Americans, like all great peoples of the past, have fallen prey to a dangerous phenomenon inherent in the human condition: they have taken too much for granted. We live in a land of miraculous bounty and plenty, with wonderful comforts, affordable high-tech goods, and time-saving services available to the great majority of people, especially those who work for a living. While many Americans, and particularly upper middle class “intellectuals,” urge the government to take from the “haves” to give to the “have-nots,” these purported do-gooders neglect to notice that the economic system that provides them the ability to be “compassionate” with other people’s money is being destroyed. These self-less folks are irreparably damaging the engine of wealth creation known as free market capitalism.
The self-described elites who unremorsely do so fail to comprehend that the state-led economic policies they endorse is not progressivism, in any meaningful sense, it is regressivism. State-led economics are not the unknown in the human experience, it is the nearly omnipresent norm. It is free market economics in any semblance that is the rarity, and the prime mover behind America’s meteoric rise to world power and influence.
Upper-middle class “liberals,” who are more accurately described as social democrats, and in some cases are outright socialists, tend to luxuriate in the fruits of capitalism’s produce. For simplicity’s sake, let’s call all such people who defiantly oppose capitalism in principle “leftists.” A typical leftist on a typical day might drive a Ford Focus hybrid to an overpriced coffee shop like Starbucks, type some self-writhing existentialist poems on his Apple computer, text-message his friend on his Blackberry begging her to read the dribble, and then cart off to university for a course in Post-Modern Modernist Art, whose classroom is comprised of massive steel and plastic structures, is outfitted with ample lighting, and is facilitated by state-of-the-art distance learning technology made possible by high-speed Internet cable. There the leftist will complete his Master’s project, a post-structural critique of capitalist neo-colonialism using some parts from an old transistor radio, an upside-down neon cross, a number of plastic hula-girls who shake when you vibrate them, and some brightly-colored wax-dipped bullets (the shell casings only, of course). The leftist will receive an ‘A’ while completely missing the irony every time.
What the leftist will never realize is that what separates the United States from those it supposedly ‘colonizes,’ with merely an offer of trade no less, is America’s capitalist economic system, which allows free-thinking individuals to create, risk-taking entrepreneurs to invest, and carefully-spending consumers to buy. America put a productive gap between itself and many other states that preceded it by millennia by adopting free market capitalism while other states continued on in tyranny and oppression. Simply put, the U.S. thrived while despotisms lagged behind. The tyrannies of the world could not beat the United States in terms of economic clout while still maintaining strangleholds on their respective peoples – therefore the U.S. had to be subverted. The statists of the world adopted and codified an ideology that would rationalize their totalitarian control over the economies, governments, and societies of the world, and scapegoated “capitalism,” a term invented by Karl Marx as a monolithic descriptor of free market economies, as the source of all of mankind’s woe. Here was a boot-licking statist ideology that so-called “radicals” could behind. Unbeknownst to most of these malcontents, subversion of the free market system leads directly to tyranny in economics and then in politics.
It never ceases to amaze how this point could be lost on so many presumably bright people. What could be more stark in the world than the prosperity of free peoples and the poverty of state-oppressed ones? Nevertheless, many intellectuals’ animus is directed at an economic system that provides people with so much bounty, and not at the state that takes it away. One reason for intellectuals’ misguided notions of state and economy is their romanticism of Europe.
Historically, European states put together impressive empires on the backs of colonial peoples, but the mercantilist ideology that guided them, and which men like Adam Smith criticized so vehemently, led these European economic systems to fall to shambles once they ran out of foreign people to exploit at the point of a gun. America refrained from participating in “The Great Scramble” until it dabbled in empire-building at the end of the nineteenth century, by which time the Sick Men of Europe were wheezing as if struck by a furious bout of consumption. But by the time America was poised to take over the European empires’ overseas possessions, the entire economic model of direct physical exploitation for economic gain was discredited. It was much more profitable to trade using modern transportation and communications technology, and to develop new markets.
Another reason for the persistence of statist myths among intellectuals is that they see the state as something that can be used to “help” people. They wax nostalgic about the heroic endeavors of FDR to comfort and aid the American people. They either don’t realize or refuse to acknowledge that since the nation’s founding, the darkest economic period in American history is the one that corresponds with the most state-intervention. Interventionist policies both preceded and coincided with The Great Depression. This is a point that is apparently difficult for some intellectuals to grasp. The central bank’s easy-money policies resulted in the “boom” of The 1920s, a period of economic exuberance that bordered on the perverse. The inevitable crash was worsened by the Fed’s restriction of the money supply following “Black Monday,” only to be exacerbated by the trade restrictions of Smoot-Hawley. The Keynesian economics that guided the futile policies of the FDR administration would become the norm for the remainder of the twentieth century, providing the basis for the stagflation era policies of the 1970s, and the “stimulus” insanity of the Obama-led Democrats today. Though these statist economic policies were all irrefutable failures, they persist in the minds of the elites out of a lack of appreciation for the free market system that helps make America exceptional.
