Vail Daily columnist Jack R. Van Ens: Time to get off our heels
Vail, CO, Colorado
Corporate America and Wall Street cringe when they peer into an uncertain financial future.
They fall back on their heels, piling up huge amounts of cash that isn’t invested. Financial barons sit on their earnings because they fear what’s lurking ahead. Wall Street has paid fat bonuses the last two years, after American taxpayers rescued them from financial ruin.
The Wall Street Journal’s front-page headline, “Companies Cling to Cash,” indicates that anxiety, not confidence, runs roughshod over Big Business. Corporate America has stashed a mountainous horde of money. It’s the highest level in a half-century.
“The cash buildup shows the deep caution many companies feel about investing in expansion while the economic recovery remains painfully slow,” reports The Journal (Dec. 10, 2010, p A1), “and high unemployment and battered household finances continue to limit consumers’ ability to spend.”
Hesitancy to lend, expand and hire workers stymies Thomas Jefferson’s spunk. He stood on his toes when surveying the future. Jefferson compared life to being tossed in a boat, bobbing on angry waves. He kept fear astern because Jefferson placed hope in the bow that propelled him to sail on.
Such gusto amid trepidation mirrors biblical conviction. Ancient Jews saw heavy surf pound the Mediterranean Sea’s shore as it lashed against rocks. But those rocks stood unshakable. Believers compared those soaked boulders to God’s rock-like character. “God alone is my rock and my salvation. He is my fortress. I shall not be shaken” (Psalm 62:2).
Today, we need some sturdy, rock-like confidence. Bailouts, printing massive amounts of money, and low inflation inch the economy along. What will drive economic resurgence quickly and more efficiently than other fiscal dynamics? U.S. citizens, Wall Street financiers and Big Business execs must possess faith in the future. Hope accelerates the national economic engine.
It’s not where we’ve been in the Great Recession that matters, but enthusiasm for where we are going; not whether we’ve fallen on hard times, but whether we have the chutzpa to get up; not who made past financial blunders, but who learned from those mistakes to exercise economic muscle.
When economic insecurity threatens, businesses, banks and individuals withdraw. They try to preserve the little or much they have rather than invest in a better future. They hunker down rather than propel ahead. They lack confidence because fiscal chaos has ruined their outlook.
Unlike Jefferson, who compared what’s ahead to adventurously sailing high seas, those with deep pockets stash money in them and stay in safe harbors.
When hard times hit, we get so wrapped up in our individual survival that some devote little energy to our collective survival. Anxiety narrows our interests to taking care of No. 1 — ourselves. What occurs when competing No. 1s are lumped together? Our communal efforts to right a listing fiscal ship are reduced to an inconsequential zero.
The ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes in “The Frogs” has Euripides assert: “I hate the citizen who, by nature well endowed, is slow to help his city, swift to do her harm, to himself useful, useless to the community.” Those on their heels stay off their toes.
In the 1960 presidential election, upstart John F. Kennedy used charm and charismatic speech to put our nation on its toes. He won a very tight election over incumbent Vice President Richard M. Nixon. The U.S. had been reeling after the Russians launched Sputnik in 1957. The Cold War chilled our national will. We believed the Soviet advance moved as relentlessly as a polio epidemic in the 1950s.
In jittery times, John F. Kennedy spoke before 80,000 listeners on July 15, 1960, in the Los Angeles Memorial Stadium. He told our nation in the “New Frontier Speech” that fear, hesitancy, lack of confidence in the future – these “old ways will not do.”
Kennedy verbally rocked the house. He got our nation on its feet. We
didn’t turn back. We thought less of individually being No. 1 because the moon race against Russia rallied communal efforts.
Kennedy jarred our nation off its hands, dramatically challenging every citizen: “The new frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises; it is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask of them. It appeals to their pride, not to their pocketbook. It holds out the promise of more sacrifice instead of more security.”
Watching Kennedy on a black-and-white TV, I felt the new frontier in my bones.
Anxious about my future as a teen, I vowed no fears would win nor any uncertainties prevail. An ethic of sacrifice replaced self-fulfillment. Societal need towered over personal status. Like Jefferson and the first president to capture my enthusiasm – John F. Kennedy – I got up on my toes.
In 2011, the start of the second decade of the 21st century, our nation can sail on despite lingering economic down winds.
Get out of the doldrums. Don’t merely float.
Up on our toes! Let’s go!
The Rev. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive. Van Ens’ book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes,” is available in local bookstores for $7.95.