Many economists believe that the U.S. Government’s financial actions in 2008 and 2009 probably saved the country from a repeat of the Great Depression of the 1930s. But they also note that the resulting leap in the Government’s budget deficit comes at a terrible time given the expected explosion in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits for retiring baby boomers.
As the federal debt grows, many anticipate that lenders will demand significantly higher interest rates as a condition of providing funds to a fiscally challenged America. As one analyst put it:
Looking out over the next ten years and beyond, the math is impossible to ignore. There is little question that taxes will have to increase and spending will have to decrease. If this doesn’t happen in a significant way, and maybe even if it does, there is a great risk of both a dollar and an interest-rate crisis that could prove extremely painful for the U.S. and global economies.
The political dilemma facing American leaders is that the public has put its head in the sand; no one seems willing to face a reality that has the same kind of severe consequences as any earthquake or tornado. With very few leaders willing to try to pull heads out of the sand to see what is coming, it is likely that the public will continue to blame the current Federal and state financial difficulties on greedy lobbyists, wanton politicians, cheating immigrants, and other erroneous villains.
If the United States faces another severe financial crisis in the next few years — when either taxes have to rise dramatically or services have to be curbed drastically — there will be a lot of people dealing with painful changes in their lives and future. Now would seem a particularly ripe moment to consider a Buddhist framework for handling these challenges. It will not be a time to wonder why God has brought on a new catastrophe so much as a time to look within one’s self for the best way to deal with a family’s financial circumstances.
The same lesson applies to so much of daily life.
- Take change, for example; it is inevitable, yet most people resist its unsettling aspects and avoid the risks inherent in the unknown. When change envelops their comfortable existence, they blame everyone and everything but themselves. Look at the world of music in the early years of the 21st century. What used to be simply a song, an album and an artist to be privately absorbed by interested music lovers has now evolved into a broader message to a larger audience conveyed by visual elements at concerts and in videos, by the clothes the performers wear, by the movements they inject into their performances, and by the interaction of other fans.
- Take differences. They abound in nearly every aspect of human activity but particularly religion. One need only open a daily newspaper or listen to a television news report to learn of Sunni attacks on Shia groups in Iraq; to hear about orthodox Jews fighting to preserve the sanctity of the Sabbath in Jerusalem against more liberal Jews bent on doing what they please on a Saturday; to discover that Coptic Christians in Egypt may live in Muslim neighborhoods, but never socialize together for fear one or the other will be converted; that Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland and their Protestant neighbors still harbor the pain of old hurts; and that Hindus, Sihks, and Muslims are still fighting for dominance and control of Kashmir, the disputed area between India and Pakistan.
A Buddhist approach to change and fear of difference is openness to examine what drives these emotions and to consider what the end result could bring for any of the participants. In nearly all cases, Buddhists conclude that the this end result is transitory, that it will inevitably be revisited at some point in the future, and that the only true happiness comes from enlightenment while they are alive.