores for the farmer’s wife. Such was the life of countless generations of Dutch peasant girls before her, and her likely future included marrying one of the farm hands and starting a family of her own as her husband continued to labor on the farmer’s land.
Such a life, however, was not to be Theresa’s future. She had read about opportunities in the United States, and had heard stories from friends about life in America. At the age of sixteen, Theresa left her parents, siblings, relatives, friends and the only community she ever knew to live with a second cousin in Chicago. Not knowing a word of English, she attended a church that had one service in Dutch, and from interacting with new friends, she learned English and assimilated into American culture. In church, she met her future husband, who ironically had grown up ten miles away from her in Groningen.
Near the end of her life, I asked Grandma Davids why she left her loved ones and traveled to a new hemisphere. In Dutch brogue, she said quite simply that she left her country and family for people not yet born, her future children and their children. Seeing very limited opportunities for her future descendants in the Netherlands, she undertook a hazardous journey to a new land brimming with economic opportunities for those who worked hard and lived frugally.
This story is not unlike thousands (if not millions) of other stories that could be told by descendants of immigrants to America — America, the land of opportunity, the “golden door” as inscribed on the statue bearing a torch in New York harbor. The question is whether this “golden door” remains open for future generations.
America has for about 80 years suffered a form of schizophrenia, some preferring security over liberty, and some wanting liberty over security. The welfare state is designed to provide security – pay money to the government and the government provides old age pensions, health care, aid to the poor, and regulations to control products and services provided by others. The liberty state is designed to provide choice – work harder and enjoy more wealth (or not and enjoy less), be more committed to excellence than others and enjoy rewards (or just slide by with minimal effort and avoid recognition). What type of society does America want for its children – equal outcomes with limited opportunities, or great opportunities with limited security in the case of failure?
Last year I visited Belarus and spoke with many people who loved their country and people. What grieved them most was the general dispirit of the people. Communism with its miles of 14 story apartment buildings, its lack of pay differential between a surgeon and a street sweeper, and its failure to provide rewards for achievement had killed the spirits of Belarusian males, driving them from ambition and adventure to boredom and alcoholism. If there is no prize to reward virtue and hard work, why bother? Karl Marx’s maxim of “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs” is a theoretical model bound to fail because of the nature of man.
“For the sake of the children” has, of course, become a mantra in defending any government program that in any way deals with children. This argument, however, is limited to only the children immediately and directly benefited (although the greatest benefit, of course, goes to those being paid to give services to the children). It does not take into account the long-term effect of tax burdens that choke the entrepreneurial spirits of future generations.
Theresa Davids was a pioneer whose self-denial greatly benefited my father and his siblings, and now their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. America used to be a land of opportunity – one where a person could succeed but also fail. America is changing so that a person has a lesser chance of failure, but also a lesser chance of success. My grandmother left a place where there was limited chance of success. I hope that America returns to become once again attractive to people like my grandmother.
Life in post-Revolution America was rough and bears some semblance to today. The new nation was deeply in debt because of governmental spending, and foreign lenders refused to accept our paper money, insisting instead on gold. When debtors could not pay their loans, the banks started a wave of foreclosures in Massachusetts, took possession of farms and homes, and jailed debtors. Hundreds of people coalesced around Daniel Shays, a Revolutionary War veteran, who led his “army” in shutting down courts to stop foreclosures and then freeing imprisoned debtors. Neither the national or state government was willing or able to respond, so a group of Bostonians paid for an armed militia to go to western Massachusetts, reopen the courts, and defeat and arrest Shays and his army. Within a few months of this incident, the Constitutional Convention began in Philadelphia.
Shays’ Rebellion must have been on the mind of those gathered in Philadelphia during the summer of 1787, since the Preamble states that the Constitution’s purposes include “to insure domestic Tranquility,” and to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…” These “Blessings of Liberty” included personal and economic freedom so Americans and their posterity could pursue “happiness” (the acquisition of property), which was identified as an “unalienable” right in the Declaration of Independence eleven years prior.
