All Commentary
Sunday, July 1, 1990

Perspective: Living Within Our Means

Here is a simple rule with a wealth of stress-reducing benefits.

Think of all the advantages to individuals and families of practicing the rule of ,living within your means.”

Previous generations in this country expected each person to live within his or her means as a requirement of good citizenship.

How else can one enjoy freedom? Certainly not when choices are limited by debt or when one has no personal resources. There can be no peace of mind when one is subject to the will of creditors. The same is true when one has no personal resources. Like slaves of old, debtors live at the command of others—their creditors. And for all the attempts to place the blame for public debt on someone else, as politicians often do, there is no escaping the fact that each of us is responsible for our own actions.

We are the problem! When we take our hard-won heritage of freedom and treat it so casually as to avoid taking care of our own affairs, we diminish our strength for self-government and allow the government to control more and more of our lives.

Consider how many problems would be lessened if it became popular again to live within our means. We don’t need surveys, statistics, or psychological theories to show the stress in individuals and families due to financial problems. We see it all around us.

Actually, living within our means requires living below our means. Saving something regularly from our earnings strengthens our security and peace of mind, while at the same time it expands our choices and opportunities for the future.

I remember the advice given me when I got married: “Live below your income or you will never know contentment.” I have heard and read a lot of financial ideas in the 40 years since receiving this advice. But I have never heard anything better. It works! If enough people returned to this simple rule and experienced its profound worth, they would then have the key to correcting many of their personal and financial problems. Once people know this rule to be reality, they have a clear understanding of how to correct the financial problems in local, state, and national affairs. It all starts with the individual!

Unforeseen catastrophes can happen to individuals and nations, and can take away their material security despite their having prudently lived within their means. However, if the worst happens, experience shows a strength of character both in individuals and nations as a result of practicing this simple formula.

When you think about it, isn’t this morally what we should be doing with our freedom?

—Richard W. Holden

Avon, Connecticut

The Return to Freedom

The most precious gift to man is freedom.

What makes man human is reason. Without the freedom to reason, man is not human!

In order to think, to reason, man needs not only to live in a setting free of fear. He also must be stimulated by scientific debate, various political and philosophical opinions, by freedom of the press, of work, of conscience, of association, of criticism. None of this is possible in countries where there is only official truth, where there is only one official philosophy, where there is only one party, the party in power, only one paper, that published by the government’s party, only state-owned property, and only one economic plan, that imposed by the central planning office. In such an environment, there can be no scientific progress, no technological development, no economic prosperity, as even the officials in some of those countries are now coming to recognize.

To return to freedom is to return to the market economy, to freedom of inquiry, to private enterprise, to a true multi-party system, to respect for the political and economic freedom of individuals. That is the basis of Western democracy, of human progress and social equality.

—Trro Livio Caldas, writing in Ciencia Politica

(First Quarter, 1989), a quarterly review for

Latin America and Spain published by

Tierra Firme Editores, Bogota, Colombia.

Translated from the Spanish by Bettina Bien Greaves.


Journalists and political sorts deem sweatshops to be evil, and evil is to be directly eradicated. We are to pass strict laws, strictly enforced, to abolish low pay, long hours, unpleasant working conditions, unpleasant working hours (including work at home), and use of children.

But is that really the end of the story, the end of analysis of the problem, the end of policy prescription? We simply outlaw the scourge of sweatshops and walk away in prim satisfaction?

What is to happen to the erstwhile workers—commonly uneducated, poorly trained, illegally in a land foreign to them, with little experience and marketplace sophistication—who have had their livelihoods abolished? They had been surviving—even if meanly by civilized standards—in market competition by selling their limited services of low value at meager wages. Taking away those miserable jobs, pricing them out of what had been their best option, does not magically provide them with better alternative employment. Reducing their already poor power to compete, leaving them more handicapped than before, is a strange way to help them.

—William R. Allen

The Midnight Economist

Sticky Fingers

During my lifetime, I can recall endless examples of sticky fingers in the public till. And I can also recall the endless legislation, myriad investigating committees, and cries of the outraged public. But when all is said and done, we still have government scandals.

We will never completely erase public greed and corruption. We are imperfect creatures at best. But there is a way to give the citizen better odds. Drastically reduce the size of government. Wipe out big chunks of entrenched bureaucracies. We can’t eliminate sticky fingers, but we can reduce the size of the cookie jar.

—Eugene L. Gotz

Arlington, Massachusetts