The greatest country in history

“Politics is the business of getting power and privilege without possessing merit.” — P.J. O’Rourke

The historian John Steele Gordon observes that the United States is the most influential country in history and that the reason is our economy. In his book, An Empire of Wealth, he declares that ours is “an empire of economic success and of the ideas and practices that fostered that success.”

Gordon describes the rise of the American economy as an “epic powered by uncountable millions [of people] pursuing their self-interests within the rule of law, which is the essence of liberty.”

Liberty has been a hallmark of our country for most of 400 years. Many of the early settlers came for religious freedom. Others “came to pursue their own ideas of happiness … with less interference than anywhere else.” The voyage was perilous; the New World sometimes more so. Many died at sea; many others died within a few years. But they took those risks for the sake of liberty.

In our Declaration of Independence the signers pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to support the idea that all men had the unalienable right to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Eleven years later, some of those same men signed the Constitution to “secure the blessings of Liberty”.

A century later French sculptor Frederic Bartholdi created the Statue of Liberty as a gift to the United States from the people of France. Do you know that a similar, though much smaller, Statue of Freedom tops the U.S. Capitol Dome?

The point of all this history is that Liberty, as a word and as an idea, has been the heart and soul of our country from the beginning. (Homework: on what U.S. coin is the word “Liberty”?)

Albert Einstein declared that “Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom.” Most of the world’s great technology was created in the United States. And with just 6% of the world’s population, the U.S. has won 42% of the Noble Prizes.

We became the greatest country on earth because ordinary people had the freedom to do extraordinary things. People such as Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Steve Jobs started from humble beginnings and created whole new industries.

Some may say that our success was an accident of our geography and our natural resources. But how then do they explain the economic success of Hong Kong? It is but a small island with zero resources. Yet its per capita income is among the highest in the world. Not coincidentally it is ranked highest in the world for economic freedom.

No. Prosperity is not a result of natural resources – or perhaps it is. The most valuable resource for any country is the human mind. And the United States “unleashed the energy and individual genius of man to a greater extent than has ever been done before. Freedom and the dignity of the individual have been more available and assured here than in any other place on Earth.”

Every year, think tanks around the world rank the various countries for their economic freedom, personal freedom, political freedom, etc. One such ranking is the Index of Economic Freedom. It measures ten components of economic freedom such as freedom from corruption, fiscal freedom, labor freedom, and trade freedom. After averaging the ten component scores to produce an overall score from 0 to 100, it groups the countries as Free, Mostly Free, down to Repressed.

Years of study have shown that more economic freedom corresponds to higher per capita income, stronger growth, less poverty, and a cleaner environment. Other studies have shown that freedom also corresponds to more happiness and longer life spans.

Prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall more than 20 years ago, Germany was two distinct countries: West Germany and East Germany. One was free and prosperous; the other suffered tyranny and poverty. When East Germany was freed from the tyranny of Communism and became part of a free united Germany, it quickly became prosperous.

Today, we can look at the very prosperous South Korea, which is “moderately free” and the literally starving North Korea, which is “repressed”. Some may think of China as being a great country but it is ranked “mostly unfree”. Its per capita income is only one-quarter of Taiwan’s, ranked “mostly free”.

So, where does the United States rank in the index? Our overall score has dropped to just 76, #10 in the world. We aren’t even the most free in North America; Canada has taken that spot. Five years ago we were rated “Free”, now just “Mostly Free”. The U.S. is one of only three countries in the world that have dropped for five straight years, a total loss of more than 5 points.

Predictably, we have less prosperity – the rich have gotten richer, the middle class poorer – we have low growth and more people on the edge of poverty. For the first time in history the U.S. has dropped out of the top 10 on the Legatum Institute’s prosperity index.

The only good news is that people realize that we are headed in the wrong direction. By more than 2:1 margins, polls show that we are on the wrong track. The cure is to restore the economic freedom that made us the greatest country on earth.

Born American, but in the wrong place

People with a mission to save the earth want the earth to seem worse than it is so their mission will look more important. — P.J. O’Rourke

One of my favorite true stories is about a family who escaped Communist Hungary and immigrated to the United States. They had suffered first under the Nazis and then under the Communists. The father had seen his own father sent to a Communist gulag for the great crime of owning a small American flag.

The beginning of the Hungarian revolution in 1956 gave the family some hope that tyranny would finally be overthrown. But when the Soviets crushed the revolution just two weeks later, the father determined it was finally time to leave. The parents first decided to ask their children if they agreed. The son, Peter, responded, “With my father I am willing to go to hell.” Later he recounted, “My father informed me that our destination was not ‘hell’ – we were already there – but someplace rather its opposite: America.”

“Why are we going to America?” Peter asked. His father answered, “Because, son, we were born Americans, but in the wrong place.” That phrase, “born Americans, but in the wrong place” has always stuck in my mind.