What more Americans need to understand in order to appreciate how special their country is is a broad overview that throws into relief their country’s unprecedented trajectory from frontier wasteland to economic colossus in the brief span of two centuries. To provide a historical backdrop, let’s start with an approximation of American colonial life – medieval Europe.
Life in Medieval Europe was perilously dark, filled with superstition, plague, and obeisance to Church and State. The practice of freedom of religion could get you burned at the stake – or worse. People had horrible tooth decay from lack of fluoride and basic dental care. The best known anesthetic was a piece of wood to bite on while someone performed radical medical procedures such as amputating a limb. Bleeding was a folksy cure-all that left its “patients” in a puddle of blood and likely dead. Some peasants built abodes with poor ventilation and died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Everyday one actually went and got one’s own food, which required most of a peasant family’s energy. There was no Whole Foods. There was a lot of dirt, and of what you could coax out of it by the sweat of your brow, you might get to keep half. The rest was confiscated by aristocratic landowners or the nobility. Imagine, if you will, ‘progressivism’-cum- environmentalism on steroids.
Now conceive that out of this miserable state of human affairs a great flourishing takes place. This is no miracle, mind you; this is the result of a revolution, and we must pay heed that prior to any political or economic revolution, there is a revolution of the mind. Magnificent scholars like Thomas Aquinas rediscovered the ancient philosopher Aristotle. Aquinas, notably, integrated Aristotle’s philosophy into his account of the Nature of God’s universe. Superstitions began to be dispelled; Protestants began to challenge the hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church, and later, the state; and serfs departed from their fiefdoms to pursue crafts or trade. The mind was set free from the residual mystical thinking of past eras and science developed in leaps and bounds. Economies began to flourish, and the landed aristocracy, and the crowns they served, struggled to retain their grip on their wayward peoples.
Haltingly at first, but through trial and error, the statists developed an effective counter-strategy. At first, they exploited nationalism, a complicated bi-product of the workings of Johannes Guttenberg’s printing press and an expansion of tribal romanticism. Later, statists co-opted the ancient communalist ideals collectively referred to as ‘socialism‘ and adapted them to the modern era, which neatly broke down capitalist economic orders so that they can be reconfigured for totalitarian control by the statists. Surely, there were many, many radical “useful idiots” who presumably opposed the state enlisting such ideologies; but once they helped to usher in their “revolution,” meaning the repeal of freedom heralded in by the Enlightenment, these tended to be put on the guillotine or in the gulag, respectively, and were heard from no more.
So we will proceed without a hitch to what the statists and the leftists both hate, and yet exploit: the market system. It has not been through altruism but through self-interest that the greatest good has been accomplished in the world. It is no less than this point that this essay attempts to put out of reach beyond all reasonable dispute.
Firstly, we can address the “necessary evil” of the state, and its role vis-a-vis the market system. While it is true that a market requires clear rules of fair exchange, such as contracts, and ownership, such as private property, it is absurd to claim that simply because the market demands these things in order to operate, and because it enlists the instrument of justice that is the ideal state in order to make sure it does, thus the participants in the market owe tribute to those in the state. Because in America the state was developed specifically to defend the rights of citizens, including private property (another way of saying that bands of robbers, including statists, are forbidden from plunder), then it undeniable that freemen precede the state. Being rationally self-interested, these freemen instituted a state as an aegis by which to administer justice. They did not create a state as an institution of coercion by which the statists are “free” to pillage and plunder the citizens as they see fit. Thus, in the spirit of Bastiat’s The Law, we dash the absurd argument of the modern statist that men’s rights devolve from government on the rocks of history and reason; men, and particularly the men who formed the United States of America, through reason and deliberation, enshrined rights as a free-standing code of morality that exists irrespective of government. It is the singular task of government not only to respect, but to actually defend, the rights of man.
