Thursday, December 4, 2014

Is Government the Answer to Military Suicide?

I'm a big believer in doing what can be done to stop suicide, especially among VMGR (Veterans, Military Guard and Reserves). So I feel torn by Iraq/Afghanistan Veterans of America's petition drive to get Congress to "do something" about it. Clearly, there are some actions Congress can take, but I can't believe that America's government is really willing to tackle military suicide at its root cause: war.

Please don't misunderestimate this. Countries of liberty like America need and deserve a strong defense. But the thread that connects that fact to the reality of what America and other liberty-loving nations fear, and how those fears somehow make intervention in so many parts of the world an American problem -- this is not at all clear.

How well would you do your job if you weren't passionate about it? Maybe I'm just unique -- I know many people who slog through a passionless workday because the paycheck somehow makes it worthwhile. From what I know of non-mercenary military paychecks, it's hard to see how money alone can be enough to keep America's service members coming back day after day.

Serving in uniform takes a special kind of commitment; Congress has done what it can to grapple with that fact, but government is just not a capable humanitarian organization. Ask any Veteran trying to get care at a VA Medical Center, or trying to claim rightful benefits for service-connected injuries. The government just doesn't serve its injured warriors well. If government even came close to being effective there wouldn't be a need for the thousands of non-governmental humanitarian organizations serving Veterans much better than government.

So, while I applaud IAVA's initiative, and while such things clearly "call attention" to the poignant problems, it's foolhardy to ask Congress to do any better at solving them. Much more effective would be petitioning Congress to help stop the rudderless worldwide military action that's caused so many military suicides and overloaded the Veterans Administration. Petitioning Congress and the President to let the military do what it does best by  setting a clear military objective and then getting out of its way seems like an effective and reasonable way to exert influence.

The Congresses and Presidents we've elected since Vietnam have proven they aren't capable of directing a war well. That's not their job, after all. If we really wanted to "do something for the Veterans" it would be most effective to elect politicians who stand down and trust career military leaders to prosecute military action.

Perhaps that would bring America closer to a time of peaceful defense, rather than random military involvement in global politics.

America earned some of its lessons of liberty with blood and inglorious sacrifice. Other nations America respects may deserve their own opportunity to learn those lessons, too, in whatever way they choose, rather than under American's "protection" and influence. This course of action won't leave warfighters watching their hard-fought objectives falling back into the "wrong" hands, wondering what their sacrifice was for, worried that it was all for naught. No one who's worn a military uniform ought to be forced by their government to confront those questions, but that's the government America has until and unless we vote to change it.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Response to the Religious "Unrest" in Old Jerusalem

Poets are sometimes called upon to write what arrives in thought. This is one of those poems.

The Wreck of Grace
sin (n): an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law
They tell me Jesus died for our sins
Yours and mine
These eviscerated bodies we’d rather not claim.
Jesus left room
For acts not so divine
Turning off the lights, for example,
Might transgress divine law
Since he called the light good
But there’s nothing immoral about darkness
Or what happens there…mostly.
Do I waste his time
Praying for light
When I might meet him
Here in the dark?
He made me perfect, not sick...
How can a perfect creator
Form people of faith
Call them to his will –
To murder non-believers
Sick in immorality?
Accept that?
How can I forsake all other ways except
This shipwreck of grace –
Perfect tomb of skeletons
Broken in some zealous abyss?
My faith wants food
Children, parents, friends
Light and dark
Sound and silence
Music, dancing and quiet rest.
A place
Saved for some ascetic hippie
To sit down in our circle
And speak to us
Of God.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Can Wealth Really Help?

This simple chart illustrates the impact of wealth creation through free enterprise. About 35% of the world's population lives in China and India, and both countries' economic reforms in the last twenty-five years have had a dramatic effect on wealth distribution. The common factor in economic reform that results in less poverty? Unleashing capitalism.

In contrast to the narrative of those hostile to capitalism, the World Bank reports (October 9, 2014) that: "The poorest parts of the world are precisely those that are cut off from the world of markets and commerce, often because of government policies."

A Wall Street Journal piece written by Douglas A Irwin (November 2, 2014) titled "The Ultimate Global Antipoverty Program," makes the observation that "world-wide income inequality -- measured across countries and individual people -- is falling, not rising" (emphasis added).

There is hope for wealth creation, and great potential for that increased wealth to benefit those who need it most, whether they are bootstrapping themselves out of "third world" status or creating, funding and running a humanitarian organization to do what government can barely manage to do.

Clearly, governments that seek self-preservation through increased control and expansion of services stand in the way of both freedom and capitalism -- shackling an entrepreneur in either the public or private sector ought to be a crime. Currently-trendy scare tactics of income inequality requiring some form of government intervention to level the paying field only work on the uninformed. Instead, we ought to be celebrating the effect that economic freedom has had worldwide and supporting those willing to create wealth, whether for commercial or humanitarian purposes.

For more about how capitalism could help the humanitarian sector, please visit the Charity Defense Council.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Music for Military Family Month

It’s distressing to watch news reports claiming this or that “new treatment for PTSD” can help Veterans. There’s nothing new about our human response to trauma: we are properly hardwired to react strongly to disturbing experiences and images. If there is any kind of disorder associated with post-traumatic stress, it is the disorder of attempting to suppress a normal human response to violence, trauma or mental/emotional abuse. Progressive health care professionals are quite right to refer to “post traumatic stress injury,” which is a more accurate and ethical term.

Instead of attempting to “treat” post-traumatic stress, wouldn’t a better approach be more holistic? Would it not be healthier for our human systems to work to integrate a traumatic experience into our human fabric in a healthful way – to allow the horror to become a part of our psyche in a healthful and useful way rather than burying the trauma as some unacceptable event? This stuff actually happened to us – it’s not some imaginary thing that can be blocked out mentally or emotionally! Shouldn’t that fact change how we deal with trauma?

Prolonged exposure to traumatic experiences can dull the system to exactly how terrible traumatic triggers are, but it does nothing to remove the triggers. We are hardwired to respond deeply to horrific events. Do you or anyone you know enjoy watching movies that scare the living daylights out of you? In small doses, terror can actually be fun…for some of us. But there’s a limit; after that, we tend to store up the accumulated psychic wreckage of repeated trauma until our responses to even very banal events trigger crazy behavior. This is how we work, folks, so we’d better learn to deal with it.

Fortunately our human systems include built-in capabilities that help us process or responses to extreme trauma. Yes: we can eliminate the harmful effects of horror and reshape our psyches in a less trigger-prone direction. Have you ever experienced, either by choice or involuntarily, a once-in-a-lifetime event that changed you forever? As you look back on that impossible-seeming event, do you feel now that you could relive it, probably with a lesser effect? That’s your hardwiring taking over – making you conscious of a dramatic change that’s happened to you. If you could tap into that hardwiring to help process trauma, would you?

