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State Farm has goals for the long term

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Our economy may be on the mend after two years of turmoil. There are many theories on why the crisis occurred, but there's no arguing everyone was impacted -- consumers, businesses and governments alike. And there are lessons for all.

Realizing how fragile their personal financial situations may be, consumers curtailed spending and increased savings.

Businesses learned hard lessons about evaluating and managing risk. Along with government, they have a better understanding and appreciation of how closely tied we all are to the global economy.

And government grasps how difficult it is to operate in this complex environment.

What's not so clear is whether the lessons will last, and whether efforts to restore America's long-term economic health will be hindered by political gamesmanship and the unintended consequences that usually accompany legislation and regulation hurried through in the aftermath of a crisis.

There's no doubt the U.S. and global economies were in crisis. Government intervention was an unfortunate necessity. Now it's time to make sure the needs and vitality of Main Street America and our overall economy are top priorities.

Despite the weak economy, State Farm Mutual added customers and built its financial strength last year.

Much of the credit goes to State Farm employees and agents in this community and throughout the U.S. and Canada. They go to work every day knowing customer service is their principal obligation, and they excel at what they do. We also have an investment philosophy designed to safeguard our long-term capacity to be there when our customers need us.

The ability to pay claims and meet our financial obligations is bedrock to our business. It's State Farm's top priority, and when you realize that on average we handle 23 claims every minute of every day, you understand why.

Mutual companies like State Farm have an undivided interest in serving their policyholders. While many publicly held companies are driven by today's stock price and the next quarterly report, we focus on our long-term stability and success.

This doesn't mean we can ignore marketplace realities and changing consumer behavior. Nor are we exempt from federal regulatory requirements and fees proposed for large financial services companies. New taxes and expense-laden regulations have an impact on our financial position, on the costs we incur, and ultimately the price of our products.

Surveys show most Americans lack confidence their kids' generation will be better off than their own. That's because each generation is inclined to "kick the can" down the road where the next generation or future government leaders will need to deal with problems that have become even more pressing. Today and tomorrow, short-sighted solutions will be tempting, particularly when problems are complicated by budget shortfalls.

But it's time we all face fiscal realities.

It's time for consumers to think less about instant gratification and hold themselves and their business and government leaders accountable.

It's time for businesses to think less about short-term performance and more about long-term interests and security.

It's time for politicians to think less about the next election and more about the next generation.

At State Farm, we're working hard to maintain our financial strength and remain a solid part of the local and national economies -- this year and in the years ahead. And we stand ready to work with other businesses, government leaders and consumers to help kick bad habits instead of the can.

-- Rust is chairman and CEO of State Farm Insurance Cos.

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