“Everyone ought to realize that the sole source of national wealth is thrift and industry, and that the sole supply of the public treasury is the toil of the people.” Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933), America’s 30th President
These past few weeks my husband and I took deliveries of several bags of gourmet popcorn that was sold by our local Boy Scouts. While munching on a handful of buttery toffee goodness, I read the back of the bag where it described the type of activities the Scouts participate in that teaches them how to be independent and responsible leaders. I also read the list of attributes that the Scout Law requires all scouts to have: to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. I have always been impressed with the young Boy Scouts of our town, and already see these qualities in them that give me faith in our future.
However, what is it about OPM – Other People’s Money – that undoes in adulthood what so many of us learn as children? Men and women in various levels of government leadership (many of whom are either raising up their own Scouts or were Boy Scouts themselves) seem to have forgotten the Scout Law when it comes to stewardship of the public purse. What is it about money that comes from the public pocket that makes people feel released from the honorable duties of its protection? Perhaps it is the illusion of it being “free money” or the ”government’s money” that blurs the lines between wants and needs, making us hypocrites to our own children. Or perhaps it is because it is more difficult to fight the status quo when it comes to the public’s money. I don’t know. Maybe we should ask a current Boy Scout for an answer: which is better, to do what is easy or to do what is right?
No greater test of character is the stewardship of things that do not belong to you. It is far easier to be responsible with your own things, which directly impact you or your family, than those things which belong to the public at large. Unfortunately, it is this attitude that has gotten us to where we are today with our economy and our level of taxes. We see this all around us – people as a rule generally take care of those things that belong to them and that they worked hard for much better than those for which they did not. However, this is not what most of us teach our children, is it? We still expect our children to return found things to their rightful owners, repair damage they do to another’s property, and take care of things for which they have been given responsibility. Yet, so many of us adults think nothing of it when we waste taxpayer money or resources on things we don’t really need. How can we model thrift and trustworthiness to our children if we are not doing the same with things belonging to the public that are entrusted to our care? Do we really want to teach our children that those qualities only matter when it is within their own family or church? What kind of society do you think will result if we do that?
Exactly the one which we have now. We are modeling hypocrisy to our children and it needs to stop. No amount of Cub Scout, Boy Scout or Girl Scout Law is going to matter if the adults in these children’s lives refuse to treat OPM as reverently as if it were their own. How can we raise men and women of character if we do not model it ourselves? This attitude of our leaders towards OPM is why we are $15 trillion in debt. It is why there is so much waste and fraud in government. It is why, when given the opportunity, we choose to build or buy things with public funds that we want but don’t necessarily need, instead of providing our residents with much needed property tax relief (did you know that even the Iowa penny sales tax allows this choice?) You see, once you clear away all the smoke and mirrors, ignore all the razzle-dazzle, you will find that it is really not other people’s money at all – it is our money, and it is time that we expect those whom we entrust with it to start remembering that.
Nevertheless, we as citizens must not forget that leaders are only as great as the people who elect them. If we want leaders of thrift, then we must be a people of thrift, no matter if the money is ours or another’s. If we want leaders that are trustworthy, then we must be a people who are trustworthy, with both our resources and those entrusted to our care. We cannot jbe a people of just noble intentions; we must follow through with noble deeds. Is this the more difficult path? Truly, it is. However, Americans are a creative and resourceful bunch; we have always been able to do great and impossible things when we worked together as neighbors. After all, that is the essence of the Boy Scout Law, right?
“It is not through selfishness or wastefulness or arrogance, but through self-denial, conservation, and service, that we shall build up the American spirit.” Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933), America’s 30th President