Perseverance Requires Patience

May 27, 2010

By Mark Condon

Our nation’s financial challenges aren’t new; they’ve just been ignored.

I’m a world-class procrastinator. Packed away in a box somewhere there’s even a yearbook from 1966 with an admonition from my homeroom teacher that “an early start would make your life and mine easier.”

“You may delay, but time will not,” Benjamin Franklin once wrote, which leads me to our economic and financial challenges and our nation’s procrastination in dealing with long-term problems. We ignore, at our own peril, the gradual but relentless pace of economic and financial trajectories.

In March 1982 on the cover of this magazine was a cartoon showing President Reagan, Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, and Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker chasing each other in a circle.

The cover story was a report from the Credit Union National Association’s (CUNA) Governmental Affairs Conference highlighting the impact on credit unions of Reagan’s economic recovery program, significant increases in federal spending, annual and growing federal deficits, and partisan politics. Two major differences between then and now were double-digit rates of interest and inflation, but in all other respects, the article had an eerie familiarity.

“Much of the success of Reagan’s program depends on how willing Congress is to let him have his way in an election year,” the Credit Union Magazine article stated. “Already it has become apparent that in its second year, the Reagan presidency can expect tougher battles than it faced in its first.” And I smiled a bit at the following: “Representatives from Congress are telling credit union people that record-setting deficits have made many people on the Hill uneasy.”

Our nation’s financial challenges aren’t new; they’ve just been ignored. The recent era of prosperity made it easy to put off the hard work until tomorrow. Calamity was so far into the future that even simple solutions could be passed on to a future generation. Fury and finger-pointing resolve nothing because we’re all responsible for the problem—consumers, politicians, and businesses alike. We’ve been warned—repeatedly. But as a nation we’ve been intellectually and even morally lazy. We are a nation of procrastinators.

These issues matter for credit unions because they’ll be part of the solution—either by their own design or by something imposed upon them. That’s why the advocacy efforts of CUNA and the leagues are so critical to both credit unions and the nation.

I may be a procrastinator, but I’m generally also an optimist. One book looking into the future (and recently receiving excellent reviews) is “The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050,” by Joel Kotkin. Unlike so many pundits who believe America is a nation in decline, Kotkin highlights the benefits that will accrue as we add 100 million people to our population during the next 40 years. He believes the path to constructing a successful America lies in understanding our nation’s “ability to forge a unique focus amid great diversity of people and place.”

None of this will be easy. But 175 years ago, that unique ability and focus cited by Kotkin was first called “American exceptionalism” by Alexis de Tocqueville in “Democracy in America.” American exceptionalism has little or nothing do to with anger and fear and everything to do with faith: That as the world’s oldest and most successful democracy we possess a unique ability to rise above our sins and our failings, determine workable compromises, and find solutions enabling us to continue our forward progress as a nation.

The road ahead may be littered with occasional blunders, and our vision at times muddled. After all, this is a nation that failed to adequately address the issue of slavery for four score and seven years.

But perseverance requires patience. Remember: It took a quarter of a century after the first credit union opened its doors and the Great Depression before Congress pushed aside bank whiners and skeptics and passed the Federal Credit Union Act.

MARK CONDON is senior vice president, business and consumer publishing, for the Credit Union National Association. Contact him at 608-231-4078 or at