Let’s talk about some basics – the sources of American economic power.
- We were always an immigrant society, peopled with those who had the drive and courage to leave where they were, cross the ocean and begin again with nothing.
- Initially we were agricultural. One innovation was small, “republican,” landownership by independent farmers. Their efficiency made everything else possible.
- We were among the leaders in the banking revolution which simplified and facilitated commerce.
- The transportation revolution began in England but it had an enormous impact on the American economy because of the sheer size of the country.
- Our system of democratic schooling – education for all, rich and poor, boys and girls, immigrants and natives – was revolutionary and made us an international leader.
- England pioneered the scientific revolution. But America took advantage of the land grant colleges, and with the appreciation for learning that came with both the Christian and Jewish communities that relocated here, America became a major source of invention.
- Americans led the revolution in manufacturing – inventing and perfecting the assembly line.
Now what? Everything we achieved is out there.
- Other countries studied our manufacturing methods, built on them and made their own advances.
- Other countries created education systems that produce large numbers of well prepared graduates while we’re disinvesting in our schools, preferring to spend money on jails.
- Science is worldwide; there are no secrets in science.
- Since World War II, we took apart our rail system and just left pockets where people and jobs can reach each other. Now we rely on our road system, copied in part from Eisenhower’s observation of German autobahns, while other countries have developed much faster and more sophisticated public, freight and mass transit systems.
- The banking system, reorganized to satisfy the largest institutions in total defiance of the historic American antipathy to large, too-powerful institutions, has shown its weakness.
- And Americans are attacking immigrants, perversely describing some of the hardest working people here as if they were lazy bloodsuckers.
What makes it worse is that Americans resist looking at what is happening elsewhere. The Chinese and the Japanese happily studied and copied us. But our culture is weighed down by American success, too proud to learn from others, or figure out what their strengths are and build on them. We behave as if having once led the world, it will be automatic for us to continue to do so, if only we keep our eyes closed, our ears covered and our energies focused on devotion to the giants of the American past.
No country or people in the history of the world has ever maintained its dominance. There is nothing automatic in a powerful American future, especially if we are unwilling to face the challenges ahead, the damage we are doing to our land, our waters, our air, our health, and our climate, unwilling to consider twenty-first century infrastructure that others are developing.
Instead we fight about whether government can play a role, or whether the rest of us will be left with nothing but prayer that the kleptocrats, who now run our country, will somehow decide it’s in their interest to do what the rest of us need.
Many religions say God helps those who help themselves, while we ideologically make ourselves helpless. America as we know it will not long endure if we let the kleptocrats and the do-nothing crowd hold us down.
— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, February 21, 2012.