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Principles are important.  Integrity matters.

We were once a nation that admired our leaders in politics and in business – who stuck to their principles and who conducted themselves in an ethical manner. 

Here is where I – and many of you – get frustrated.  For too long, the majority of our political and business leaders have not been true to their principles. Let’s not talk about integrity when it comes  to politics or Wall Street.

This week we saw the conviction of a billionaire hedge fund manager who clearly broke insider trading rules to make – not earn – even more money.  In government, members of Congress have known for a long time that this nation’s slide deeper into debt – with more than $53 trillion in unfunded liabilities – would one day spark an economic crisis unlike anything this nation has ever experienced. But for years, no one spoke with any conviction about making material reductions in spending. Both political parties were more focused on the next election cycle, not in coming to grips with this very dangerous addiction to deficit spending. It was easier, and more convenient the dire consequences notwithstanding, to simply kick the can down the street.

The chickens have come home to roost.  Next year, every penny of what U.S. residents pay in taxes – those 55 percent who actually pay anything at all – will go to fund entitlement programs and the interest on the debt.  The $1.65 trillion deficit spending for discretionary programs will simply be added to our long-term debt that is already $14,326.739.262.229 as of 1:55 AM GMT today.

No wonder our primary banker, China and several of the major fund managers, are nervous.  And you should be as well.

Now here is a bigger inconvenient truth: we are a population of enablers.  When fiscal responsibilities require that we give up a program, subsidy or benefit that impacts our lives – real or imagined– we are more likely to voice opposition with a wink of an eye or we chastise the politician who would dare cut a particular program that might be unpopular with their political base. We are enablers because while we drop phrases like “shared sacrifice” when we dish gossip at a cocktail party or church, sadly we no longer collectively understand the concept.

Over the next three to five years, many of these same politicians that we criticize today will be forced to make tough fiscal decisions that could save our nation, or send us into an irreversible not-so-slow, painful slide into the role of a debtor nation with the inevitable result that the U.S. will become a “second tier power”.  This is a very real possibility.

The key to our survival will be our ability to re-focus on those principles that made this nation great and support those political leaders who will do what is right with integrity, not necessarily what will endear them to their political base.  Finally we must be willing to passionately embrace shared sacrifice.

Forget about economic principles, the machinations of budgeting or government accounting.  Without our support of these three core principles, we will face a national financial calamity that will be more painful than anything we have known in modern history.  

© 2011 John Gregory Self