This is not new: human beings have been using awareness of our internal systems for centuries, perhaps millennia. Martial arts, especially the romantic notions of some ideal ninja warrior, illustrate ways we can train ourselves to access the deep inner world of our hardwired responses to terror and anguish. Fortunately there are other more practical ways. Yoga, which prepares the body for meditation, is one way that the body and mind become quiet and ready for opening to the psychic integration of traumatic experience. But one doesn’t need training as a ninja warrior or yogi to access human hardwiring for dealing with traumatic stress. There’s an easier way.

Direct access to the subconscious world is available using music. Music that moves you beyond the obvious level of “like” or “dislike” – beyond “enjoy” or “hate” – has the ability to connect you to the part of your traumatic response where the work of integration begins. Terms for this process include “washing away the pain” or “letting go” or “feeling free of the terror,” but these are very limited ways of describing what really takes place. In the inner work of both intentionally triggering and holistically assimilating a traumatic event, music can provide a cleansing bath in which horror’s harmful effects are transformed in a neutral buoyancy of acceptance and relief. Both psychologists and spiritual teachers have terms for this process, and it is highly valued in both practices as a turning point towards wholeness.

I have had several such musical moments – psychic epiphanies if you like – in my life. Sometimes it feels like my flesh is crawling, or skin tingling. Sometimes I have been unable to stop weeping for many minutes or even hours. Sometimes I get the creepy coldness of sheer terror; sometimes it feels like I’ve let go of some impossibly heavy weight.

You can jack into this musical response in your system; it’s simple and effective. First, choose a piece of music you love – it doesn’t have to be music that triggers a trauma response, but it must be music that moves you deeply in some way. Next, give yourself uninterrupted time – your response may take a while or it may happen very quickly. Then, set your intention to stay with the music until you feel a change and LISTEN.

The last time I was seriously suicidal I decided to listen and let the music work on me. (I’ve been letting music work on me while I play the piano for many years, but this time I decided NOT to play.) That night I chose to listen to a piece of piano music by Rachmaninoff – Etude Tableaux Opus 39 number 2 in A minor, a song I learned to play as part of my music degree – which holds much meaning for me. Using over-the ear headphones, I took my feelings of suicide with me to a comfortable chair, put the track on repeat, told myself I was safe and that I wouldn’t allow anything to happen until I had changed, and I just forced myself to sit and listen. I don’t know how long I sat there.

After some time I know that my feelings of rage and hopelessness simply shifted, or melted, and I just began to weep. While I didn’t know what would happen next, I knew then that I wouldn’t kill myself. I wept for hours that night, and woke the next day with a renewed interest in life and possibility…exhausted, but changed.

I’m still exploring the trauma I’ve accumulated over 50+ years, and learning to understand the changes all of it has made in me. Therapy has been useful to supercharge that process, and I feel like I could take up the work or put it aside at any time, but there is a sort of beauty to learning about the traumatic scar tissue that’s built up in me over my lifetime. It’s not so much recalling the events – sometimes I don’t consciously know or clearly understand what they were. The process feels more like re-touching the place that was once hurt; reminding myself that this injury, too, is a part of who I am. As I continue this work, I feel as if I do know myself more fully, but the most important result has been the relief that comes from knowing that the hurt place I’ve just touched again is OK. That helps me to feel more OK. Many times I can find those hurt places quickly with music; many times they appear and integrate into whatever limited wholeness I have. Sometimes the understanding or change in the pain comes like a deeper meaning for the particular song that revealed it to me. It’s an ongoing journey, this learning about my many responses to trauma. Music has always been one of the tools I turn to and I’ve learned others, like yoga, drumming, meditation, tapping, even an amazing physical tool called Trauma Release Exercise. There’s a lot I can do to mind myself on my journey with pain and trauma, and I take every opportunity to do so.

Yes: music can also help integrate my response to other intense feelings. Like me, you’ve probably retained musical memories from significant events throughout your life. The good ones come back to visit as nostalgia. We can take our intention deeply into those pleasant memories using music and often gain satisfying additional depth from them. I like to share music with those I love. Have you ever thought about why you made a new mix tape or playlist for your significant other, or to accompany a road trip, or take you through a workout? Expand on that: share your music more widely with collective intention – with family, friends, your co-workers, your unit. There’s a powerful beauty to sound-tracking your significant moments that can also infuse your day-to-day productivity, mental/emotional health and even your physical stamina and mental prowess.

November 2014 is Military Family Month. It’s my wish that military families would share some music together this month, perhaps even make some music together or sing together. What could it hurt? And what it might help! Drum together, go to a sporting event and sing the national anthem together; whether you’re serving active duty or a Veteran, teach your family the words to the song for your branch and then sing it together. If you’re a little crazy like my family, put on some disco and dance together. The sky’s the limit and it’s time to soar.

As the Marines say, semper fi. This is stuff you can do NOW. It’s safe. It’s effective. It works to strengthen bonds between brothers, sisters, parents and families. Every one of us deserves that, and no one need wait to start having that NOW.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Beyond the "Sea of Goodwill" -- a call for private-sector leadership

In a white paper published October 2014 titled "After the Sea of Goodwill: A Collective Approach to Veteran Reintegration," the Department of Defense makes a plea for private sector versus government leadership. This is courageous.


By way of background, I'd like to quote directly from that white paper:

"In 2010, the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff published a white paper called 'Sea of Goodwill: Matching the Donor to the Need,' which called for community action teams to address the [Veteran] 'reintegration trinity' of education, employment and access to health care. These needs are most prevalent as Veterans and their families reintegrate into civilian communities."

In the four years since "Sea of Goodwill" was published, doing Veteran reintegration well continues to be the hottest topic at Veteran Services organizations, public and private agencies engaged in the sector and at philanthropic funders. Everyone wants the same thing; doing it more effectively remains in many ways elusive.

There have been valiantly organized attempts to raise the bar. Here in San Diego, the San Diego Veterans Coalition (SDVC) has done a good job of sifting through the hundreds of humanitarian and for-profit organizations serving Veterans, and connected many of the effective ones with government agencies, beginning to realize a cooperative economy of scale. Expert navigation portals such as 2-1-1 San Diego, have provided a tech-savvy backbone for connecting Veterans and families with available services. The SDVC model is now being replicated in other states. The San Diego Military/Family Collaborative has achieved similar results working with active-duty Service members and families.

Largely at the direction of funders such as San Diego Grantmakers, the San Diego Veterans Coalition and Military/Family Collaborative have combined efforts to create a road map for Veteran reintegration now known as Military Transition Support Project or MTSP. This formal collective impact project is well-funded and expertly staffed and includes organizations ranging from those mentioned to the US Navy and elected officials, the latter jumping on board to help take credit for work largely done prior to their participation.

