In our opinion: Fiscal and moral responsibility

Published: Monday, Dec. 26 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

Republican presidential candidates former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich talk with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at a Republican presidential debate in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2011. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Evan Vucci, AP

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Recently, former Massachusetts governor and presidential hopeful Mitt Romney ran a short campaign ad in Iowa, home to the earliest caucuses. In the television spot, Romney emphasizes, "It is a moral responsibility to believe in fiscal responsibility."

Several national commentators have suggested that Romney's decision to equate financial and moral responsibility is really a sharp jab at some of the previously irresponsible moral choices of fellow GOP contender Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives.

But this allegation of some hidden meaning belies the very straightforward message of the ad in which Romney simply discusses financial responsibility. Romney forthrightly says, "We have a moral responsibility not to spend more than we take. We can't keep buying and spending and passing on debts to our kids."

What seems to have tripped up some observers as they viewed the message is the concept that financial decisions have an inherently moral dimension.

We have frequently lamented the fact that many highly visible behaviors in our contemporary society trivialize, indeed almost ridicule, the important moral commitments that come with financial decisions. Conspicuous credit-fueled consumption by individuals, the strategic use of bankruptcy by corporations and chronic budgetary deficits by government all subtly suggest that financial overextension and miscalculation is acceptable.

But such poor behavior should never inure us to the reality that financial decisions, like all exercises of choice, are moral decisions. And when individuals, enterprises or governments make financial transactions using credit, there is the significant added moral commitment of a solemn promise to repay.

The issue of financial responsibility is a core editorial emphasis for the Deseret News. And although we don't endorse individual candidates, we do regularly endorse principles that we believe will give individuals and families greater confidence to make a positive difference in the world.

Romney's clarion expression of the morality of financial responsibility is both welcome and needed, especially in the realm of public finance, where the connection between a politician's decision and the resulting consequences are opaque.

When an individual chooses to live beyond his or her means, there is an eventual accounting for those choices. In the case of public finance, however, the bill for irresponsible decisions made for political gain today is too easily passed off to the next generation. If public officials do not internalize within their character the importance of fiscal responsibility today, there will be a terrible temptation to burden our children with terrible choices and conditions in the future, including (but not limited to) inflation, limited access to credit and/or burdensome taxation.

As Americans now witness the dire choices left for European countries that made financial promises that exceeded their income and the attendant social turmoil, it is imperative to re-enshrine thrift, frugality and prudence — not only as individual virtues, but as vital public virtues that have significant consequences for the well being of our children.

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