We thus move on to the second matter, and that is the economic system of the United States. The modern amenities that are ubiquitous in our daily lives are almost without exception due to invention or radical innovation by capitalists; that is to say, individuals working on their own, or in small groups of mutually interested individuals, in pursuit of personal fame and fortune. The way individuals acquire fame and fortune is by making as many other people happy as possible with their creations. The way politicians acquire fame and fortune is by conquest, looting, the plunder and redistribution of resources, and massive erections to their ego that are often euphemistically referred to as “public works” projects. There have been noble politicians who have made contributions to mankind, and these typically consist of those who have led people in defensive struggles against invaders, or who have led men and women to freedom, and thus many deserve credit for these endeavors.
But when comparing the outstanding “public works” ordered by politicians to those in their charge to the inventions and discoveries of free, self-interested individuals throughout history, there really is no contest as to what kind of people have made the most people happy. While statists frequently point to such government-led projects as The Great Pyramids, The Hoover Dam, and The Apollo Project as feats that no individual could match, these works are nearly all predicated on innovations developed by individual scientists and mathematicians working alone, and nearly all require coerced labor or forcibly acquired wealth. And if we examine each of these feats, although large in scope, they are quite limited in the amount of men they benefit. There is good reason for this. Government officials are not motivated by the same pressures as individuals working in a marketplace. They have two principle motives for being in government: To use power for political gain and self-aggrandizement, and to control the people, lest they catch on and rise up against the politicians. Individuals in a marketplace have a different impetus for action: They seek fame and fortune, or at the very least, the satisfaction of their wants, and thus are pressured to respond to what others in society demand, while creatively employing one’s talents and hard work to do so. The American combination of creative minds operating in freedom, risk-taking investors, the forces of mass production, and an interconnected marketplace utilizing mass transit and communications, has proven to be the formula for a powerhouse of productivity and want-satisfaction unmatched in world history.
If an American takes a look around himself, he sees that he is surrounded by marvels that could not have been dreamt of three decades, let alone a century ago, let alone two hundreds years ago. The American’s world has been transformed over time by countless inventions: from Benjamin Franklin’s ingenious contraptions, such as the Franklin stove and the bi-focal; to Henry Bessemer’s design of the blast furnace, and the development of steel; to George Stephenson’s steam locomotive and the building of the Transcontinental railroads; to Eli Whitney’s cotton gin, Singer’s sewing machine, and Levi Strauss’ creation of denim; to George Bissel’s discovery and development of crude oil for heat, fuel, and lubrication of machinery, and Edwin Drake’s innovations in oil well drilling; to Thomas Edison’s work in electricity and the invention of the incandescent light bulb; to Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone; to Marconi’s demonstration of radio communication; to Henry Ford’s advancements in mass production of the automobile; to countless other improvements to human life such as derived from gas ovens, Hoover vacuums, televisions, microwaves, commercialized flight, Apple computers, high-speed cable, satellite TV, cell phones, iPads – does the list really need to go on?
The statists’ record of war, slavery, and colonialism, is put to shame by the track record of free market capitalists, who indisputably have advanced the greater good, selfishly and independently, of course. But the power of capitalism as it is coming at the direct expense of the statists,’ the machinery of the state is devoted to the endless demonization of capitalism: by conflating it with direct imperialism; by blaming it for market crashes that arise most often from central bank policy; by arguing that the mere life necessity of work is akin to enslavement. In this regard, the Marxists, and contemporarily, the Cultural Marxists, come in quite handy for the progressive-statists. Since doctrinaire Marxism failed to predict the inevitable collapse of the capitalist system and its historically automatic replacement by utopian socialism, the Cultural Marxists instead attacked capitalism morally, in the realm of values, employing “critical theory” to try to rip apart the assumptions of the capitalist system on the foundational level. They engaged this war utilizing a variety of media, employing technology developed in the capitalist system itself, of course, such as music, movies, and art. They also infiltrated and exerted influence over institutions of communication and upward social mobility: such as universities and schools; news media; courts; unions; and the government bureaucracy. Meanwhile, under the guise of ensuring “safety,” and providing “security,” the statist-progressives worked to suppress capitalism through endless meddling, extortion, and market interference, and whose predictable disruption of economic relations was then blamed on “capitalism” itself. For this purpose, the Fabian socialism of Keynes provided enormously useful for progressive ends; and thus no amount of failure in economic practice of Keynesianism succeeds in deterring statists. The goal is not economic success, but economic control.
