The consequences of the financial crisis are all around us: our friends who are unemployed, the “for sale” signs that sprout up like weeds in our neighborhood lawns and unlike weeds never seem to go away.
We think we have some idea of the costs of the financial crisis: the psychological anguish over job security, the declining retirement account, and the neighborhood buzz about falling property values.
There is yet another cost, one less obvious, one equally as threatening to our political system: the loss of civic virtue.
In a time of situational ethics and herd-oriented political opinions, the idea of civic virtue sounds not only irrelevant but anachronistic.
It isn’t. As Benjamin Franklin so insightfully noted, it takes a virtuous people to create a society based on freedom and liberty. Take away virtue, and freedom and liberty are not possible.
Civic virtue is inexorably linked to individual initiative and individual responsibility. Civic virtue means that we are responsible for our actions and their consequences.
No more. There is a new ethos in America. Look out for yourself, enhance your own short-term self interest, take irresponsible risks, and then expect everyone else to bail you out. We can now all be teenagers on a Saturday night with a bottle of whiskey in one hand, daddy’s car keys in the other, and our only concern need be whether we can remain sober long enough to get laid. We have developed the utmost threat to the republic; we have learned how to vote ourselves money and irresponsibility.
Not everyone wants it that way. CNBC correspondent Rick Santelli struck a responsive chord with people who still believe in hard work and individual initiative and who don’t want to be responsible for the puerile excesses of people who are milking the system. Santelli’s mail is running 98% in favor of his condemnation of President Obama’s multi-million dollar bailout of people who thought their homes were ATM machines absent declining balances.