Fletcher: Take care of yourself to help keep bigger system functioning

For 15 years I’ve been a wilderness first responder certified by Wilderness Medical Associates of Maine. These are the guys who train the Outward Bound and search and rescue folks how to get people in trouble to stay alive long enough to get to a real medical facility.

If you see me looking down at you when you are far from a medical doctor, your first thought might be that you wish you were closer to the ER.

That’s a proper thought because if I’m helping you, then it means you are more than two hours from other medical aid. The two hours to aid is my limit on doing anything for you. We all recognize that an ER with a real doctor is a better choice than my trying to help you.

However, there is another search and rescue rule about which you should be aware. It is the mantra of S&R groups everywhere. Take care of yourself first, the team second, and if you can honor the first two rules, then, and only then, take care of the victim.

The rules are the same in economics. Protect your job and livelihood, take care of family and co-workers, and then, and only then, look out for the woes of the country or the world. This is called “enlightened self interest” and isn’t anything new. It’s the way we all act economically.

Entrepreneurs, farmers, big and small business do it all the same. Union members, the UAW and MEA all follow this rule. It’s all about capitalism and a free society. It is not a bad thing.

We are living in very uncertain economic times. How else can you explain our own Sen. Debbie Stabenow orchestrating a deal last month to keep milk prices at the current level? Stabenow, as chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, convinced fellow legislators to prevent existing agricultural subsidizes that date back to 1948 from lapsing.

Since agriculture is a mature industry, doesn’t it make more sense to repeal the subsidies and let milk float at the market rate?

The dairy lobby may not have been too happy, though. Again, it’s enlightened self interest.

Likewise whenever there is any discussion about Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security, which make up one third of the U.S. budget, there is much concern from those of us, like me, who draw benefits from these programs. We take care of ourselves first, and then maybe think of our parents or grandparents who might use one, or all, of the three.

It’s a matter of self preservation. In economics, that is expected situational behavior. However, all of us are fiddling like Nero while Rome burns. You and I are burning through our savings and growth opportunities because, in economics, savings equals investment and investment is the seed corn of economic prosperity.

Increasing taxes diminishes the amount of capital available to create jobs. In economic theory, government spending is just an expense and cannot create prosperity. Government spending lessens the amount of investment for long-term growth because taxes take our long-term investment money and spends it to cover current programs.

Ultimately if we focus too much on us, we risk damaging our country’s economic prosperity. Taking care of yourself ultimately requires you then to keep the bigger system functioning at a high level. I’m not saying you shouldn’t negotiate for the best possible deal for yourselves and families. Indeed, you should. However, take a little longer view because it’s not just Dad and Mom, Grandma and Grandpa and you. It’s also about your children and future generations being able to create their prosperity as well.

You first, team second. Whether economics or wilderness rescue, it also requires balance and understanding responsibilities and limits. As a first responder I’m also there to save a life. As a U.S. taxpayer, I’m also there to help grow our economy.