Respected scholarly institutions, among them University of Southern California's School of Social Work and Syracuse University's Institute for Veterans and Military Families and Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism, have examined Veterans' reintegration needs. There have been formal and informal calls for, as Syracuse University's paper calls it, "A National Veterans Strategy." The white papers and reports, developed along the same lines and during the concurrent timeframe that the San Diego Veterans Coalition and Military/Family Collaborative were taking shape, generally describe and underscore what has been learned in the collaborative field about the work remaining to be done, how to do it well, and how business models must change to achieve that.

Today's Veterans services

There continue to be many hundreds -- some put the number at more than 4,000 -- tax-advantaged humanitarian non-governmental organizations with an interest in service to Veterans. Most operate on shoestring budgets with minimal staff. Unknown to some, much duplication of program efforts exists. Common to all is duplication of administrative and financial effort. Also common to all is increased competition for funding.

It seems clear that, if government were doing the best possible job to deliver Veterans services, none of these NGOs -- or perhaps vastly fewer of them -- would be needed. Case in point: the Veterans Administration Healthcare System recently admitted that traveling more than 40 miles to reach a VA Medical Center could be burdensome to some Veterans, so it collaborated with private health insurers to extend non-VA Medical Center care to Veterans so as to adequately meet this need.

In the big picture painted by "After the Sea of Goodwill," it seems that the Joint Chiefs have also begun to realize the limitations of government. While they agree that, to have collective impact, many of the issues explored by the reports, white papers and successful collaboratives will need to be played out nationally, the following rather surprising admission lies at the core of what will make Veteran reintegration successful:

"The creation of a comprehensive, government-led Veterans strategy may be a bridge too far. Critics might suggest that the government is not the solution or that it cannot move quickly enough, but those are no (sic) reasons to disregard the need to seek an alternative solution. We believe that long-term, sustainable success in a national Veterans strategy is more likely if the effort is embraced and led by the private sector, which can often more faster to address exigent need....

"Free of both the political and bureaucratic constraints inherent in Federal government, private sector stakeholders have a unique opportunity to lead the country toward a structure that offers functional cooperation, cross-sector collaboration and an integrated network."

(emphasis added)

This begs the question of whether the private sector can respond any better than the government, since there are still significant barriers to success in both cases, but I agree with the Joint Chiefs' assessment of leadership for this effort: it needs to -- some might say must -- come from the private sector.


The Federal government is intended to be deliberative, slow to reach a decision and prudent in execution of the decisions reached. There is a reason for the government's proliferation of funding for studies: a study doesn't compel the government to do anything, while the politicians and bureaucrats commissioning these studies can claim "support" for issues of importance to their constituencies. As good as the ideas or data may be, government is ill-equipped to act expediently outside of its deliberative, political process, and a government agency is not, by and large, supposed to be the epitome of efficiency and customer service. If there is any doubt about the prior statement, look only as far as the latest "crisis" being addressed by the government: has government actually been able to make positive sustainable change on any perceived "crisis" in recent memory? Take, for example, the recent change in leadership at the Veterans Administration; what expectation of improvement makes this change any different from the last?

Private entities have a much different motivation to provide effective, well-managed services that delight their customers. Whether working for profit or for tax-advantaged charitable purposes, private organizations have the ability to be measured by their success in a way that governmental organizations do not: competition. As a customer, if I get less than satisfactory service from Organization A, I'm free to investigate what Organization B can offer me. I don't have that choice at the Department of Motor Vehicles, or the Child Support Services Agency; Veterans don't have that choice at their VA Benefits office nor do they have that choice at the VA Medical Center (although Veteran health care may be opening up just a bit as noted above).

The Need for Leadership

Depending on one's political affiliation, most of this blog may seem either obvious or ridiculous, but that's not the point. The point is that, when the Department of Defense recognizes that doing the right thing for Veterans is important, it cannot be ignored. This goes beyond DoD telling the VA to get its act together; DoD recognizes the security risks inherent in doing the Veterans services job poorly. That is, taking good care of our Veterans encourages potential military recruits who might otherwise choose to walk away from putting their lives on the line due to poor health care options after active duty. Taking good care of Veterans puts active duty service in the forefront of career choices because an informed civilian sector understands the skills and abilities -- including leadership -- that a Veteran brings to civilian service. Taking good care of Veterans strengthens the social fabric of the nation. All of these things enhance the cohesive structure of America's great experiment in representative democracy. DoD's charter to maintain a strong national defense lies at the heart of its call for effective private-sector leadership in Veterans reintegration services.

The most effective NGOs in the Veterans services sector already have wide footprints. They have reached this level of ability and influence for one reason: they outperformed their competitors. That's how the private sector works: you've got to be good to survive. Veterans know which NGOs are effective and why, and when a Veteran trusts the services of an NGO, that's the best possible recommendation any organization can get. The challenge now is for the leaders of those effective, sustainable NGOs to come forward and do something many of them are neither designed nor inclined to do: collaborate.

Respected former VAMC Director and co-founder of the San Diego Veterans Coalition, Gary Rossio, likes to quote Harry Truman's adage that "it's amazing what can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit." That's true in a sense, but in a bona fide collective impact model, such as the MTSP, everyone cares about doing the job well and everyone will share the credit...if the job is well done. Something else Gary likes to say is even more to the point regarding competition in the Veterans services sector: "No one has ever lost business by collaborating." Gary ought to know: he is the principal consultant on the Michigan Veterans Coalition and was part of the team that set up SDVC as well as the Veterans Coalition in San Antonio, Texas.

The difference between networking and collaboration ought to be obvious: knowing your competition, even on a first-name basis, is much different than working side by side with it. Collaboration demands that we work alongside similar or even directly-competitive organizations to achieve more than either one us could do alone. Collective impact goes even further: we actually agree to share customers and resources in pursuit of the big goal -- and expect credit and additional business to accrue to all organizations participating!

Military Veterans understand collective impact. It's inherent in military training. Unit commanders are trained to maximize effectiveness of their team AND to closely integrate their team to the entire campaign with assiduous attention to cooperation and coherent action. Leaders in the private sector of collective impact projects could benefit from this understanding: there's no place in collective impact to undercut teams with whom you are cooperating, even if they come from organizations you would call "the competition" on any other day.

It's hard to find leaders who think about the entire sector of whatever their enterprise may be with a mind to cooperate with their competition and maximize everyone's results. But that's what's needed. "After the Sea of Goodwill" presents both the framework and the need for exemplary leaders. These leaders will be incredible people. They will think about the success of every organization as it means working together to provide the best possible solutions to Veterans reintegration. They will reach out to include organizations who may be less effective as well as organizations with exemplary effectiveness. They will be able to mitigate the issues between organizations, government agencies, politicians and perhaps even the for-profit sector so that the combined mission stays in the forefront of every decision.

