My Primary Concern in the Primaries

While I’ve only just recently started paying close attention to presidential campaign issues and debates, I think I’ve already come across the single most frightening term used by a candidate. While there are lots of individual issues for us to be concerned with this coming election year, my new focus has been narrowed to two little words: “Shared Prosperity”. I first came across the term while watching clips of one of Hillary Clinton’s speeches, but since then I’ve heard the term come up from other candidates and various political analysts pressing their points on radio or TV.

A quick browse through most of the candidates’ websites will show you that no one is really committed to this as an official position. Rather, they’re all throwing the term out there to try to get an indication of its popularity before claiming ownership, like a five-year-old whispering, “Is it okay if I have a cookie?”, hoping anyone who might say “no” is nowhere within earshot.

What really scares me are not the words themselves--after all, how can anybody actually be against sharing prosperity?--It’s the method behind the moniker that makes all the difference. And unfortunately, the way it is being discussed, “Shared Prosperity” is just politi-speak for forced charity. And I’ve got a big problem with the concept of forced charity.

First of all, I’m all for neighbors helping neighbors, but I’m not sure that neighbors helping our government help neighbors is such a good idea. Along those same lines, I’m not that big of a fan of the United Way. Sure, they have those nice commercials and they bring in millions of dollars for charity, but I’m always skeptical of people or businesses that essentially do nothing more than act as a middle man. I make a point to donate to several area charities, but never did I think to myself, "Why don’t I just give my money to a third-party first, and hope that all of it gets to the people I originally had in mind?”.

Having previously worked in a non-profit agency, I was shocked at how much time and effort is spent trying to cajole funding out of our federal government. I don’t know if there was ever a definitive conclusion on whether Reagan’s “trickle-down economics” was successful or not, but I can tell you right now, “trickle-down charity” is a complete failure.

But above even the problems of losing money in transition, I have a hard time trying to figure out how in the world a federal agency is supposed to decide which local charity makes for the best place to allocate funds. Better yet, why would they even try? This is the same government that can’t run the veterans hospitals, is handcuffing our schools with testing rather than teaching, and has already pushed Social Security to the edge of collapse. And now some candidates want to dabble in Socialism by attempting to "re-distribute" the wealth of the nation? Be afraid, be very afraid.

On the surface, using taxes to help those in need seems like a noble cause. However, the very concept of prosperity isn’t something the government can even properly define, let alone control. Prosperity isn’t a minimum wage or a comprehensive health care plan; it’s an individual sense of security both spiritual and financial. Further, it requires a sense of drive, a dedication to set, work for, attain, and then re-evaluate an ever-changing list of personal goals.

And on a greater scale, prosperity isn’t just about getting as much as you can for yourself. True prosperity is a process: A great-grandparent working in the fields all day so that his sons and daughters wouldn’t have to, those sons and daughters finishing school and working hard to possibly send their kids to college, and those kids finishing college and creating a savings so that their own children might start life a little better than their ancestors.

Prosperity isn’t as much a place as it is a path. It’s achieved through a desire to better yourself, your family, and your community. And no matter what their motives, the United States government can’t give people that motivation--it has to come from within-- otherwise it’s just another handout. And handouts, for the most part, only motivate people to wait for more handouts.

To that end, sharing prosperity has nothing to do with money, and everything to do with helping individuals rise to the challenge. As the old saying goes, give a man a fish and he eats for a day, but teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime. To that end, “Shared Prosperity” can only really happen with one-on-one interaction; with one person showing another the way to get back into the game, and that person answering the challenge.

True “Shared Prosperity” is not about doling out checks, and it’s not about taxing the rich to feed the poor, it’s about offering a helping hand. It has nothing to do with money and everything to do with commitment, compassion, and especially character, qualities that, quite frankly, I don’t see our government being able to exhort.

In other news, here is the recently updated PSI for November 2007…

Read More on Perspective
Volume 3, Issue 24, Posted 2:19 PM, 11.16.2007