America is not just a place; it is an idea. As Harry Truman said, “Being an American is more than a matter of where you or your parents came from. It is a belief that all men are created free and equal.” Truman was echoing the words of Lincoln who believed that the statement in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” is the principle “that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world.”

For most of 200 years – indeed for most of 400 years – people all over the world have known that America was the land of freedom, born on the idea that all men were created equal, and that all have a natural right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

When the Schramm family escaped to Austria they were given temporary asylum while various embassies interviewed them for permanent asylum. The man from the German embassy extolled the virtues of their welfare state. The Schramms would have an apartment, a car, and a guaranteed monthly income. William Schramm declined the German’s offer. He wanted the blessings of liberty in America.

The Schramms did make it to America – on Christmas Eve, 1956. After processing in New Jersey, they settled in California, where both parents immediately went to work doing manual labor. In two years, they had saved enough to open a small restaurant. The entire family worked at the restaurant, they thrived, and a few years later moved to a larger restaurant.

Like many Americans, the Schramm family started with nothing, worked hard, took advantage of the opportunities that freedom gave them, and they prospered. Son Peter loved to read; he studied, and eventually became a Professor of History, ironically teaching native-born Americans about America. He explains:

“I tell them that they are among the fortunate of the earth, among the blessed of all times and places. I tell them not only that their country is the most powerful and the most prosperous nation on earth, but also that it is the freest and the most just. Then I tell them how and why this is so. I teach the principles from which these blessings of liberty flow.”

Dr. Schramm’s words were written in 2007. Are we still the most prosperous nation? Millions of people have given up looking for a job. The labor force participation rate is the lowest since 1979. Poverty is the worst since the mid-1960s. Median family income is down for four straight years; the rich are richer and the poor are poorer. GDP growth is a paltry 1.7%. This is the worst recovery in 70 years.

Not coincidentally, the United States’ rank in the Index of Economic Freedom has dropped every year since 2006. We have fallen from “Free” to “Mostly Free”. Less freedom produces less prosperity, lower life expectancy, less happiness, and fewer human rights.

Income mobility has also worsened. Throughout our history, there are countless stories of Americans moving from rags to riches. Ordinary people had the freedom to do extraordinary things. People like Henry Ford, the Wright brothers, and Steve Jobs started from humble beginnings and created entire industries .

Today, millions of kids are trapped in schools that are so corrupt and ineffective that half the children drop out before they graduate and half those who do graduate are functionally illiterate. They will never get a decent job or a shot at the American dream. Millions of other kids and adults are trapped in an entitlement system that keeps them on the edge of poverty. If they try to improve themselves, to learn skills, work longer, they lose benefits and end up worse off.

In the coming months we will talk about how good policies will lead to greater prosperity and greater opportunities for all. And we’ll talk about how bad policies are destroying jobs, keeping people poor, and killing any hope that they might do better.

Certain unalienable rights

“We must confront the fact that the government can either secure the rights of its citizens to their lives, liberty and property, or attempt to provide for the material needs of all, but it cannot do both. The latter requires surrendering the former.” — Stephen Bourque, WSJ letter

We all remember the famous phrase declaring that men are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Now who remembers the immediately following phrase? The only hint I offer is that it relates directly to Mr. Bourque’s quote.

How Republicans can get cool

From Glenn Reynolds (InstaPundit) in NY Post:

Republicans do badly with young voters, and one of the main reasons is that they’re seen as uncool. This is probably unfair — it’s not Republicans who are imposing college speech codes on students — but it’s the perception.

As a reader of my blog named Jeff Wimble wrote:

“Everything comes down to the movie ‘Footloose.’ For a large majority of people,the political question is, ‘How would the sanctimonious preacher from the movie ‘Footloose’ feel about this subject?’ They answer the question, and then take the opposite position.

“This mind-set is absolutely ingrained in a lot of people my age (a couple of years younger than Gen-X). For every preachy moral conservative I’ve met in real life, I’ve seen 20 on TV. For each Baptist I know in real life, I’ve seen 10 in movies. To me, they are all the preacher from ‘Footloose.’ ”

In real life, I don’t know any Republicans like that. To the contrary, we are the party working for more liberty, to reduce the control government has over our lives. The Democrats are the ones continually taking more and more power for government.

Nonetheless, the media do their best to give the impression that Republicans are preachy moral types. Reynolds suggests that the GOP can do more to counter that impression.

Read the rest…

Down in Concord

“No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.” — Mark Twain

Down in Concord, our State Reps have filed 581 bills, State Senators 142. Public hearings have been held on 308, another 195 are scheduled for this week. The full House has voted on 26, and will vote on another 49 this Wednesday.

Perhaps none of these bills is a danger to our lives, but many are a threat to our liberty or our property. Some few bills would expand our liberty and protect our property but those likely will not pass. As Thomas Jefferson observed, “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.”
Continue reading

Bill of Rights Day

On December 15, Cato reminded us that Today is Bill of Rights Day. Sadly, it is less a day to celebrate our rights than to mourn their loss.