It seems self-evident that the private-sector leaders the Joint Chiefs are calling upon to truly and finally change Veterans reintegration for good will themselves be outstanding Veterans.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Here's Looking for You

I hate the cruel ease of our airport

romance-free zone ripping us apart

curbside kiss fractured by a barking cop

you spin away, sexy in running shorts

angry for your own reasons,

the goodbye I want crushed deep into my gut unpunctured

as you wrestle into sloppy traffic,

miss me standing around unfriendly baggage

two fingers on my lips, maudlin, not wanting to turn

toward the sterile confined journey away from you

not wanting to remember how it all ends:

only after we admit how much we missed

only after you collect me at this same curb

only after you come toward me through the mist of distance as you do

eyes gently softened

only after that, when I have been back for hours or days

is it safe to be home with you


Saturday, September 27, 2014

First ObamaCare Disorder Identified

Today, the American Psychiatric Association recognized a new mental disorder which afflicts subscribers of subsidized health insurance policies as mandated by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka “ObamaCare.” The disorder, commonly known as PPACAD (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Disorder) or simply “OD” (ObamaCare Disorder), is a precursor to and some cases a trigger of other more severe disorders, including depressive and anxiety disorders, trauma and stress-related disorders, and some conduct and substance-related and addictive disorders.

“The existence of a classifiable mental disorder directly related to obtaining care for, among other issues, mental disorders, is a new development in the annals of care,” said Dr Jameson Timothea Hiott, spokesperson for the Association. “The surge in our case work nationwide coincides with the launch of ObamaCare, and anecdotal evidence is so strong that we have moved quickly both to formally identify PPACAD [PEE-pa-cad] as a treatable disorder and launch a nationwide preliminary study of its grip on participants in the new health insurance coverage offered under ObamaCare.”

Some estimates put the spread of PPACAD at 70-80% of all ObamaCare insureds, although many Medicare and Medicaid recipients may have correlative symptoms. “It’s simply too soon to know how widespread this disorder may have become,” said Dr Hiott.

The pharmaceutical industry, represented by a coalition of public relations Vice Presidents from many of the biggest drug makers, including Pfizer, Novartis, Sanofi, Roche, Merck and GlaxoSmithKline, released a statement indicating that many of their best-selling products are already in clinical trials for intervention with symptoms of PPACAD, which range from acute anxiety to severe depression, schizophrenic episodes, and elevated desire to overeat, drink heavily and, in some cases, suicidal ideation and loss of libido. “We’re confident that we can address these new symptomologies with our existing products,” the statement read in part, “and that the psychiatric industry will move quickly to prescribe responsible use of proper pharmacological treatment for the many people afflicted with this new disorder.”

In a related story, the Veterans Administration Healthcare System and Department of Defense have launched an emergency study of a PPACAD-related symptomology that may be related to high coincidence of suicide and elevated susceptibility to post-traumatic stress disorder among Veterans and service members.

At press time, officials of the Health and Human Services agency and the White House were too high to be available for comment.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Taking the Flak

It's been a rough couple of weeks. The Great SoCA Heatwave of 2014 (we have no air conditioning at the house) was followed by the Great MicroCell Thunderstorm of 2014 (which blew off one of our skylights and rained torrentially both inside the house and out). Picture Yours Truly after two very hot, humid sleepless nights on the roof with screw gun and a migraine and you'll have an idea of what it was like....

So how do I take the flak? Not too well. When I get really stressed, not much helps. The night before the cloudburst found me pacing the back yard to get air moving to try to cool down, which hurt my head less than sitting still, while wondering if my other symptoms were heat-related or hormonal or something else. There's a craziness that grips me when everything seems to be closing in mentally and emotionally, and with the addition of the heat and headache things got very intense. And immobilizing.

Oh, and I ought to mention I've also been doing some very intense (and very helpful) trauma release therapy for the last year or so, and the rawness of that work hasn't really made me the most charming person to be around of late.

I know my little problems pale in the face of some folks' stuff. There's no attempt here to compare or contrast; when YOU are the one hurting, what matters is that YOU hurt. I can't imagine what it feels like to recover from military combat stress for example, nor can I guess why my best buddy took his own life when everything seemed so good "on the outside" -- is there ever a good reason for suicide? So please understand: all I can do is write from my own experience and hope it may help you in yours.

So how did I get through? Music? Drugs? Breathing? 911? I thought about each one and discounted each in turn. It was too late at night to play the piano, even though that sometimes helps the headache, and too hot anyway. The normal headache remedies won't stop a migraine, especially a two-day-old one, and I don't have a prescription for migraine meds. Pot's not a good idea in that situation either. One of the other symptoms of that heat wave (for me) was constricted breathing; attempting to deep breathe through my mouth wasn't having the effect I wanted and I was so short of breath anyhow that yogic breathing was also useless. Calling 911 was a pipe dream: power was out in our neighborhood and there were so many sirens all around that it probably would have been hours before anyone responded to a heavy breather with a migraine and symptoms of heat exhaustion.

I don't know how I got through. I've tried to piece those two days together a couple of times, and the things I recall are separated by grey chunks of time I can't remember. That night I think I eventually crawled onto the bed and just stayed still until morning...and it was cooler that following morning.

That's when the real work started. The headache was minimal. I could think clearly again. I realized I'd probably been scary to my family for a couple of days. I began to look forward to my next therapy session. I arranged my plans to allow for a lighter schedule so I could do  some internal repair work, both around the house and inside my psyche. I started to feel human again.

In my experience, this process seems to be fairly common. We don't always know what the key to resilience was, even after coming through a rough spot, but standing on the new hill and looking back we begin to reassemble how we got there. Sometimes we learn something new about the journey; sometimes not. I think this process is just part of being human -- a clue about ourselves that helps us face the next heavy going with a bit more confidence than we had before. I know: it's not an elegant, evidence-based intervention that can be packaged for use worldwide, the way health care professionals like to have it. But it's happened to me a lot and, I suspect, to many more besides me who kept going over impossibly stubborn obstacles. That spidery connection to those of you who have been there and done this encourages me, looking back at things now.

If there was a way to reach out and offer thanks to the nameless, faceless ones who persevered in their adversity and somehow connected to me in mine, I'd take it. I'd like to shake their hands; perhaps pray together; offer some sort of thanks for the unsung inspiration their survival offered me.

We've had some plumbing issues around the place, and one of the technicians whose been out to clear the blockages more than once actually spent some time talking with me late into one evening. On that night, weeks before the heat wave and a couple hours into the job, things got cleaned up enough to relax and just sit back for a few minutes. Turns out, Sam the plumber (not his real name) has kids like me, has faced a certain amount of adversity in life like me, worries about the same sorts of human, like me. After trading a few stories, Sam, who's much more than a plumber, offered to pray with me. It's been forever since that happened in any sort of spontaneous way in my life, and I was surprised but accepted gratefully. Sam's prayer was precisely what we both needed, and we both knew it.

