We are battered daily by reports from the Press of the inevitable decline and decay of the American system. The American century – the twentieth century – has vanished, and it is the planned, mercantilist economies, especially China, that are seen as the future. Income inequality, a stagnant middle class, political gridlock, a deep and prolonged recession are offered as a manifestation of the failure of American capitalism.
In contrast, China is suggested as the future: A state, governed by a small coterie of elite with little diversity to its population, which is now in decline. It is a state that does not abide international laws, that censors its media, has little or no transparency and whose people are not free to dissent, and who suffer inequality on a scale inconceivable to Americans. Yet, because its highways are new, its airports shine in the smog-infested air and its trains run at far higher speeds than ours, it is cited by those who would have state-dominated industries as the wave of the future.
Two recent op-ed pieces perfectly portrayed these very different views of our future. One puts its trust in the state; the other in the individual. The first, written by Andy Stern, appeared in the December 1 issue,2011 of the Wall Street Journal. Not surprisingly, Mr. Stern, as the former president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) argues that our free market capitalism is losing ground to the planned economy of China. His piece portrays a deep distrust for free markets and makes absurd comments such as “while China is making five-year plans for the next generation, Americans are planning only for the next election.” The statement shows a complete misunderstanding as to the fact that thousands of entrepreneurs in the private sector spend their days, not worrying about the next election, but thinking of the next I-Pad, or the next Wal-Mart. He writes that “countries need to become economic teams” and that “job creation must be the number one objective of state economic policy.” While there is no question that jobs are needed – though I might add there are jobs going begging in the village of Vail, Colorado where I am writing this – it is the private sector that does the hiring. Government needs to create the right tax incentives and regulatory environment to permit our entrepreneurs to compete in the global economy. (One has only to compare the U.S. Post Office with Federal Express and UPS to understand the differences between state run enterprises and private ones.)
The second piece, entitled “What America Does Best” , was written by Victor Davis Hanson on November 14 in National Review Online. Mr. Hanson points out that the country has been through such periods in the past. He cites the fact that the Soviet Union attracted many liberals, like Walter Lippmann who viewed the Communist experiment in Russia as a success; that it treated people more equitably. Similarly, German nationalism in the 1930s, as the United States still struggled with the Depression, was held up as a standard to be emulated by people like Democrat Joseph Kennedy and conservative, Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Both countries were seen to be led by an enlightened elite, in both business and government. Efficiency was deemed more important than the rights of individuals. As hard as it is to believe today, Communism, Nazism and Fascism were seen by many otherwise intelligent people, on the left and on the right, as the wave of the future. Nationalism trumped individual freedom. But all three forms of government died well-deserved deaths.
In the 1980s, “Japan, Inc.,” became, Mr. Hanson writes, “the next new paradigm of the post-American world…American ‘experts’ lectured us on the need to adopt Japanese-like partnerships between corporations and government.” Today Japan, after two decades of stagnation and a stock market that remains 75 percent below its peak, is no longer considered the model we should follow. Now, we are told by those like Mr. Stern, that China is the next replacement for America!
Truly enlightened men and women who know and understand history realize that societies that empower government over the rights of individuals are doomed to failure. Seventy-eight years ago, according to Erik Larsonin his book, In the Garden of Beasts, the then U.S. Ambassador to Germany (and historian), William Doddspoke at the Adlon Hotel: “…no system which implies control of society has ever ended in any way other than collapse.”
Crises are seen by some as opportunities to advance their political leanings. President Obama speaking in Osawatomie, Kansas (in the same city and on the 100th anniversary of a similar populist speech by President Theodore Roosevelt,) called for a “new nationalism” – a word with mixed, and dangerous, historical connotations. His rhetoric is populist and divisive. Like others before him, he has sought and found someone to blame for the financial collapse and the ensuing recession – “millionaires and billionaires.” He numbingly keeps repeating the mantra, in a manner reminiscent of power-hungry leaders who have preceded him. For Lenin, it was the aristocrats; for Hitler, it was the Jews. In his speech in Kansas, Mr. Obama declared the 2012 election to be a “make or break” moment for the U.S. middle class. He is right. The election does seem a make or break moment. Either the country acknowledges the factors that created the US's fiscal and financial problems – an irresponsible use of debt, by consumers and speculators, encouraged by a government exhibiting a moral laxity – and addresses the root cause, or we continue on a path toward socialism.
Mr. Obama, in 2008, campaigned on a promise of hope and change. Instead, he has delivered despair, and the change he has brought forth has been nothing more than an expansion of government. Keep in mind, any change that diminishes the individual and strengthens the state is alien to the US concept of freedom.
There are two views out there: One suggests that people need a more protective and omnipotent government; the other believes that individuals should be free to make their own choices, taking personal responsibility and being rewarded when successful. A society, of course, cannot function without government. The debate is about how big a role government should play in our lives. It is the optimist that believes in the people, while it is the pessimist who feels dependent on an all powerful state. "What every citizen around the world should always remember is that every public servant, including the President, is the employee of its country's humblest citizen".