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By Jim Kempton
Americans today live better than any other generation in history—longer, healthier, safer and more comfortably. American ingenuity and freedom have given us a standard of living beyond the dreams of previous eras.
But our lifestyle is not free. To keep us and the rest of the world safe, we maintain a massive and superior military. To be safer domestically, we have increased the number of policemen, built vast prison complexes and staffed superb firefighters, paramedics and air traffic controllers. To be smarter, we have invested in a deep and substantial school and university system and provided public libraries, museums, research centers and science institutes. To live longer and healthier, we devote huge sums to medical research, technology and highly specialized doctors.
It is easy to forget how far we have come—and how quickly. Just a century ago, most Americans had no electricity, indoor plumbing, nearby hospital facilities or access to higher education. Just a generation ago, when the Baby Boomer’s parents were growing up, life expectancy was 59 years. Today it is 79 years old and counting. Although we are the envy of the world, we take these advances for granted.
But this improved quality of living comes with a cost. As we face the future, we have only two simple choices: accept the added costs and pay for them or agree to reduce the services and standards we have achieved. Everyone wants something different to be kept or cut. We can shrink government waste, to be sure, and we can be smarter with our choices, but even with those accomplishments, we will find that to live as richly, safely and freely as we do, there is a price tag we have not entirely come to terms with. We either pay the real costs of what we enjoy or learn to live with less.
Our politicians will not administer this unpalatable medicine. Those on the left of center continue to call for spending increases, labeling these privileges as necessities. Those on the right of center demand a reduction in taxes but refuse to cut the services those same taxes underwrite, leading to massive and ballooning deficits. Both sides fail to see the limits on infinite spending; neither will identify the painful cuts—or hard pay—necessary to balance the books.
Each of us has the items one can do without—but frequently our neighbors and friends want to do away with items we find indispensable. Families want better schools, seniors want better medical care, young professionals want more infrastructure. Businessmen want more support and cheaper labor; workers want more high-paying domestic jobs. Politicians want more votes and often evade the hard decisions that must be confronted to solve these issues.
San Clemente is a microcosm of this same predicament. As a city, we want more but want to pay less. We want increased amenities but not the price that makes it possible. One thing is sure: a higher standard of living is not free. And if there is a certainty in our world, it is that arithmetic does not lie.
Jim Kempton is a writer, surfer and free sprit. He has learned the hard way that everybody likes things free—just different things. He believes adamantly in the right to yell “theater” in a crowded fire.