I think back about that now, grateful that The Universe (or whatever you name it) sends me encouragement, provided I'm humble enough to accept it, that can sustain me in ways I might not realize I need. Writing this, I'm surprised I didn't remember Sam sooner. I can't tell you that, during the heat and the storm and the stuff I fought during those most recent hellish days, it was Sam's prayer that sustained me. In a way it doesn't matter as much as knowing that someone -- a stranger in many ways -- offered a caring gesture to me just because we humans need it. Perhaps because we deserve it.

That kind of currency never devalues. In my book, it's the kind of wealth I crave. Money doesn't have the sustaining effect of the human threads that connect me -- my family, my friends, guys like Sam, the homeless folk that attend my music classes, the Veterans living in both pain and honor, the caregivers who work hard with dignity to keep the hurt at bay -- to you, when you're wounded. Those connections are the ones that let us take the flak, endure the wounding, meet the next day, keep showing up. Persistent, reliable, committed, perhaps dogged, knowing that there will be rest eventually. Whatever the exchange, it's not bought with money. It's an investment of character, or honor, or love, or of all three, and its only dividends are paid forward.

That's something worth living for.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Winning the War for Wealth

(From time to time, I'm motivated to write more broadly on issues that matter to me. This is one such blog entry. As a board member of the tax-advantaged humanitarian organization, Guitars for Vets, I have a personal interest in how increasing the world's wealth could benefit such humanitarian organizations, and while I may not be right all the time, I hope my perspective helps make you think more carefully about creating and using wealth wisely.)

"The leaders of thought and of action grope their way forward to a new life, realizing, sometimes dimly, sometimes clear-sightedly, that the life of material gain, whether for a nation or an individual, is of value only as a foundation, only as there is added to it uplift that comes from devotion to loftier ideals." 

Teddy Roosevelt, 'The Man in the Arena,' a speech delivered at the Sorbonne, Paris, France, April 23 1910

The centennial of the start of World War I and President Teddy Roosevelt's speech at the Sorbonne triggered me to think deeply about the popular -- almost fashionable -- criticism of wealth. While it's heartening that some fabulously wealthy individuals such as Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet have risen to the nobility of their fortune and give generously to resolution of the great ills in the world, it troubles me that the culture of today has blurred the line between wealth and greed, and that influential individuals and organizations spend much of their effort demonizing the creation of the wealth necessary to solve the issues that face us in the early 21st Century. Even more tragic is the fact that so many of today's political and popular leaders, sometimes possessed of great financial resources themselves, encourage the sort of social dependency that, while keeping them in power, creates a society incapable of rising to the demands of productivity, let alone wealth.

Here's a simple question: are you wealthy?

Being wealthy means lots of things, but for today, let's say that being wealthy means you don't have to work for a living. That is, you receive an income that will continue without your having to put any effort into producing it, which frees you to pursue your chosen work without the demands of earning a living.

So, are you wealthy?

By that definition, not many of us would say "yes." This definition excludes folks on government assistance, if only because there is effort involved in staying qualified for such assistance AND if your total income reaches a certain level the assistance ends. honest: are you wealthy?

I'm not. So here's a follow-up question: would you like to be wealthy? I would.

Unfortunately, the somewhat Puritanical baggage of frugality we Westerners carry, added to the Industrial Age mentality of "working for a living," has put America, one of the world's richest nations, in an economic snarl. That is, we are taught that work is good, and while we gripe about working for "the man" and sometimes resent entrepreneurs for the amazing riches they produce, not many of us know how to create -- or keep -- real wealth.

A couple of my family members have just begun the "financial planning" process. You can save and invest 10% of everything your earn for a lifetime and become somewhat financially independent; this is the straightforward ethos most financial planners teach and it can work quite well, but it's not wealth by our definition here since, for much of the time, you're still working for a living.

Most of us who work for a living know about Tax Freedom Day and how much of what we earn (about 30%) never reaches our own pockets. It seems that America is a place where government regulations dis-incentivize wealth; why would the government want us to become wealthy, especially by the definition we're using here? That is, a taxpayer who doesn't have to produce income doesn't pay taxes, which is "bad" for the government, right? But let me ask: If I gave you a 30% raise right now on the condition you would spend all of it on humanitarian causes, would you give that money to the government to spend as it sees fit (yes: government is a humanitarian cause), or to a humanitarian organization closer to home? Maybe a church or a favorite charity or a school? I'm guessing, if you had the freedom to do so, you would use your money more wisely than the government would.

Now think about this...

If the government really wanted our help, it would help us all become wealthy, right? As all of our incomes rise toward true wealth, tax revenue to the government would also rise...why doesn't the government get that? I'd rather earn $1,000,000 per year than $100,000, wouldn't you? So what if the government gets $300,000 or even $400,000 of my million; they only got $30,000 of my $100,000! If I get wealthy, the government also increases its revenue by ten times (or more), just as I have. Why wouldn't government want THAT?

Why wouldn't YOU want that? DO want that? Me too.

But there you and I are, working for a living instead of building true wealth.

What's holding us back?

Actually, nothing.

There are a lot of excuses for not producing true wealth. Politicians have their list; your employer has a list; even you and I have our lists of reasons why we aren't producing true wealth. None of them are valid. Really.

Other than the excuses we invent or the excuses others give us, there's no reason at all why the next wealth-producing success story shouldn't be YOURS. You and I and many others have spent a lot of time doing what we "should" to earn a living. In fact, we've been at it for so long that we sometimes forget that wealth is available to anyone who wants it. Wanting wealth and actually achieving it are two different things, and it's a sad fact of the human condition that we have not yet evolved to be able to build wealth consistently. Wouldn't wealth building be a worthwhile humanitarian effort? And doesn't a successful humanitarian effort require resources...wealth?

It's fashionable these days to demonize corporations, especially when they appear to be wealthy and appear uninterested in humanitarian effort. Corporations that serve humanity's need for heat and light through exploitation of natural resources, or serve the world's need for weaponry, or that help enable financial leverage or bring economical consumer goods to many people tend to bear the heaviest of attacks for their perceived greed and indifference to humanitarian causes. But those who do the demonizing tell a one-sided story that serves only their purpose by failing to inform us of the useful structure a corporation provides for a business -- a structure that can outlive those who participate in it today in service of its longer-term business goals, that can assume both responsibility and liability for its larger needs, that can be a social force in a community through offering jobs and humanitarian programs that help raise the general standard of living around it, long after those running the business today have retired.

The biggest terrorist in the war on wealth is fear of greed. We are beaten over the head with fear of greed regularly, especially in the political battleground of ideas. Most wealthy individuals and wealthy corporation are NOT greedy. In fact, history shows quite the opposite: most wealthy individuals and corporations are quite philanthropic. There are even anti-greed laws that force the fortunes of the wealthy to be redistributed to humanitarian causes a little bit at a time after the wealthy individuals die. Smart corporations manage their wealth wisely, just as smart individuals do, and the best of both make certain that their wealth is used in service of some greater humanitarian good.

