of Americans without self-restraint
Four scenes from a recent day:
Scene One: Wal-Mart’s health and beauty
department. I’m selecting a package of razors from a shelf: 15 Schick
double-edge throwaway razors for $5.47. Nearby, a thirty-something man covered
in tattoos exclaims to his equally-tattooed wife, “Oooo, Jenny, look at this!”
as he grabs a box from an end-cap display. “See, it has an Arizona Cardinals
logo on it.” She responds, “That’s
awesome.” He tosses it in their shopping cart and they walk away.
As I walk by the end-cap display, I see
that they were purchasing a fancy Gillette three-edge razor that comes with
only one cartridge, for a price of $7.80. In other words, they paid $7.80 for
one razor, and I paid $5.47 for 15 razors, or thirty-six cents apiece.
Replacement cartridges for the Gillette were priced at over three dollars
It would be unkind to say that the man
and wife looked like losers, so let me just say that they didn’t look like
winners. It would be a safe bet that I have a lot more money in the bank than
they have. Hmm, I wonder why.
My home office later in the day. The
phone rings. It’s a call from a distant business acquaintance in his forties
who is looking for financial advice. Knowing that he has an annual income of
over $300,000, I ask him about his net worth. He shocks me by saying that he
has no equity in his sprawling house and less than $100,000 in savings. To make his situation worse, he still has kids to
put through college.
He has always been a fun guy and a
big spender who lives for the moment, enjoying the best wine, best restaurants,
best resorts, best cars, and best communications gizmos. By contrast, the
things I enjoy the most are the things that are free--things like taking long
walks with my wife. I’ll have money for old age and he will have little,
although his annual income is considerably higher than mine. Hmm, I wonder
My home office, right after the foregoing conversation. I’m reflecting on a
nanny that my wife and I had employed when both of us were working and our son
was in grade school. In her early twenties at the time, she was smart, single,
and attractive. She also was always in dire financial straits, due to her love
of partying, smoking, paying six dollars apiece for drinks at bars, and dating
losers who mooched off her. Creditors called our house just about every day.
I would advise her to save her money and use her flexible work schedule to get
a college degree or learn a trade. She didn’t take my advice, but she did ask
me to delay giving her some of her weekly earnings, because, she said, “If you
give all of it to me at one time, I’ll have it spent by the next day.” No
doubt, she is still living on the brink of bankruptcy and getting calls from
creditors. Hmm, I wonder why.
Final Scene: My family room later that
evening. My wife and I are watching a show called “House Hunters
International” on HGTV. We watch it
because it’s more useful than a psychology degree for insights on human
nature. It’s a typical segment. An American husband and wife of modest means
with two small kids are in Italy
looking for a vacation home to buy in the $300,000 range. He says, “We really
can’t afford this, but I want to give my family something special.”
Yeah, moron, give your family a lot of
debt and leave them with no safety net in case something unexpected happens,
like a costly illness or the loss of a job. Yeah, that’ll be special. But
don’t worry, your kids can take out student loans to attend college and then
demonstrate on Wall Street against the system instead of against the real
culprits: their foolish parents.
and wife look for a house in a dreary Italian town full of old people and
graffiti. There is no sign of
industry, no modern retail stores, no supermarket, and apparently no building
codes. The houses are obviously
poorly constructed and are clearly money pits requiring a lot of maintenance and
repair. One comes with a cistern, because, as the realtor says, “The water supply isn’t very reliable in the dry
months.” The husband and wife don’t
seem to care. They don’t ask about
taxes, utility costs, Italian property laws, or something as mundane as how far
they’d have to drive to find a hardware store to buy tools and materials for
the inevitable repairs. Obviously romantics, they picture idyllic vacations in
and not the reality of long and expensive trans-Atlantic airplane rides with fidgety
kids, long car rides to the dreary town, vacations spent cleaning and repairing
the house, or the difficulties of being thousands of miles from the property 48
weeks out of the year.
As my Dad would say if he were still
alive, “They’re going to grow old
without having a pot to piss in.” Hmm, I wonder why.
Actually, I don’t have to wonder why.
All of the foregoing people are part of the large segment of the American population
that has no self-restraint. They
live for the moment. Like Scarlet O’Hara in Gone
with the Wind, they put off worrying about serious matters until
tomorrow. Then when tomorrow comes,
they put it off again, ad infinitum.
It would be none of my business how they
live, if it were not for the fact that they vote. When many of them end up
without a pot to piss in, they will vote to force people like me to buy pots
for them, as is happening now with millions of Americans who have no pots
because they have no self-restraint.