The United States of America is the land of free enterprise. We base all our political and many of our personal decisions on that simple premise. We refer to the United States as the Land of Opportunity. The question we must ask is this: Is it true?
As you might expect, it is not as simple a question and a much more complex answer than one would like to hear. At present, we have two diametrically opposing viewpoints, along with trailing societal beliefs, existing side-by-side in the political life of the country. On the one hand, the Conservatives and their weaker sisters, the Neo-Conservatives, argue that we must cut government, reduce spending, become more self-reliant, trust corporations, disregard warnings about changes in the environment or the ecology that are farther away than one more generation, and use all of our land for private exploitation. There is no value in public ownership of land, no common interest in saving wild areas or any areas that can be used by private enterprise. The only common causes are national safety and those few things without which free enterprise cannot function securely such as secure financial and economic conditions.
Trailing the Neo-conservative point of view are the ideas that we should have a Christian society. By that we mean that literal interpretation of the Christian bible, presumably in some sort of concordium of all the fundamentalist Christian-sect beliefs should be somehow introduced into law. That would mean that we would outlaw such things as all abortions, homosexuality in any form, and the rights of women. Anyone convicted of adultery would be stoned, perhaps…which would be most Republican members of Congress apparently. This may sound silly, but the fact is that the Bible does call for these things and we should see what others are in the Bible, so that we can introduce them into society, rather than simply arbitrarily and hypocritically entering some of them, the ones we like, into legislation.
Another trailing viewpoint is one much more subtle. It can only be surmised based on empirical evidence. Since Ronald Reagan took office, the Deep South has become Republican. Men like Strom Thurmond and Trent Lott switched from the formerly Dixiecrat…pro-segregation…wing of the Democratic Party to the newly “conservative” wing of the Republican Party. Ronald Reagan made it clear that, while he did not consider himself a racist and assiduously avoided any racist comment, he would not any longer support policies like affirmative action. In other words, he would no longer support programs that would give blacks a head start in education and in public positions. This meant that blacks who, we should recall, had been indentured servants and indentured farm workers from 1619 to 1865 and then declared second-class citizens from 1865 to 1954 should by 1980, 26 years later, be considered to have been compensated for their enslavement. In other words, having been granted “equal opportunity” for those 26 years, they had remarkably, in Reagan’s view, educationally and economically caught up to whites. This, after approximately 350 years during which they were for the greater period not allowed education at all and the remaining period educated separately in a system with almost no value at all.
The Liberal point of view, we have on unimpeachable authority, calls for strong central government, strong military, a social safety net, free enterprise without cartels or monopolies, equal opportunity which may involve some affirmative action, a secular state with freedom of religion and rights that would include affordable health care, affordable retirement, and government involvement to insure the opportunity to work. Trailing the Liberal position are many individual sub-sets, almost all without religion involved. The first is that while religion and government should be distinct, every religion should have the right to practice freely so long as its beliefs are not deliberately damaging to society as a whole. Freedom of religion is followed by freedom of sexual practice, including the rights of male homosexual and lesbian marriage.
The Liberal point of view calls for the government to intervene in many situations. One is to offer loans to students and businesses when the private financial markets have no liquidity. Another is to offer underwriting for loans to qualified individuals who may otherwise not be able to qualify for home ownership. Liberals believe that while private ownership of property is the foundation for capitalism and the strong free enterprise system we have developed in the United States, we must be ready to accept some modifications. First, we must allow free space that is communally owned and managed by all Americans in those most beautiful and dramatic parts of the country that most dramatically express the natural beauty of our land. Second, we must protect those lands and others from exploitation that would seek immediate profit at the sacrifice of a heritage for all American generations to come. Conservation, in other words, is a Liberal principle. Similarly, while the capitalist system is the heart and soul of our country, it cannot be allowed to run totally free, in a typical pattern where a handful of companies, control production, prices and quality of life for their benefit alone. Some regulation must be allowed so that industry serves the People and the government protects the People as well as individual members of all industries.
The Conservatives make the strong point that the less money spent by government, the smaller the taxes required from the people, the more money will be in the hands of the people. The more money in the hands of the people, the more will be spent on the products of industry, thereby increasing employment and opportunity. These are good arguments. The contravening argument is that there must also be regulation because free enterprise encourages aggressive competition and competition must not overlook responsibility to society. That is far from a Socialist idea. Socialism requires the underlying principle that everyone be granted an equal share of the economic fruits of collective labor and production.
The regulated free enterprise society allows for millionaires and billionaires but also insures that society at whatever income level or in whatever geographic area is not damaged, either temporarily or permanently by economic activity. One only has to visit the mountains of Colorado to see in some areas still the tailings, large mounds of rocks and dirt that run down the sides of beautiful mountain streams, the remnants of the early gold-mining days. The Conservative point of view calls for only such regulation as called for by maintaining a level of society not immediately disturbed or harmed by products or services. The Liberal point of view adds the longer view. What will society look like in 100 years, a relatively short period in the overall history of our country?
The joker in the deck, of course, are those who would exert an influence over either of these two political positions. Lobbyists will always try to influence legislation by doing whatever is legal to amend or add legislation in their favor. In the past we have had lobbyists for the oil industry win a depletion allowance, a large tax break for the oil companies. We have had legislation to help farmers by subsidizing certain crops. We have had large corporations lobby for anti-union legislation and labor unions lobby for higher minimum wages. Sometimes these lobbying efforts take the proponents of one point-of-view completely off their message. Since 2001, when an almost totally Republican government held sway, until the elections of 2006, so early in 2007 the Democrats held some bargaining power, the size of government and government spending, including deficit spending, outstripped any period in U.S. history by huge amounts. This was during a period governed exclusively by a Neo-conservative President, Senate, House of Representatives and Supreme Court.
During the previous Democratic period, when a Democratic President held office and the Senate and House were Neo-Conservative part of the time, despite huge increases in the economy and tax income, very few pieces of Liberal legislation were passed.
The point is this: this is not a Liberal or a Neo-conservative nation, nor a Left or a Right nation. It is not socialist nor is it yet exceptionally oligarchical. It is now in one era of adjustment, just as there will come another era of a shift in the other direction. The mistake we all make is in reacting to the many messages of the media…most of whom have an axe to grind for someone else…that we are in a state of chaos. We are not. We are in a solid state of regrowth, a state of mind wherein most Americans are reassessing their lives and careers. As we work our way out of this deep recession, we will decide which direction we must go…either smaller more diversified government, or larger but more populist government. It will be a balance of both. It always has been, with the ship of state tilting to one side and then the other.
The principal thought we must all keep in mind is that we are all Americans, all working to have the best for our families and the best future for those to come, as happened with our ancestors, grandfathers, fathers and all those Americans who came before us.