It's not greedy to want to be wealthy. Why? Because wealth is NOT a "zero-sum game." If wealth was truly finite, how can we explain the Internet boom of the 1990s or the oil boom of early 20th Century or the vast growth of wealthy individuals and businesses that has taken place since the start of the Industrial Age? Every one of the wealth-creating economic expansions in the world has helped raise the standards of living of everyone around it! That fact negates the zero-sum thinking about wealth. True wealth is created, not by printing more money, but by creating something so desired by so many of the rest of us that we will figure out how to exchange some of our resources for it. Most of the time, that exchange is made using money; sometimes the exchange is for goods or services of the same value; more recently there have started to be virtual forms of exchange such as Bit Coin. The method of exchange doesn't matter so much as our ability to offer something of value in that exchange. It's a misunderstanding of wealth to think that it is limited by how much money exists in the world, and that for me to be wealthier demands that someone else become poorer.

Here's an example to help clarify how this works.

You know that all the smart electronic gadgets we use have miniature computers inside them. These computers physically reside on small bits of stuff which are called "chips" in the industry. You may have heard of companies like Intel, Broadcom and Qualcomm -- these companies deign and build the chips (and the computers on them) that make all our smart phones, tablets and computers work. These chips are in toasters and automobiles and airplanes, too. We all seem to want stuff that needs computer chips these days, so the companies that make them have grown bigger to provide all of us with the smart gadgets and ultra-efficient devices we think we need. As more an more of us demand them, computer chips have become more and more valuable.

The computer-chip companies employ a lot of us who don't mind working for a living -- exchanging our time for the resources we need to exchange for food, a place to live, transportation, etc -- to make the smart products that so many of us want. And do we want them? We sure do. A family that chooses to equip its elementary-school-age kids with smart phones and tablet computers and still manages to have the resources for food and shelter is Exhibit A of the wealth creation cycle. Consumer materialism fuels corporate wealth. It also helps corporations keep prices competitive, be more honest about their profits, treat their workers fairly and be good community citizens. Take a good look at the economic growth in the emerging industrial nations of the world over the last couple of decades: in them, poverty is on the decline, individual (versus collective) determinism is on the rise. Why? For one reason, because smart corporations realized that building factories to make computer chips in developing nations was a smart idea. Our developing nations' brothers and sisters have benefited from materialism, and have now begun to build wealth of their own on their own. There is a definite economic pattern of growth to this process, and that pattern has repeated itself over and over throughout the development of the modern world.

With me so far?

Businesses -- corporations --  like people, have to provision themselves with supplies, build factories to make their products, provide resources to the workers who make the stuff, pay taxes -- somewhat like you and I do. They must also make sure the world knows about their products, fix things that go wrong with their products, keep their buildings and equipment in good repair -- again, something like you and I must do. In this sense, corporations are a lot like people, and face similar choices about things like wealth and where to shop for the most economical supplies to do what they do. Corporations also face the same wealth terrorists, such as fear of greed. In short, a corporation, like a person or a family, must concern itself with whether to "work for a living" or "be wealthy." Corporations that decide to just "work for a living" don't concern themselves so much with continuing to deliver something of value over the long term; corporations that truly care about making sure they deliver the best possible value over the long term in their computer chips -- or whatever their products may be -- tend to thrive, since they attract more and more happy customers willing to exchange their resources for stuff that uses computer chips etc etc etc.

Hang in there -- it's about to get really good...but we must deal with greed before going on.

One person can get very lucky and have a great, valuable idea that produces a lot of wealth in a hurry without much apparent effort. The Internet taught us about that. Another person can have a great, valuable idea that takes many years' hard work before it ever produces an income, let alone true wealth. Whether you choose to go it alone or build a long-term business, the path to wealth is still open to you. The only difference is whether you fly solo or create a structure that includes many others with you on the road to wealth.

If you choose to build a business, you may find yourself taking a much longer view of its sustainability. Sometimes this long view can be misperceived as being greedy. We all know it takes a lot of "money in the bank" to sustain just one person after retirement; a company hopes it will never "retire" so it must plan (and save some of its earnings) for its future if it hopes to survive over time. (Caveat here for the sort of business fads that often surround new industries such as some of the losers in the Internet boom of the 1990s -- we're not talking about billionaires with no real product whose start-up website was launched explicitly to be purchased by Google or Amazon, or that raised millions only to close up shop within a few months or years.) Whether it's a person or a corporation working on wealth the objective is still the same: being wealthy means you -- or your corporation -- no longer have to work to earn a living.

Most wealthy corporations, of course, continue to operate rather than closing up shop, although I'm quite certain there have been times when Amazon or Google or Intel or Qualcomm could have decided: "We've done about enough. Let's just shut the doors and live on the wealth we've created." Of course, they didn't do that (or haven't yet) because there's a fundamental secret about creating wealth that's not always obvious: creating wealth is fun, and people like having fun!

No one starts a business because they hate doing the work. People who create wealth enjoy doing it, whether they are investors, businesspeople, entrepreneurs, artists, musicians, writers...any activity that leaves a signature of wealth will have folks engaged in the work who are truly having fun.

It's challenging to do the work of producing wealth, yes. It can be excruciating. But those who keep at it do so because they really enjoy it -- because it is fun to create, make or produce stuff that other people delight in acquiring and using. The danger is that when fun become fanaticism, good wealth can become greed. It's easier to be selfish and greedy than to use one's moral fiber to live Teddy Roosevelt's exhortation and use wealth only as a foundation on which to build for the greater good.

Building a corporation through growth benefits everyone engaged in the business of the company: it's employers, suppliers, customers -- everyone. Meeting new demands in the computer chip industry has been a meteoric process, and you can bet the creatives engaged in it are having the time of their lives. The challenge in growing a company is to keep everyone in the business just as fired-up about what they do as the first few folks were when the business was launched. It's a tough challenge.

It's true that most of us work for a living because we must, and that the intrinsic rewards in work that is fun or challenging aren't always "realistic" when we choose the occupation that will support us and our families. We're taught to make sacrifices, to be frugal, to hang in there and things will gradually get better if we are patient and keep sucking up to the man. Doesn't have to be that way, but that's the best we've collectively got right now. If we admit this low standard of career, it's no surprise that we've also given ample space for fear of greed to work alongside us in our less-than-wonderful job. "Saving for retirement" becomes the goal rather than wealth and a lifetime of productive and useful work. We begin to think of ourselves as a small cog in some giant machine that rules our destiny, rather than as a small but vital force for good. We become slaves to some other destiny, rather than the one that burns inside us, even if feebly, and, like a slave, we begin to feel consumed by the master that owns us and begin to forget our freedom to chose the work we love and want.

