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Randy Alcorn: Wallowing in Wealth and Whining for More

Americans have developed a voracious appetite — and we're not just talking food. What's the punishment for gluttony?

Originally, Thanksgiving Day was an annual gala of gratitude directed primarily toward food — a harvest festival. The annual Thanksgiving Day feast was a celebration of caloric plentitude of a scale rarely available the rest of the year. Of course, that reason for the holiday has become a quaint anachronism no longer relevant to current conditions. For the vast majority of Americans, food is prodigiously abundant throughout the year, and most Americans don’t wait until the third Thursday in November to indulge that abundance.

Today, most Americans are overfed and literally killing themselves with food. About 65 percent of Americans are overweight and nearly 25 percent of them are obese. Heart disease, diabetes and other pathologies related to excessive edacity are rapidly increasing. Over-eating, nevertheless, has become an accepted way of life in America. Cookbooks published in the 1950s recommended that when choosing the size of a turkey to serve, the purchaser or cook allow ½ to ¾ pounds per person. Today, cookbooks recommend about double that amount. Clothing is deceptively sized larger, the half-pounder has eclipsed the quarter-pounder, restaurants super-size servings, and, not surprisingly, coffins are larger.

America’s obesity epidemic is emblematic of the self-indulgent, insatiably consumptive nation America has become. Not only has obesity generated a $30 billion industry, but also, and more significantly, much of the legendary U.S. economic engine is now driven by consumer voracity for the accoutrements of an affluent lifestyle that many folks really can’t afford. Too many Americans are now both physically and fiscally unfit.

Fueled by easy credit, the continuing consumer feeding frenzy has millions of Americans living beyond their means and mortgaging their futures. Consumer debt has doubled over the past decade to $2.2 trillion. Add mortgages, and that debt is more than $9 trillion. Americans seem convinced that increased quantity in life equates to increased quality of life. Ubiquitous marketing campaigns tease, taunt and entice folks into believing that they must have, and deserve to have, more stuff, and have it now. Just charge it on one of the credit cards. Meanwhile, landfills are filled with previous years’ must-have purchases.

The day after Thanksgiving is traditionally the start of the Christmas shopping season during which gratuitous, reckless indulgence reaches its annual climax. If only those three wise men had not brought gifts to that infant in the manger, Americans might have more savings and less debt. As it stands now, America’s economic stability is teetering on the frail scaffolding of the fiscally irresponsible, self-indulgence of the American consumer.

Many Americans have come to expect a certain level of affluence in life, and more problematically, many believe they are entitled to it. They want to live as if they are rich, and too many struggle to pretend they are. But expectations are often upsets waiting to happen. The consequences of pretentious self-indulgence include little, if any, savings, serious debt, and, eventually, foreclosures and personal bankruptcies.

The competitive envy, discontent and fear among financially imprudent Americans presents opportunities for pandering politicians to focus on the differences in wealth among Americans. Looking for scapegoats, these politicians single out the wealthiest segment of the population for special retribution — increased taxes. They imply that taxing the rich will somehow provide a painless panacea to the financially ailing.

Poverty in America is a relative measurement made by government bureaucrats. Compared to most of the world’s population, even the least wealthy Americans enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. America is not divided between haves and have-nots; it is divided between those wallowing in wealth and those whining for more. Even though some of the most grasping gluttons on earth are found at the top of the economic food chain, taxing them more won’t make the lesser gluttons financially prudent.

Demagogic politicians describe the middle class as beleaguered because middle-class income hasn’t grown as much as that of the uber wealthy. So what? Except for two people on earth, there will always be someone who has more and someone who has less than you have. Taxing the wealthiest Americans even more will put more money into the hands of incompetent, untrustworthy and profligate politicians, but it won’t make the remaining Americans richer. If politicians really wanted to improve the financial well-being of most Americans they would reduce government spending and eliminate the income tax. After all, the biggest spendthrift in America is the federal government.

As with over-eating, over-spending has harmful consequences. Before they whine about the high cost of living, Americans who have grown fat on credit need to practice some fiscal discipline and live within their means. Blaming one’s financial problems on creditors for making it so easy to borrow is like blaming one’s obesity on the restaurant for serving such large portions. Put the fork down and shred the credit cards.

— Santa Barbara political observer Randy Alcorn can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). The opinions expressed are his own.

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