The Blood of One
Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.These words, spoken more than four decades and a lifetime ago by President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, called immediately to a spirit within the American heart. It wasn't that Mr. Kennedy was asking for some unrequited sacrifice from the citizens of the United States; he was, instead, calling upon the citizens to recognize that the life fluid of a nation courses both to and from its heart.
It was beyond question that the country would do for its people: that is what a good and great nation does. The President was asking that Americans see in that unwavering bond the nation's worthiness of the best from its people.
Neither the citizens nor the government acted because of the other's commitment; instead, each lived to strengthen the sheltering arms of mutual honor.
In many relationships, there is an "agency" aspect to the obligations. An agent is one who is bound to act in the best interest of another, called the principal. Most agency relationships are subject to the so-called "agency dilemma": an agent will act in his or her own self-interest to the extent possible, given the monitoring and enforcement covenants of the contract that binds the agent and the principal. More simply put, human nature must always be recognized as dominating people's behaviors. Whether or not that unfortunate aspect of human nature is actually operating in a given situation, the relationship must be based upon its possibility of being in play.
There is, however, a special type of relationship characterized by duties that go beyond the mundane problems presented by the agency dilemma. Such relationships carry "fiduciary" duties.
A fiduciary relationship has three unusual and special characteristics: trust, loyalty, and fidelity. According to Black's Law Dictionary, fiduciary duty is the "...highest duty implied by law." (Note, by the way, the word 'implied' in that definition: written laws cannot ever fully capture the depth, power, and importance of fiduciary duties.)
Rare is the relationship that has fiduciary duties. For the most part, relationships are governed by the presumption that agents are supposed to maximize the interests of their principals; that they will have incentive to maximize their own interests, instead; and that it is the responsibility of the principal to monitor and enforce covenants of the contract to the extent that the cost of doing so is less than the cost the agent will extract.
But sometimes, by the very nature of the principal, the agent, or the relationship, itself, monitoring and/or enforcement is impossible.
A parent is supposed to maximize the welfare of his or her child. That makes the parent an agent and the child a principal.
A husband and wife are supposed to maximize the welfare of their marriage. That makes each of them an agent, and it makes the marriage, itself, the principal.
A doctor is suppose to do what is best for a patient. That makes the doctor an agent, and it makes the patient the principal.
The executive officers of a corporation are supposed to maximize the stock price for the corporation's shareholders. That makes the executive officers the agents, and it makes the stockholders (as a body) the principal.
A nation is supposed to do its very best for its citizens. That makes the nation the agent, and it makes the citizens (again, as a body) the principal.
Now, what do all of these agent/principal relationships have in common? In each one of them, something fundamental to the nature of the relationship prevents the principal from being able to effectively monitor and/or enforce compliance with the covenantsexpressed or impliedthat govern the relationship.
That means each of these principals must rely for final assurance of performance upon trust, loyalty, and faithfulness of the agent.
A child cannot fully nor meaningfully know enough to even understand whether or not a parent is rearing him or her properly. A marriage is simply incapable of watching over its two agents. A patient certainly could not personally monitor or enforce good performance during, say, a major surgical procedure. Stockholders cannotindeed, should notbe involved in the day-to-day operations of a corporation.
And the citizens of a country have no direct means, other than through the electoral process, which does not happen but periodically, to cause their nation to work for them.
The Social Security Trust, established during the Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, materially embodied the recognition by the federal government that its duties to the citizens of the United States were fiduciary in nature. In fact, the entirety of the New Deal was a recognition of this profound responsibility, as were many Acts of Congress that would flow in the following years and decades.
The issue was settled for many generations: the government was to perform based upon the trust of its citizens, its loyalty to them, and its faithfulness to their needs; and there would be no doubt of the government's commitment to this high honor and grave responsibility.
President Kennedy asked only that the citizens honor as strongly that bond as their government did.
Now comes the time of the neo-conservatives, who wish to remove the gravity of that call from the federal government's list of obligations. Within the vague and unspecific proposal to overhaul the Social Security system is the core idea that each citizen is going to be lent money collected from him or her in Social Security taxes; then that citizen is going to be exhorted to invest that money in such a manner and at such a risk that the money may generate enough gains to compensate the government in principal and interest, with any remainder to be used by the government to purchase a private market annuity to take care of the person in his or her old age.
The government, then, turns the fiduciary duty once carried willingly upon its own shoulders upside down, and it makes each citizen a fiduciary agent of the government.
No longer will the government owe its citizens anything in their retirement years; instead, each citizen will owe the government an entry fee to old age. Should a person fail to fulfill that duty, he or she will suffer and die in hunger, exposure, and sadness, all in the twilight years of progressing weakness of both body and spirit.
Ask what you can do for your country.The citizens of this day should begin by asking their country to remember the generations-old fiduciary duty that has so successfully bound the blood of a people as it travels both to and from the heart of a good and great nation.
In other words, as you would give your life, your treasure, and your prayers to America, make that same America live up to its unimaginable privilege of being your servant.
The Dark Wraith has spoken.