This choice of slavery to a job works against us, opening space for criticism of "the man" and the work itself, lowering our naturally productive spirit, shutting out the potential for wealth. In this state, it's easier to believe the lies told about wealth, easier to fear the wealth traitor, greed, easier to take a handout than to offer one, easier to give up a little more freedom every day than to work harder for a way to true self-sustainability. Sadly, slavery to one's job has become the definition of self-reliance in many ways. How far such a person has fallen from the ideas Teddy Roosevelt spoke about in his brave speech to the Sorbonne!

America, Roosevelt said, was built by intrepid and hardy folks who weren't afraid of the effort required to tame a wild and unknown continent. America was brave enough to establish for itself an experimental form of government, and clear-sighted enough to understand the pitfalls of such an experiment. America grew to become a world power by being brave and clear-sighted on the world stage, and led many other nations to righteous victories in the first half of the 20th Century. Leaders in business, government and humanitarian causes did these things because they wanted to -- because they were glad to accept the challenges and took righteous pleasure in the solutions. America beckoned the world to its doorstep, and those of a similar mind came to America and thrived. In many ways, Roosevelt laid out the welcome mat for the immigrants that helped sustain America's Industrial Age midlife. The midlife crisis of the last half of America's 20th Century has not yet resulted in a new American zeal.

America, and much of the developed world, now finds itself in something of a morass of morality regarding humanity's wealth. The best example of this may be the Puritanical expectation that a humanitarian cause ought to be run on a shoestring because this means most of the resources are spent on the actual cause itself.  Unlike the presumed "greedy" corporation, it's said that humanitarian leaders ought to expect to work for next to nothing because it's a measure of the humanitarian organization's success and sincerity that meager salaries somehow indicate that much more good is being done. When a struggling for-profit corporation's chief executive offers to work for a dollar a year to turn things around, and money isn't the object because such an executive is usually already wealthy, don't we all admire his or her sincerity? In truth, it's not immoral to be wealthy, and whether you lead a humanitarian or for-profit organization, it's no more noble to work for a dollar or hundreds of thousands of them, provided what you do is much needed by humanity. Strangely, our popular morality about wealth is that it's OK to earn millions of dollars as CEO serving the materialistic needs of the consumers of computer chips, but it's greedy and wrong to earn millions of dollars as CEO of a humanitarian organization that educates the world about how to relieve symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Isn't that just exactly backwards? When this moral question about wealth is resolved, perhaps America's midlife crisis will be, too.

This is where a discussion of sustainability become meaningful. America's ability to declare war on unrighteousness was successful in a couple of instances: World Wars I and II. It can be argued that the Cold War was also righteous and its end was a victory of sorts. But America has lost every domestic humanitarian war it has declared -- as well as most of the foreign ones since World War II -- because of its clear lack of moral authority to wage them. Prohibition is a good example, so is the War on Drugs. Both of these "wars" increased crime and violence as illicit industries to supply the contraband substances grew and prospered. The end of Prohibition wasn't the end of gang violence in America, and the end of the War on Drugs won't be either. The point is that Americans have collectively ceded their power of finding and implementing solutions to a government that wasn't designed to do that. America's government was designed to facilitate, not sustain. American ingenuity has always been the sustainer of America, and when Americans take back their problems from their government, I believe America will find its way through its midlife crisis. I look for a time when humanitarian organizations offer more cost-effective programs than those offered by the government -- programs that don't require the government's involvement to implement nor operate.

We're coming close to the end of this discussion. Hang in there.

Along the way to reliance on government for solutions, Americans have agreed to confiscatory rates of taxation to support the government's programs. What began as a wartime zeal for righteous action has morphed into a mistaken assumption that government can that it could "run like a business." Being a government, however, and having no marketable product or service to offer, the government's only source of revenue (taxes) was not tied in any meaningful way to the wants of the people it served, which means government is fundamentally unable to operate with anything close to businesslike efficiency. There's no denying that many Americans feel strongly about the success of government programs and would gladly contribute 30% or more of their earnings to sustain them, but the tit for tat of just giving money to the government and hoping that it is used well isn't as directly understandable for most of us as giving money to a supermarket to buy food. Americans have come to believe that their government is not greedy, not wealthy, and able to make better use of the tax revenue taken from Americans than Americans can themselves. There is, thankfully, a finite amount of tax revenue that can be claimed by the government, but some Americans have come to believe mistakenly that this means there is only a finite amount of money, and that their share of that money it is shrinking. This thought fallacy ignores the economic fact of our example: the worldwide phenomenal demand for computer chips is causing people worldwide to figure out how to exchange more of their resources for stuff that uses computer chips. A government can strike no such bargain with its citizens.

A sustainable business must continue to offer products or services its patrons want, patrons who are willing to exchange something of value for them. Most American government programs that offer products or services do so with no expectation of exchange. Money and resources are given to other nations without expectation of receiving services of products of similar value in exchange; funds are provided to Americans who need money to buy food with no expectation of exchange; health care is given at low or no cost to those from which there can be no realistic expectation of exchange. Americans collectively believe this is noble, and that by providing "assistance" as the government deems fit, those who receive the assistance will somehow hasten their ability to make some meaningful contribution to America. This is a Ponzi scheme of the first order. Does anyone believe that the contributions they make to "Social Security" will be enough to sustain them after they have stopped working for a living? The Social Security program was never designed to be that way. Just as Prohibition and the War on Drugs have been expensive and miserable failures of government's attempt at righteous action, so will the War on Poverty (or, we might say, the War on Wealth) also be a miserable failure. A sustainable business does not cede its decision making to the government -- we know from the social experiments of the early 20th Century how disastrous that can be -- and a government that expects people will continue to give an ever-growing part of their earnings to government programs over which they have no control and from which their receive little benefit is a government destined for the ash heap of history. This is the state of America's midlife crisis today.

Americans' innate ability to conquer the unknown territory is still serving America. America is incubating an incredible number of humanitarian organizations and for-profit humanitarian businesses. Why? Because people have begun to learn that they can build a business to deliver humanitarian services more efficiently than America's government can. The Red Cross is an historic shining example of this fact, and many other humanitarian organizations are doing at the grass roots level what the Red Cross has done on the world stage: convincing those with wealth that the government isn't the only avenue to solving the world's problems. Was it the American government's Center for Disease Control who came up with an effective Ebola vaccine? No: it was the American government's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that stood in the way of human testing for that vaccine. Granted, much of the government research spawned during wartime has resulted in consumer products of great value, but those products are manufactured and sold by private business, not the government which, until the last few years, has wisely decided to stay out of the way of commerce and free trade. Many of those wartime products and services have been adapted to humanitarian causes. Radar, for example, allows thousands of airplanes to traverse the skies every day without colliding, even though the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) operates this program on outdated computer equipment. A business or humanitarian organization offering the same service could perhaps be run more efficiently and on more modern equipment, and could potentially work directly with airlines to increase cooperation and improve safety at a lower cost than the government program. Just because something was invented in service of the government does not mean the government is best able to operate or regulate that service for its citizens.

