I’M LOSING FAITH IN MY FAVORITE COUNTRY
Throughout my life, the United States has been my favorite country, save and except for Canada, where I was born, raised, educated, and still live for six months each year. As a child growing up in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, I aggressively bought and saved baseball cards of American and National League players, spent hours watching snowy images of American baseball and football games on black and white television and longed for the day when I could travel to that great country. Every Saturday afternoon, me and the boys would pay twelve cents to go the show and watch U.S. made movies, and particularly, the Superman serial. Then I got my chance. My father, who worked for B.F. Goodrich, took my brother and me to watch the Cleveland Indians play baseball in the Mistake on the Lake in Cleveland. At last I had made it to the big time. I thought it was an amazing stadium and it was certainly not a mistake. Amazingly, the Americans thought we were Americans.
I loved the United States, and everything about the country: its people, its movies, its comic books, its sports, and a great deal more. The country was alive and growing. No, exploding. It was the golden age of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The American dream was alive and well, but demanded hard work, honesty, and frugality. Everyone understood that. Even the politicians.
Then everything changed.
Partly because of its proximity to the United States and a shared heritage, Canadians also aspired to what was commonly referred to as the American dream. I fall neatly into that category. For as long as I can remember I wanted a better life, but because I was born with a cardboard spoon in my mouth, and wasn’t a member of the golden gene club, I knew I would have to make it the old fashioned way: work hard and save. After university graduation I spent the first half of my career working for the two largest oil companies in the world: Exxon and Royal Dutch Shell. The second half was spent with one of the smallest oil companies in the world: my own.
Then I sold my company and retired into obscurity. In my case obscurity was spending summers in our cottage on Lake Rosseau in Muskoka, Ontario, and winters in our home in Port St. Lucie, Florida. My wife, Ann, and I, (and our three sons when they can find the time), have been enjoying that “obscurity” for a long time. During that long time we have been fortunate to meet and befriend a large number of Americans, many from Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation.” One was a military policeman in Tokyo in 1945. After a very successful business carer in the U.S. he’s retired and living the dream. Another American friend, also a member of the “Greatest Generation”, survived The Battle of the Bulge and lived to drink Hitler’s booze at Berchtesgaden in 1945. He too is happily retired and living the dream. Both of these individuals got to where they are by working hard, saving, and living within their means. Both also remember when their Federal Government did the same thing.
One of my younger American friends recently sent me a You Tube video, featuring an impassioned speech by Marco Rubio, Republican senator from Florida. In the speech, Rubio blasts the spending habits of his Federal Government and deeply laments his country’s future. He is outraged that the U.S. Government spends three hundred billion dollars, each and every month. He is even more outraged that one hundred and twenty billion of that three hundred billion dollars is borrowed. In other words, Rubio states that for every dollar the U.S. Government spends, forty cents is borrowed. I don’t blame him for being upset. If I had run my business using that arithmetic, I would be in the soup kitchens. If individual American families had applied that arithmetic to their finances, none of them would be in a position to pay a thin dime of taxes.
In this connection I witnessed what I consider to be the ultimate contrast this year. While watching the arrival of the U.S. delegation to the G-8 Summit in Toronto in June, 2010, I was reminded of a movie I watched not too long ago: “The Gathering Storm.” In that movie, Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of Britain, facing the specter of German world domination, flew to Washington to plead with U.S. President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, to help him to save the free world. Churchill made that flight in a dilapidated DC-3. To keep warm during the flight, he wore flight boots, a parka, heavy gloves, and a scarf. It was obvious that travel cost was, as a minimum, a consideration.
In sharp contrast to Churchill’s flight to Washington, I fast forward to U.S. President Barack Obama’s flight from Washington to the June, 2010 G-8 Summit in Toronto. Many of us Canadians, including me, were struck with shock and awe as we witnessed the seemingly endless parade of the American delegation’s large and expensive jets arriving at Pearson International prior to the Summit. To me, the star of the parade and the ultimate display of conspicuous wealth was the arrival of three gigantic military airplanes carrying Mr. Obama’s caravan of vehicles, including his bullet-proof, bomb-proof Cadillac limousine. Clearly, Mr. Obama’s visit was not to save the free world, and travel cost was not a consideration.
Then came another blow to my favorite country. In August of this year Standard and Poor’s rating agency downgraded the U.S. credit rating to AA+ from AAA. What’s worse is that the downgrade may be just the beginning. My favorite country has likely started its inexorable march down the road to ruin. In other words, unless the U.S. finds a way to recover the frugality of The Greatest Generation and to live within its means, it’s likely the beginning of a long and traumatic slide into the abyss of financial chaos.
The whole thing has been painful to watch. I’m deeply disappointed and I’m losing faith in my favorite country.