  • Free speech is limited in the name of national security or campaign finance reform.
  • The Government makes it difficult to keep a gun at home or to bear a gun for self-defense.
  • It uses eminent domain to take our property and give it to a business.
  • We don’t have the protection of trial by jury when the government issues draconian fines.
  • Federal control intrudes into matters the Constitution reserves for the states or the people.

All in all only a single Amendment is still in fine shape. [Identify for yourself which one.]

Cato concludes:

A free society does not just “happen.” It has to be deliberately created and deliberately maintained. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. To remind our fellow citizens of their responsibility in that regard, the Cato Institute has distributed more than five million copies of our pocket Constitution. At this time of year, it’ll make a great stocking stuffer.

More freedom produces greater prosperity

I would like to thank Ken Schuster for inviting me to write a column here. It should be fun; I hope it will be interesting and informative. Let me start with the obligatory biography – which will be mercifully short.

The first time I came to Sunapee was as a kid in 1962. My father had many great friends here and we came almost every year. It was always one of my favorite places to visit. Later in life I continued to visit until I finally saved enough to buy a house in the area (Grantham). Later I bought property in Sunapee and then, in 2006 I built my house here. Today, I own and operate Georges Mills Cottages.

I have been a Navy veteran, a software guy, a small businessman, and am now an innkeeper of sorts. A few years ago I volunteered for the Budget Advisory Committee and currently serve as State Representative. I am a conservative, libertarian, Republican. My voting record has earned high marks from the House Republican Alliance and many conservative and liberty-minded organizations.

I vote for Liberty because it is the right and moral thing to do, and also because liberty and prosperity go hand in hand. Look around the world or among the 50 states: More freedom produces greater prosperity, less freedom leads to poverty.

Every year think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, Canada’s Fraser Institute, and dozens around the world publish ratings of economic freedom. Year after year, high freedom correlates to economic prosperity, improved life expectancy, less crime, a cleaner environment, and more human rights.

Do you remember when there was a West Germany and an East Germany? One was free and prosperous; the other suffered tyranny and poverty. Today, we can look at the very prosperous South Korea, which is “moderately free” and the literally starving North Korea, which is “repressed”. Some may think of China as being a great country but it is ranked “mostly unfree”. Its per capita income is only one-quarter of Taiwan, ranked “mostly free”.

One of our great statesmen noted that we “prospered as no other people on Earth” and explained that it was because “we unleashed the energy and individual genius of man to a greater extent than has ever been done before. Freedom and the dignity of the individual have been more available and assured here than in any other place on Earth.” (Homework assignment: Who said that?)

Among our 50 states just as among the countries of the world, greater economic freedom leads to greater prosperity. A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis reported that “states with greater economic freedom—defined as the protection of private property and private markets operating with minimal government interference—experienced greater rates of employment growth.”

In recent years, the United States has moved steadily downward in the rankings, dropping from “free” to “mostly free”. One of the reasons is a continual growth of regulations by most levels of government.

It was not regulations that made us the greatest country on earth. It was freedom – the freedom for ordinary people to do extraordinary things. Henry Ford, the Wright Brothers, and Steve Jobs created entire industries that provided good jobs for tens of millions of people.

Today, we have so many rules and regulations that a new business might not even get off the ground. A co-founder of Home Depot wrote that “Home Depot would never have succeeded if we’d tried to start it today. Every day you see [more] rules and regulations.” That one business employs 300,000 people. How many more hundreds of thousands of jobs are we killing by making it hard for a new business to succeed?

Free enterprise encourages creativity and productivity, and those are what cause prosperity. Less spending, lower taxes and fees, limited government, more freedom, fewer regulations. That is how to encourage businesses to create more good jobs in New Hampshire. If you want proof, just compare California and Texas. Businesses and individuals are fleeing California to escape high taxes and burdensome regulations. Texas has low taxes, and has reduced its regulatory burden. People and businesses are moving to Texas and creating more jobs than any other state in the nation.

There are two theories about how government can help the economy. One has worked every time it has been tried. That way is to reduce spending, lower taxes, lessen the regulatory burden – in short to increase freedom. The other way has never worked. That way is to increase spending, borrow money to “stimulate” the economy, increase regulations – to give more power to government, leaving less freedom for individuals. That failed in Asia, failed in Europe, failed all around the world.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis show that states with higher spending have less growth, states with lower spending have higher growth – on average 30% higher. And as a bonus “small-government countries achieve significantly better results in reading, math and science than those in big-government countries. Life expectancy is also slightly higher in small-government countries (at 81.3 years) than in big-government countries (79.9 years).”

The Obama administration is ruining our economy with big spending, gigantic borrowing, and onerous regulations. This has never worked. They have made the problem worse. We must get the big spenders out of Washington and we must keep them out of Concord.

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