Certainly those governing America must be worried about the potential for American businesses to do better with humanitarian programs than the government, since success of a private humanitarian organization in a government-dominated sector means incremental loss of government control. Power corrupts, often in ways that appear benign, and releasing government control of a poorly-functioning program is a difficult process. Government officials, both those elected and those in the career bureaucracy, have done an excellent job of growing their power and influence on many humanitarian sectors over the last hundred years or so. They have done this at the expense of those of us who pay taxes -- who work for a living -- without any realistic pressure being exerted to keep their programs running within, say, the restrictions that public opinion places on "non-profit" organizations serving in the same ways. Consider the humanitarian field of education, where the "for-profit university" has become a whipping post for government's failure to provide effective education for the masses. It doesn't seem to matter than some for-profit universities actually achieve results far superior to the government-run universities; all that's needed is one "bad" for-profit school and public opinion can be turned against time-tested positive results in favor of a government status quo that isn't sustainable.

What does it mean to be truly sustainable?

A program is sustainable when it funds itself. For example, a farmer raising crops for sale has a sustainable program. Yes, the farmer is at risk for bad weather that could result in a poor harvest, but the same farmer could also have a bumper crop and lay aside funds to help sustain the farm during years of poor harvest. That's a sustainable model...unless a catastrophe strikes. The farmer might collaborate with other farmers to help mitigate the catastrophe, but this is where the sustainable model falls apart thanks to well-meaning progressive idealism. In today's America, the bigger the collaborative, the more pull it has with the government to send a bailout. Sadly, this means that today's family farm gets less help than the corporate farming collaborative, which can easily purchase failing family farms at a discount (a "bailout" from the large collaborative to the small family farmer), and which is sometimes paid by the government NOT to produce anything on its land...and we have an example of how government works to turn a self-sustaining program into one that needs government's assistance and tolerates government control in order to survive.

Humanitarian programs don't depend on farmers or chip manufacturers so what's the problem? The government can continue to fund its humanitarian programs as long as the government continues to tax us, right? Why isn't the American model of government-funded humanitarian programs sustainable?

First, because our American government works hard to put the brakes on creation of wealth. That is, from every man and woman who must work for a living, the government is able to take taxes. (If you no longer need to have an income, there is no income tax...but the government still has plenty of other ways to get at your wealth -- that's a subject for another blog.) If you become wealthy, you're worth less to the government as a source of tax revenue, therefore, the government has a big reason to keep you working for the man, in spite of the logic about how the government would get more in taxes if we all had larger incomes.

Next, because a government program is not answerable to any realistic authority for its success. Do I need to mention Prohibition or the War on Drugs? Prohibition fell under its own weight, and the War on Drugs will, too. Other examples? Privately-funded primary and secondary schools tend to produce better students, measured in terms of college aptitude and eventual productivity, than government schools. A private school that wasn't able to get any students ready for college would probably not last long, but government schools have been providing less-than-useful education for decades with impunity and at great cost, relative to private school costs. Customers of a computer chip maker with an inferior product quickly learn that fact and find another supplier, but government schools don't have to answer to the need for consumer choice provided most of their consumers (parents of the kids who attend the government schools) aren't wealthy enough to have that choice.

Finally, because the model for government's humanitarian programs IS a zero-sum game. At some point, even if government were to tax us at 100% of our earnings and provide all the stuff all of us need -- food, shelter, smart phones...everything -- there would still be a need in government for more revenue. Government already recognizes this and taxes goods and services arriving in America from other countries in the form of tariffs, or levies sales and excise taxes on stuff we consume, such as gasoline. The point is that, at some future date when government owns everything and takes everything we earn, there won't be anything left to increase the amount government can spend on anything. That's not sustainable. Period. End of story.

No one wants to get to that point, but so far no one has been brave enough to say so, or to say "Stop!" before it's too late. And it's getting very late. Every time a new billionaire appears, what does government attempt to do? Buy his or her influence through offering promises in exchange for campaign contributions. True, there have been some notable ways that the government has been forced to cede power back to private industry, such as the private launch programs that are now offering more cost-effective portals to space than those available via the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and we can hope that this trend continues since it appears to be sustainable. But there are many more ways that government is able to purchase influence with the largest corporate wealth creators: government contracts for military equipment or humanitarian assistance (think "military/industrial complex" or "Affordable Care Act/Obama Care"); bailouts for the banking and insurance industries (think "too big to fail"). Sadly, there are now several generations of voters who believe that government will provide for their humanitarian needs, starting with the Baby Boomers who should have known better and ending with the entitled Millennials who one would think ought to know better.

Like me, many of us are finding that we no longer have the choices we used to have. For example, my income isn't high enough to escape the Obama Care subsidy, so I must deal with social service agency health care for my kids (we call it Medi-Cal here in California), which restricts my choices of heath care to providers that, in some cases, have social media warnings posted online instead of reviews. I understand that Obama Care isn't sustainable, but why don't more voters get that fact, too? If a chip maker never got a favorable review it could only hope to sustain operations if there were no other competing chip makers consumers could choose...and so we have the model for today's national health insurance collaborative.

I believe the answer to this downward spiral, and the reason I've spent so much time on this blog, is wealth. There is simply no reason to fear wealth, stand in opposition to its creation, legislate it out of existence or demonize those who create it. None of that serves the world. As we have seen, wealth is necessary for humanitarian programs since its excess can be given to sustain them. Wealth is the enabler of the most fulfilling, productive work, since it frees workers to pursue their most rewarding endeavors without the pressure of earning a living. Wealth gives those who have it incredible influence, and, if you are a wanna-be wealthy person like me, wouldn't you want a righteous, wealthy mentor encouraging you instead of a just-over-broke government handout?

The American idea of wealth isn't unique in the world. There are wealth-builders worldwide. Muhammad Yunnus has demonstrated the potential for social entrepreneurism in ways that ought to make governments quake in their boots, or at least sit up and take notice. The sustainable ideas Yunnus' Grammeen Bank has funded are creating wealth in developing nations. This is BIG. Anyone interested in creating wealth would do well to study just some of the projects in which Grammeen participates. A short discussion of how Grammeen works can be found here.

It's time to take action. America is ready to move beyond its midlife crisis. Wealth-building leadership is needed in government, at home, in business, in humanitarian organizations. The mistaken notion that wealth equals greed must morph into the goal of a rewarding life of purposeful achievement animated by those "loftier ideals" Roosevelt claimed for Americans, but which are truly the provenance of the entire world.

Will you take up arms to help win the war for wealth? I hope you will.