How do you define selfishness?

Not long after the presidential election of 2008, yard signs in the conservative enclave of Alamo Heights read, “No socialism.” The outnumbered but outspoken liberals there responded with signs of their own: “No selfishness.”

For the record, I oppose selfishness that goes beyond the “as yourself” part of “love your neighbor as yourself.”

I also oppose socialism that attempts to make everyone uniform. A uniform people aren’t free and free people aren’t uniform.

Modern media and the political left have equated support for budget cuts and entitlement reform with selfishness.

They want producers to pay more taxes to bridge this gap: for every 1 dollar the U.S. government spends currently, it takes in only 65 cents. Nationally-known economist Ray Perryman noted this striking disparity while addressing the Kendall County Economic Development Corporation last month.

But let’s expand the liberal definition of selfishness to include actions that have helped land us in the fiscal predicament we’re in today.

Social Security and Medicare passed into law with significant bi-partisan support more than four decades ago. Then, the ratio of workers to retirees far surpassed what it is today.

Still today, it goes without saying that a vast majority of beating hearts, not just the bleeding ones, want Grandma to live comfortably in her old age.

But things changed after those entitlements passed. Americans, encouraged by the left, got selfish. Their collective goal switched from raising a larger and more prosperous generation to maximizing time and prosperity for oneself. Abortion and birth control contributed to the trend.

Fifty years ago, the average American woman had nearly 4 children. Today, she will bear just over 2.

As a result, our nation has not created the economic engine of productive citizens required to output retirement and other benefits. To put it bluntly, we aborted or never conceived the machine needed to pay for what was promised.

It’s wrong to now spread onto today’s producing citizens a weight that yesterday’s legislators never intended them to carry. It’s wrong to make them pay in the form of higher taxes for the relative selfishness of a previous generation.

Before I get called out and written up by my friends with two or fewer kids, I am not calling them selfish. Many factors go into such family decisions. One size clearly does not fit all.

But we must be honest about the road our society has taken and the “tsunami” of baby boomers set to retire, as Mr. Perryman put it.

Workers with fewer children, less responsibility and more earning potential have greater capacity to care for aging parents. As such, the government should place greater responsibility for senior care in private hands.

This shift would potentially re-invigorate the centuries-old long-term care strategy of having more, productive children to care for you in your old age. Serendipities would be the re-populating of a nation, a more competitive private sector and a more fiscally sound public one.

Another serendipity: increased privatization would prompt more intact families. The average person would less likely let a bout of selfishness destroy a marriage or parent-child relationship if his or her quality of life in retirement were at stake.

In other words, nothing remedies newfound selfishness quite like old-fashioned self-interest.

Kevin Thompson writes a weekly column for The Boerne Star. He can be reached at 

1 Response to “How do you define selfishness?”

  1. 1 Tim November 17, 2011 at 00:32

    Love it! The Greatest generation sacrificed so much. Their kids are now entering social security age. Maybe they could sacrifice something for their kids?? Social Security was set at the Life expectancy at the time. We should make SS an insurance policy for out living our life expectancy, moving SS start date to the 70’s. This would help a lot. Or we could do what the Europeans do…make the Germans pay!

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