America's Decline in Common Sense

The great patriot Thomas Paine once wrote, “a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right.” Though Paine was railing against American colonists’ complacency in the face of British tyranny, the same can be said today of many American citizens whose lives are tyrannized by the labyrinthine bureaucracy our society has become. Like the colonists, many Americans have succumb to habits of thought that, left, unexamined, are threatening to steal their liberty. We desperately need a return to common sense in this country if we want to turn things around.

One of the primary obstacles to common sense, and hence a principle cause of personal enslavement, is the modern educational system. It’s not that education is an evil in itself. In fact, a true education, one that brings out strengths, talents and independence of thought, is actually a liberating influence. But today’s education system, with its over-standardization, testing and endless abstractions, has become a system of tautologies and ‘constructed truths’ that are solely self-referential, and have no bearing whatsoever on the real world.

Everyone knows someone who is highly educated, perhaps possesses a master’s degree in business, or a PhD in higher education, who can never seem to balance their checkbook and has trouble keeping a job. Yet these people seem to know it all. Whenever you talk to them, they are full of advice about how you should run your life, or how the Chinese should treat their workers. However, a closer inspection of their own lives often reveals a tenuous mess on the precipice of disaster. These “walking bureaucracies” as I call them, are hampered by indecision. They spend more time thinking about how to act than acting. And they greatly suffer because of it.

On the other hand, there are many people without much formal education who make wonderful contributions to society. You can find them at the pinnacle of business and industry. While they might not have a PhD, they and their families have found a way to thrive in this country. They often lead better and more rewarding lives than those with multiple degrees. What makes these people succeed when others who are seemingly better prepared end up failing? The answer lies in the basics: hard work, thrift, faith in god, compassion and humility. These enduring qualities have stood the test of time. What’s more, these are God-given qualities, endowed on all human beings, and expressed in the highest nature of a free society. One does not need to be born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth to attain them.

Declining common sense in average citizen stems from a failure of intelligence at the highest levels of our society. Take, for example, our rapidly inflating economy. Anyone with any sense whatsoever knows that the past five years have been an unprecedented inflationary period in this country. Since 2002, the price of gasoline and home heating fuel have more than doubled, housing prices have skyrocketed, and the real value of the dollar on the world market has significantly weakened. People out in America are feeling real pain. They have less buying power, work more for less money, and suffer a diminished quality of life.

Yet, official indicators such as the consumer price index, the official employment rate, and the august wizards over at the Federal Reserve, continue to promote the fiction that inflation is under control. These indicators often base their assumptions on the fact that gasoline and housing prices are subject to periodic fluctuations, and therefore should be excluded from the calculation of inflation. However, the evidence over the past five years makes it clear that this assumption simply does not hold true in the current economy. Prices for these basic commodities have risen and not declined. But the habit of assuming price changes for these commodities are “periodic” has given this obviously wrong idea the veneer of correctness, and anyone who dares contradict the conventional wisdom is branded an ignoramus or, worse yet, a heretic, and practically burned at the stake.

A similar story can be told about so-called “productivity” gains in the economy. Conventional economic wisdom holds that real economic growth occurs when workers become more efficient and therefore generate more value. But the truth is that much of the capital value created by major corporations in the past few years has come, not from efficiency gains on the part of the American workforce, but as a result of tax shelters, off-shoring and outsourcing. These quick-fix schemes have made corporate balance sheets glitter like a desert mirage, but the glare has masked a much bigger problem: America is living beyond its means, importing too much, and producing too little to continue to be an economic powerhouse. A quick comparison to China reveals a nation with a real growth rate in terms of actual volume goods produced and sold that dwarfs that of the U.S. in recent years.

We as Americans need to stop deluding ourselves, stop hiding behind our degrees and beleaguered assumptions, and wake up to the fact that this country is on the precipice of a major financial disaster. If we don’t voluntarily tighten our belts, hunker down and make provisions for the future, we might find ourselves lost in the storm on the horizon. And make no mistake, all the signs point to an imminent breakdown of the financial system in the near future.

The rules for tough times ahead call for common sense. No one needs to go see the Wizard of Oz to be blessed with the brains, heart and courage to succeed. Success comes from adherence to God-given virtues of faith, hard work, compassion and humility. These qualities, if practiced in abundance, can overcome virtually any deficit in education, talent or societal condition in which one finds ones self. This is a lesson we all need to learn and practice.