This week brings with it one of my favorite holidays – Independence Day. Anyone who knows me knows I do not take the 4th of July lightly. Yes, like most Americans, I watch fireworks. Sure, I host a barbeque. But, I also recite the Declaration of Independence from memory, eat the founding fathers’ favorite food dishes, and dress up in stockings with knickers and tri-cornered hat. I give a terrific amount of thought to the meaning of our country’s birthday all year round and do my best to make sure everyone around me is thinking of it too. What those around me might not know is that I spend nearly an equal amount of time, all year long, thinking about the future day of our country’s death.
What!? You cry. Our country is going to die? Unfortunately, yes, our country will die, or at least as much as any country can die. Do I want it too? Of course, not, but as a student of history I see that countries and cultures do die. Mayan, Indus, Minoan, Gaul, Vikings, Ancient Egypt, Macedonia, Persia, Rome, Ottoman, civilizations and cultures, both big and small, are all now lost to history.
Some civilizations last for thousands of years, others for much less, but they all die out. How did they die out? Some ended through natural climate change, others to some form of natural cataclysm. Foreign invaders erased some; others, through wars from within. The end of some remain yet a mystery. Yes, the lands of these civilizations are still there; Mayan land is now Mexico; Persia is Iran; Gaul is France; Macedonia is Greece; Rome is Italy; etc. Likewise, the land that makes up America will not disappear, only its language, clothing, architecture, cuisine, homes, families, institutions and customs. Perhaps, some art will survive. Perhaps, a few legends, or a few tales (Hopefully, nothing about the Kardashians), but everything you love and care about will be gone.
What will cause the end of America culture and civilization? I cannot tell you, for I do not know. Maybe, it will be a natural cataclysm like the one that took out the Minoans. We do have a beautiful National Park named Yellowstone in the middle of our country that doubles as the largest volcano caldera in the world. It is active and some day will blow. If we are still here when it does, it will not be a good day for America (or the rest of the world, for that matter). But, it’s not any natural disaster that could befall us keeping me up at night thinking about our end. A man who eats clean, drinks lots of water, sleeps well and oft exercises does not stay fit for fear of getting struck by lightning. He knows when it comes to that, it’s simply your time and there is nothing anyone can do about it. What I do worry about, as should the slothful man who sits on the couch playing video games, drinking beer and eating Twinkies, is the damage we do to ourselves which hastens our demise.
Roman civilization was around more than three times as long as American civilization and has thus far had much more impact on the course of history. I’m sure at the height of its power, few of its citizens likely thought it could fall. It made great contributions to the world while it was here and was the most powerful empire on Earth in its time. How could such an influential and powerful civilization be felled?
Rome started as little more than a village and gained its strength early as a group of mostly decentralized and independent city states that cooperated as a loose federation for mutual protection. It was much like how our own American colonies cooperated with one another for mutual benefit. Rome’s plebeian farmers scraped a hard life out of the inconsistent soil. But, knowing anything they grew above subsistence might be theirs to sell, they worked hard and made their lives better. It was a primitive form of capitalism. This also comports with what we know about the rise of wealth in early America. When wealth accumulation really took off, Rome needed new rules for an advancing civilization so it created a broader more centralized government. The Romans did not choose a huge powerful, despotic and authoritarian government to start. Why would they drastically change a system which was making them powerful? They instead chose a republic and used democracy to choose representatives in government. This kept the chains off the economy and allowed for continued growth. After a few hundred years, Rome stood alone in power. Sounds quite familiar, doesn’t it?
America got its start in the village of Jamestown, Virginia. It wasn’t an immediate success. In the first few years, the communal settlers barely got by and looked likely, like those before them, to fail at the creation of a permanent settlement. But before they failed, they tried one last thing. Instead of working together communally to produce their needs, they were each given plots that belonged, not to the community, but to them alone. Private property. The motivation found in keeping the fruits of one’s own labor, and being able to sell off the excess capital, changed the nature of their work and the settlement bloomed. America was off and running. Capital begat capital, begat capital, begat capital. Capitalism created an explosion of wealth that took America from a world backwater to a world power in a few hundred years. Not wanting to rock a boat with the potential to unleash the greatest explosion in the rise of living standards the world had ever seen, our Founding Fathers instituted a republic with democratically elected representatives to preserve the new culture we’d created.
