Monday, July 5, 2010

The Fourth of July: Its Relevance to Today

The Fourth of July commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Amongst a sophisticated and admirable set of political ideas held by the signers of the Declaration was a disdain for despotic or tyrannical government--in modern terms: an over-reaching or overly powerful government. Today, on an almost daily basis, one cannot escape seeing a news story in which the federal government isn't trying to pass some new law to regulate some industry, or to issue some new threat against some business or businessman, or to bestow some new benefit on some new group of people--a benefit forced, by law, from others who must either produce it or pay for it.

“Of what relevance is this today?—in 21st century American? to my life?” one might ask. Although the Founding Fathers did not go out of their way to formulate treatises on the relationship between freedom (i.e., the protection of individual rights) and economic prosperity, one need only read some of their writings to see that they were, however, well aware of the relationship. Specifically, they took for granted that political freedom included and necessitated economic freedom, and they knew that the result of such conditions was economic prosperity. Come back to today: ever more stringent laws on individuals and their private enterprises; ever more regulations and “oversight” on “big business,” on banking, and on industries in general; ever more financial giveaways (bailouts to businesses and benefits and programs to individuals and categories of people); in short, ever more government—ever more government interference into the economy and into our lives, ever more government regulation and “public welfare.”

The result? Is our economy getting better or worse? Reliance on the opinions of economic experts and forecasters is not needed at this point. Ask yourself: Is your financial situation getting better or worse? Is the value of your house going up or down? Are your salary and benefits going up or are they getting cut? Are your prospects for jobs growing or diminishing? Is your earning potential going up, or do you feel lucky if it merely stays the same? Are things getting less expensive or more so? Do you find your savings going up or down? Are you finding that you have more money left over at the end of the tax year or less? Is it getting easier to make ends meet or more difficult? Is your debt getting paid down, or are you struggling while your debt just sits there unchanging or worse yet is mounting? Are your hopes for your economic future getting brighter or dimmer? Financially, is your life getting easier or harder? better or worse?

I would make a case in answer to these questions, but I don’t think I need to.

Are our elected officials—our President and our Congress—in recent decades (and even moreso today) on the right track? It depends on the standard. If the standard is government as a regulatory and welfare state, then, yes, they are indeed performing, as they continue to increase the size and scope of the government in this role. As Ayn Rand said, however: “Check your premises.” Check the basic ideas or assumptions underlying our ideas. Is this the proper standard? Should the role of government be that of a regulatory and welfare state—or should it be that of protector of individual rights, with the political and economic freedom that this entails and the economic prosperity that ensues? The full answer is not one that can be bestowed upon or ascertained by a person in a blog, or in any short article for that matter. It is in fact one that requires a thoughtful study and consideration over time. As an indication, however, one should consider the relationship between our current political leanings and our economic condition. One should not divorce the fact that as government increases in size and scope, our economy seems to be grinding to a standstill and our personal economic conditions worsen. (If this indication gives you pause to think and a desire to begin investigating further, I would recommend, as a place to start, a book called Atlas Shrugged.)

For me, the Fourth of July has always (as an adult) been about the revolutionary ideas of the Founding Fathers and how such ideas changed the world in terms of freedom and the resulting economic prosperity that such freedom created. I always assumed (or perhaps more likely hoped) that it meant the same thing for many others as well. Given the state of politics today and the political ideas and candidates that people are willing to support, however, I realize that this is not the case. Given our country’s current state, the Fourth of July is not and cannot be about recognizing this event’s political and historical significance; but I do hope that it can become about rediscovering it.