Happy Birthday to the greatestn nation on earth. I spend a lot of time criticizing our leaders and their policies, but there is no place else I would live. The US Constitution is still, over two-hundred years after its creation, the greatest single document ever written. Many other countries since have written constitutions and spilled tons of ink pontificating on theories of government, but none have had similar success in protecting individual rights while creating an environment where every individual can focus their productive energies in whatever direction they choose with generally minimal interference.
A while back I wrote about how wealth was created, and I pointed out that the great leaps we have made in human well-being over the last two hundred or so years stem from two effects:
- There was a philosophical and intellectual
change where questioning established beliefs and social patterns went
from being heresy and unthinkable to being acceptable, and even in
vogue. In other words, men, at first just the elite but soon everyone,
were urged to use their mind rather than just relying on established
There were social and political changes that greatly increased
the number of people capable of entrepreneurship. Before this time,
the vast vast majority of people were locked into social positions that
allowed them no flexibility to act on a good idea, even if they had
one. By starting to create a large and free middle class, first in the
Netherlands and England and then in the US, more people had the ability
to use their mind to create new wealth. Whereas before, perhaps 1% or
less of any population really had the freedom to truly act on their
ideas, after 1700 many more people began to have this freedom.
Many revisionist historians struggle to find some alternate explanation for the wealth and power the US enjoys today -- natural resources, isolation, luck, etc. But the simple and correct explanation is that more than any other country past or present, we created a country where more people are free to use their minds and more freely pursue the implications of their ideas.
Sure, our leaders, our military, and sometimes the nation as a whole screws up. I and others are quick to point these screw-ups out and sometimes we find ourselves wallowing in them. But at the end of the day, unlike in the majority of countries in the world, these screw-ups are treated as such, talked about and debated, and dealt with rather than treated as the norm.
Take the US military in an occupying role in Iraq. Out of 100,000 or so people, you are going to have some criminals who commit criminal acts, even in the military. The US army, unlike nearly every occupying army in history, generally treats its soldiers' crimes as crimes, and not as the inherent right of victors to rape and pillage. US soldiers who have committed crimes in Iraq will generally go to jail, while worse malefactors in most armies, even the holier-than-thou UN peacekeepers who seem to be engaging in rape and white slavery around the world, generally go unpunished. For all the crap the US military takes around the world, I bet you that if you took an honest vote on the question of "Which world army would you choose to occupy your country if you lost a war" most people would answer the US. If for no other reason because, despite all the charges of imperialism, our armies eventually leave rather than remain on as lingering masters.
So tomorrow, I will start dealing out more crap to our leaders, to the administration, to Congress, to the SCOTUS, and most especially to most every bureaucrat who thinks they can better manage my business or my property. But today I will step back and see the forest rather than the trees, and observe I am dang lucky to be an American.
For further thoughts, I refer you to my essay last year where I opined that many Americans miss the true greatness of America. They tend to celebrate first the "right to vote", when in fact many people get to vote but few enjoy the freedoms we do. The greatness of our country is in our protection of individual liberties and the rule of law. And the great insight our country was founded with is that rights flow from the very fact of our humanity -- they are not granted to us by kings or Congress. This last is perhaps most important, as I wrote:
At the end of the day, our freedoms in this country will only last so
long as we as a nation continue to hold to the principle that our
rights as individuals are our own, and the government's job is to
protect them, not to ration them. Without this common belief, all the
other institutions we have discussed, from voting to the rule of law to
the Constitution, can be subverted in time
Now I am off to see Buckingham Palace. If I see the Queen, would it be in bad taste to wish her a happy Fourth of July?