As a counter-factual, we can use a hypothetical imagined history to illustrate what might have happened if statist-progressives had been entrenched as they are now in America and Europe centuries earlier. The steam engine was developed by Thomas Savery, an Englishman, who spent huge amounts of money perfecting the technology. He patented it and made a good deal of money on the product, although the initial models had the deadly flaw of lacking pressure release valves. The explosions of several engines killed and maimed many workers. If progressives had been alive in Savery’s day, they likely would have sued him into financial oblivion, revoked his patent, branded the invention too dangerous for operation, and that would have been that. The development of the steam engine and thus the locomotive would have been put back decades due to the meddling of so-called “progressives.” This is not to say that I advocate the employment of dangerous technology, simply that ‘caveat emptor‘ provide heady warning to any individual utilizing unproven technology. This rule should be sufficient in a civilized society to allow individuals to innovate, to suffer the consequences of their own actions, and to reap the rewards of their own successes.
But the proliferation of unfortunate deadly accidents in the industrial era is blown out of proportion and all instances are used as morality tales to illustrate the dangers of the “unfettered marketplace.” Psychologically, the effectiveness of this “black PR” technique is predicated on the immediacy that is presented by mass, nearly instantaneous communications. Non-coincidentally, international terrorists have learned quite a bit from progressives about how to terrorize massive audiences by making illustrations out of a handful of victims. Yet the infinitesimal probability of such horrifying attacks occurring to the audience member doesn’t resonate; he is often more than ready to turn over hard-won liberty for the illusion of security the statist promises to provide. But the power the individual turns over to the state rarely, if ever, results in security; the more power accumulates in the centralized state, the greater the tendency for terrorism of the populous; this time, undertaken much more systematically, and oftentimes, on a much, much larger scale that international terrorist organizations could ever dream. One might say, in passing, that terrorists will win against the West simply if they undermine the civil liberties that the governments of free nations are designed to uphold.
We have already noted that centralized states can and do produce humungous marvels that benefit relatively small numbers of people. But centralized states, especially those that accumulate significant power, produce something else: Mass misery and poverty.
By centralized states, we are referring to the model of government that has persisted since the days of Sargon I of Akkad through FDR’s Great Depression America to Kim Jong-Il’s North Korea. Of course, there is the matter of the divergence in the relative scale and power of centralized governments throughout history, but suffice it to say that for our purposes, the modus operandi of centralized governments is to accumulate authority and wield it over a population in an extended territory outside the locale of the government’s capital itself. The underlying driving impetus, or essence, of the government is what defines it.
Thus we see impotent centralized governments in unfree, non-capitalist nations in Africa unable to guarantee contracts and private property, due mainly to a lack of social understanding of the concepts by the people there, and thus there remains a dearth of a sufficient number of people to organize in order to found governments that can preserve free nations.
In Europe, there has long been a tradition of elitist-directed societies that has outlasted the imperialist policies that allowed the respective states to get away with it. Confusing democracy with freedom, the masses instituted governments that promised to give them whatever they demand, thus avoiding the economic reality that they themselves have to satisfy those demands. This has produced little but extremely daunting amounts of debt, mitigated only by the subsidization of Europeans’ collective security by the United States via the Cold War-era institution known as NATO. Americans not only built the engine of the world through free market capitalism, benefiting its trading partners in more regressive parts of the globe, it harnessed its engine to pull the dead weight of outdated regimes. While the folly of the Europeans’ quixotic endeavors to obviate economic reality has begun to sunk in, the United States has elected a man to high office who has set off tilting at dilapidated windmills.
But what happens when economic orders crumble completely? Nothing good. The chaos of hyper-inflation has ushered in brutal, dictatorial regimes in Germany and Zimbabwe. Widespread starvation brought people to their knees in China and Ethiopia. Central governments have used its control over economies to reward the loyal and obeisant, and to punish the unruly and defiant. This should provide warning to the American people, whose statist regime is putting its economic order at grave risk.
Ultimately, unopposed statism results in mass murder. There are countless examples of this throughout history. Archetypes of these cases vary from the explosive national model, which leads to futile, self-destructive wars; to the implosive, internal decay model of socialism, which demoralizes a people and leads to the collapse of societies and economies; to the paranoid death cult model, which is just vigorous enough to sustain itself – for a while. Whether it be megalomaniacal exploits such as Napoleon’s ravaging of Europe, the hand-to-mouth existence of the impoverished state of Castro’s Cuba, or the collectivization and purges of regimes such as Stalin’s Russia, the life-styles of people in state-dominated countries go from bad to worse to unspeakable.
The question remains for those impervious to reason and history: Could it happen here?
What made America exceptional in human history and spurred its incredible rise to preeminence in the free world was not a history of imperialism, colonialism, and plunder. The United States did take part in the slave trade, and did immorally gain from slave labor. The Constitution of the United States, however, banned the importation of slaves before many of the supposedly “enlightened” European nations. America ended slavery for good through a bloody war between the states at approximately the same time as other European nations ended the practice. It is important to note that the United States did not lag behind the rest of the world in coming to realize the hypocrisy and the inhumanity of slavery, nor did it trail appreciably behind in ending the barbaric institution.