Regarding securing economic freedom for their posterity, the Founding Generation and their immediate successors, unlike today, paid off their national debt. Primarily because of the Revolutionary War, the national debt in 1791 stood at $75 million. This debt grew, but by 1835, America was debt free. The Civil War caused the national debt to climb for the first time into the billions ($2.7 billion after the war), but this debt stayed rather stable until World War I pushed the national debt to $22 billion. The debt was paid down in the 1920s to $16 billion, until the social spending of the New Deal and World War II exploded the debt 1600% to an amount equal to the value of all goods and services produced in the U.S. in one year. With the rapid expansion of the economy after World War II, the percentage of debt to GDP fell while the debt increased primarily due to inflation. The debt passed $1 trillion in 1982, doubled to $2 trillion in 1986, and then added another trillion dollars in debt in 1990, 1992, 1996, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007, and 2008. This raging appetite for debt continues, the federal debt load increasing almost $2 trillion in 2009, and adding more than $1 trillion in each of the subsequent fiscal years so that as of now, the national debt is almost $16 trillion, or more than $51,000 for every person in America.
Although the Cold War, Vietnam and Iraq Wars, and other overseas ventures have consumed considerable resources, we have not had a world war for 60 years. Rather, our continuing huge budget deficits and resulting mountains of debt are attributable to expensive social programs passed largely by Democrats (who failed to raise taxes to cover the new expenses) and tax cuts passed largely by Republicans (who failed to cut spending). In other words, for the past 25 years our leaders have borrowed money so we could spend it on ourselves either for retirement benefits, prescription drugs, health care for the elderly, or simply more consumer spending – a continuing legacy of the “Me Generation.” The debt, and the burgeoning interest on the debt, we leave to our children and grandchildren.
By adding “…and our posterity” to the Constitution’s Preamble, the Founders placed upon themselves and all subsequent generations (certainly including us) a profound moral duty which we have sorely neglected. Such neglect is reason enough for the rise of future Daniel Shays. Whereas the Founders in gaining independence sacrificed their prosperity for their posterity, we have sacrificed our posterity for our prosperity.
“What should I do with my masters’ degree?” “What job should I seek?” “What career should I pursue?” These are common questions posed by students to me, and they focus on the very important question of God’s calling on a student’s career. These students seek advice on the very important question as to how best they can glorify God in the future for the wonderful talents He has given them.
The advice I invariably give these inquiring students focuses on the wisdom I gleaned from Os Guinness’ book titled, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life. In this book Mr. Guinness presents well the propositions that God has given everyone talents, He has given everyone passions, and He has given everyone unique circumstances in their life that will attune them to special ministries to God’s people in the future. So, God’s Call on One’s Life = Confirmed Gifts + Passion + Life’s Opportunities. Let me illustrate and expand on this “equation.”
First of all, it is important to find God’s call on your life. Finding this call is like having the wind at your back at all times if you are a sailor, or always being in the fairway after a drive if you are a golfer (unlike me – my drives are like my politics, always to the right and in trouble!) Your vocational life seems easy if you are in God’s calling – you are using the gifts God has given you in a field about which you are passionate. Wonderful!
In terms of giftedness, confirmation is important. That is, although I may think of myself as a great mechanic, my wife and children would instantly attest that I lack giftedness in this area (I continually stripped screws until someone mercifully told me “righty tighty, lefty loosey”). My oldest son, on the other hand, has this giftedness. At the age of two, he removed the guard on the bottom of a vacuum cleaner so he could watch how the brushes and belts work (showing his passion and inclination). At age 16, he completely tore apart my computer (a brand new tower) so he could put it back together again (which he did). Steve now works as a computer engineer after graduating from Virginia Tech.
God also wires us with passion. He sparks our interest in areas for which others yawn (an example of this is my love for Civil War history, a passion that resulted in many family trips to battlefields with my children continually whining that these trips were “boring!”) God inserts in our hearts a desire to correct an injustice about which others are ambivalent. Not surprisingly, we work with greater intensity at jobs for which we are passionate.
The final part of the “equation” is “life’s opportunities.” This part of the equation is based on the truth that God is sovereign, and that He intends good in all things for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). This statement by God is often difficult for us to accept, since we earnestly seek (demand?) from God answers when something terrible happens in our lives (a divorce or the death of a child). Yet, I have seen time and again that those who suffered these terrible things learned much from their experiences, and were able to bless God’s people through these experiences (imagine what Chuck Colson’s life would have been if he had not gone to prison).
Finding God’s call on your life is a matter of continuing prayer (I still ask God on virtually a daily basis to direct me where I can be of better service to Him, and I am not alone in this prayer). Using the framework of God’s Call = Confirmed Gifts + Passion + Life’s Opportunities is, however, a good place to begin.