That capitalism is an engine of wealth creation should not be debated. Even Karl Marx himself would agree to its efficacy in wealth creation. His thoughts on capitalism, and he was absolutely right (man, that’s hard for me to say), was that it leads to some people’s level of wealth being higher than others. In some cases, much higher. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. People are different. Some men enjoy different time ratios of work to leisure. There’s a whole spectrum of gifts and intelligences we are each bestowed at birth. The infinite combination of such factors would naturally land each of us upon differing levels of wealth accumulation. That some men are rich, and others are not, is not the problem. What is the problem is that when some men get rich they use the incredible power of their wealth to purchase political privilege, entrenching themselves in power and then using that power to control other people, especially any competitors who might put them out of business by doing what they, themselves, used to do better. In this way, wealth creation and rising living standards slow down. The practice is unjust and evil. Marx knew this and lashed out at capitalism as an unfinished product that must be finalized into a more egalitarian form, controlled not by an industrial, politically connected class, but by the victimized majority masses. The people, Marx said, would rise up and force politicians to seize control of the means of wealth production and distribute its fruits more equitably. Stated in more contemporary fashion, the government would use its power to redistribute the basics needed for survival. This solution is also, not only evil, but stupid. Marx wanted to flip to the other side of the coin, but failed to reason that it was still the same damned coin! Is there a difference in morality between a rich man paying a politician in exchange for his vote and a poor man being paid by a politician in exchange for his vote? No. If we ran our farms, hospitals, grocery stores, and other enterprises communally, like in Jamestown, it would stop the engine creating our wealth, advances in technology and rising standard of living. The poor man will, in exchange for money, vote to tear down the very system which creates the wealth he so covets. And, when their economic ignorance tears our civilization down, and the money’s gone, they will likely beg for serfdom to keep them from starvation.
Whether the growth of life and prosperity is stopped because the wealthy take control of government, or, instead, we stop the growth of life and prosperity because the common masses of people take control of government, I wish to ask, what is the common denominator in both losses? The answer is simple: government. And so is the solution to gaining the wealth creation of capitalism, and its ability to squelch poverty, while, at the same time, keeping the vast masses free from oppression by those with greater wealth is: limited government. It is the inflexibility of government bureaucracy, whether created by rich trying to stay rich, or by the poor trying to get what they did not earn, which leads to the death of the engine that creates the wealth we all fight over in the first place.
Prosperity always comes first to a civilization. Government parasites come in second to control this new wealth and growth slows, halts or reverses, giving rise to unjust inequalities. If you want the continuing growth of prosperity, then you must allow for capitalism to start it, but then quickly deny the government control of it. So, if a man made rich by free markets comes to a politician and says, “Here’s some money. I want you to make a rule only I am rich enough to follow, but not my competitors, so that I may remain rich and get even richer,” a politician must say, “I will take your money, but I must tell you, I cannot help you. What you ask of me is forbidden by the written rules of our republic – rules no democratic majority can even overturn.” If the wealthy were unable to hijack the levers of government, there would be no need for the masses to then follow suit and seize the levers for themselves. The point is these levers are made of force and are evil. They cannot be allowed to exist – period.
Unlike the Minoans taken out by natural disaster, Rome was destroyed by its own folly. It literally rot from the inside out. Rome died, not because it was fit and youthful but, because it was a slow and lumbering empire, bloated with government bureaucracy. It could not respond quickly in dealing with new challenges from the world around it. We are not, I think, on the verge of the end of our American civilization, but I do think the days of our nimble youth are behind us. Everyday our government becomes more bloated with a maze of bureaucracy, rules, laws, red tape and the coordinating taxation of the population needed to support it. Every new day seems to bring calls for new government agencies to solve new problems; problems government graft and bloat likely caused itself. The die is cast. We have been diagnosed with terminal bureaucratic-itis. We are heading toward a lumbering and bloated death. Bureaucratic-itis will not kill America immediately, but will certainly cut many good years from the end of her life.
The good news is there is a cure for this disease of civilization. A cure which can push the sun back up into the sky and return us to the days of our youth and vigor. It is a vaccine named: Liberty. Civilizations have perished from a lack of it but, like a man cannot die from too much health, no country has ever died from too much of it.
Look back this Independence Day to remember what made us the grandest country in the history of the world. We cannot afford to forget the lessons of liberty and limited government taught by our Founding Fathers. Do not let them die – or we, for sure, will.