What made Americans great was their pioneering spirit, rugged individualism, and the willingness to earn an honest living. Neither desiring others to run one’s own life, nor trusting the government to tell others how to live, most people avoided getting involved with the government. They preferred to work, raise a family, be left alone, and leave others alone. Unfortunately, a fatal seed lay in this passive resistance to government involvement. At one point, the seemingly infinite expanse of private property began ran out. There was no where left to run. Politicians schemed to “bring the state back in,” and slowly fixed a loose noose over the country.
Meanwhile, federalism, the political architecture of the nation, was assaulted under the rubric of “democracy,” which no serious political thinker in world history has ever endorsed. An anti-states rights agenda was driven along by an ever-meddling central government in Washington D.C., which finally found its justification to effectively eliminate the foundational assumption of the ‘Union’ under the pretense of eliminating slavery. While economic slavery is an unforgivable wrong, in no wise does it justify political slavery.
While the central government expanded its reach, progressives hastened to end the availability of private property, and thus the ability for people to escape the control of politicians. Progressives accomplished this both by restricting land with humongous “public” parks and acquiring huge blocks of federal lands, now a mainstay of the “environmentalist” movement; and then by perverting the concept of private property beyond all recognition with absurd interpretations of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, and later with affronts to the concept itself, such as “eminent domain.”
The Jeffersonian vision of an America filled with self-ruling freemen in heterogeneous, self-organizing communities was being throttled, seemingly by design. The Hamiltonians had perverted the capitalist system with the introduction of a central bank, a flagrant violation of the explicit prohibition of the institution by the Continental Congress. The Whigs had picked up on Hamiltonian thinking by restricting free trade in the “national interest.” Nearly every modern-day economic analysis undertaken using rigorous scientific standards suggests that protectionism is a self-defeating practice, which jibes with the general tried-and-true theory that freedom leads to prosperity.
This is not to say that free market capitalism is perfect, but it is superior to state-manipulated capitalism, the intermediate stage on the inevitable path to socialism, because the former disperses risks in an economic system. While some businesses in a free market system fail, at least the entire economic system tends not to fail at once, which we see in states where central banks command the money supply by setting interest rates. Where free market capitalist systems do run into problems is with huge influxes of specie currency, such as gold and silver, which is being used at the time as capital. But in the modern era, the risk of such huge influxes of gold and silver grows more remote. In sum, there is a reason for the growing tendency and frequency of recessions and depressions; the purposive influx of capital via systematic inflation of the currency by a central bank rewards the administrators of the banks themselves, and punishes those further along in the money supply chain through currency devaluation. In practice, this means working more, gaining less, and being more dissatisfied with the economic system. The invisible hand of the central bank, and not the market, is seizing the wealth of the people, while those of the economically ignorant perceive it all as “theft” by the greedy, who are driven by evil “profits.” This lays the preconditions to sell socialism to the gullible masses.
The final ingredient in disenchanting a people with “capitalism,” that monolith of the left whose notion apparently cannot be twisted enough beyond recognition, is progressive taxation. While the left bemoans the “maldistribution” of wealth in the nation, we must ask ourselves what it is that the left finds so repugnant about those who produce the best goods and services making the most wealth. It is very simple. In a free country, meaning the freest in accordance with true human nature, the economic, political, and societal spheres are divided. In an authoritarian state, politicians covet the economic power of the businessmen, and we should add, the social power of influential artists and commentators in the marketplace of ideas. In the corrupt state, politicians want to control everything, and thus all spheres of human activity tend towards “convergence,” using the instruments of lies and coercion. We would be remiss to note that for world communists, this “convergence” does not end at the state level; but rather it is an international goal driven along by powerful factions in such coalitions as the European Union, the United Nations, and the (former) Soviet Union.
The point is that the United States is in danger of ceasing to remain the land of the free, and indeed, we find ourselves chasing the steadily moving shadow of the totalitarians, who are forging ahead almost faster than we can keep up. We must seize the high ground in the realm of ideas, and to do this, we must shine the truth on the would-be tyrants. This would at least vanquish the lies, and prepare us mentally to resist the coercion the potential subjugators are designing for us.
Mobilize for action, be of good courage, and defend America against all enemies, foreign and domestic. We are in a war for the hearts and minds of the Republic, and as foot soldiers, we must never waver. Sound the bell of liberty so that it rings loud and true! Though it be broken, it shall not fail us in the fatal hour.