Sep 3, 2012

The End of the American Era?

The 20th century is referred to by many as the American Century. For the greater part of the century America was seen as the World's leader. As the world's wealthiest nation, we lead the world in economic growth and development. As a symbol of freedom, we were seen as moral leaders in world affairs. But many argue that America has lost this prestige.

In June, HBO Series The Newsroom aired an episode where news anchor Will McAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels) is asked in front of a full auditorium of college students by a sophomore student, Jenny, "Can you tell us in a sentence why America is the greatest country in the world?" McAvoy first dodges the question, giving the New York Jets as the reason. This is a foreshadowing of his next response since the Jets are not a bad team but are not exactly number one. They have not been to the Super Bowl since 1969. McAvoy is drawing a comparison between the Jets' status within the NFL and America's status in the world. When the moderator insists that McAvoy give an honest answer, he explodes into a rant where he gives his take on where America finds itself today. You can watch the video below if you haven't seen it yet.

The statistics that McAvoy lists show that America is no longer number one in the areas that it is proud of. He does mention three statistics where America is number one today and two are cause for great concern. We are number one in the number of incarcerated citizens per capita and number one in defense spending. Contrary to what McAvoy's colleague, Luis, answers, we are no longer number one in freedom, which was our main source of pride for the past two and a half centuries.

McAvoy ends by saying that we used to be the greatest nation but that is because we used to be informed. He also calls this generation the worst generation ever. I believe that there is still hope for this generation to become informed. But I believe that the problem goes beyond just one generation's state of awareness. We allowed our liberty to erode away and we will continue on a dangerous path if we do not act soon. Our loss of liberty has caused us to loose our stance as the world's leader.

For decades, America was regarded as the world's wealthiest nation and seen as an example. Americans lead the world due to hard work and a powerful sense of entrepreneurship. We still have examples of leadership in business. We've had people like Reed College dropout Steve Jobs, creator of the Apple franchise. We have people like Sara Blakely, the youngest self-made female billionaire who created Spanx with an initial investment of $5,000.Warren Buffet started out with $9,800 and today he is worth $40 billion. And if you feel that entrepreneurialism isn't for you, you can try becoming an intrapreneur.

Americans still work hard and want to succeed but some people feel that the only way to become successful is if you get lucky. The keys to success are still hard work, motivation, and a strong drive but it is harder today to start a business or hire employees than it used to be due to government's extent of involvement in the economy. Last summer, three Georgia teenage girls opened up a lemonade stand to make enough money to visit a water park. The police decided to shut down the girls' lemonade stand because they had not paid for a permit that would have cost them $50 dollars a day. The police said that the girls could not sell lemonade because they did not know what the girls had put in it. These girls came up with a business solution to their problem but a silly government regulation stopped them. They are not alone. In Las Vegas, Lissette Waugh and Wendy Robin decided to open up their own make-up artistry schools. They were told that if they did not have a cosmetology license, they would have to pay a $2,000 fine and shut down their schools. They were told that if they were granted the license they would have to teach a cosmetology curriculum chosen by the city government, a curriculum that has nothing to do with make-up or with the students' interests. The entrepreneurs decided to sue the city. Institute for Justice attorneys are currently overseeing Waugh v. Nevada State Board of Cosmetology.  Rather than protecting the right to earn an honest living, government is impeding it. We have allowed petty government regulation of the free market to stifle business growth and development. How can we expect to lead the world economy if it is harder each day to start a business or hire employees in America? This video shows the effect that economic freedom has on our economy and why America is loosing its footing on the list of attractive economies.

America has also lost social freedom. As McAvoy pointed out, we have the highest incarceration rate in the world. Even oppressive regimes like Iran, Saudi Arabia, China and the former Soviet Union have never imprisoned as many citizens as America does. For a closer look at this issue, visit this New York Times article. We also have to keep in mind that the Federal Government is doing everything in its power to restrict civil liberty today. It began with the PATRIOT Act but we've had Congress attempt to pass legislation like SOPA, PIPA, and ACTA, which threaten civil and economic liberties alike. The President now has the power to order the assassination of any citizen that he deems too dangerous. Under the NDAA, the President can have anyone detained indefinitely without trial and if you are suspected of associating with members of any group that is considered a threat, you can be arrested by the military and held "until the end of hostilities." The President signed this into law but a Federal judge ruled the provision unconstitutional. This is not the last battle that Americans will have to fight to protect their civil liberties. Congress is currently considering a bill, H.R. 3166, or the Enemy Expatriation Act, that uses similar wording found in the NDAA but goes further. If this bill is approved, it would give the Federal government the authority to strip citizenship away from Americans deemed dangerous. You would lose any protection of your civil rights granted by your citizenship. If we continue to lose our civil liberty, we will have no means left for defending our economic liberty. It is vital to the survival of liberty that we inform ourselves and take it upon ourselves to spread the word regarding these issues. Will McAvoy was right when he said that America was once number one because of an informed generation.

The final statistic from the HBO's The Newsroom that is important to understand in order to discuss America's decline as the world's leader is defense spending. The United States currently spends $711 billion annually on defense, compared to the world's second largest military spender, China, who spends $143 billion. In fact, the US military budget accounts for 41% of worldwide military spending. The only way this is morally or fiscally justified is if we plan on going to war with two thirds of the world in the near future, which is clearly not the case. Had we cut just half of that spending, we would have eliminated roughly one fourth of our $1.3 trillion deficit and we would have still had a military budget more than twice the size of any other nation's.

We must also consider the impact that this has on our foreign policy. America should have learned this past decade that enforcing policy through military intervention is counter productive. Instead we have been engaged in military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen and Libya these past two years alone and our President is now threatening Syria with military action. We are surrounding China and Russia with military installations and we have already surrounded Iran. Our interventionist foreign policy is directly responsible for the instability in the Middle East that we have witnessed over the past decade. It is time that we realize that we must stop being an Empire because it goes against the values that we as Americans have been taught to value. We love liberty but we must introduce liberty to the world by our example as leaders. We cannot bomb weddings and funerals in poorer countries and expect them to become freer. We have turned the world against ourselves and until we realize that we have abandoned our own values we will not be seen as leaders again. My view of American foreign policy falls perfectly in line with a certain presidential candidate who can be seen below debating the subject in a 2008 Republican debate.

America is not the greatest nation on earth today. We have abandoned the principles that once made us that nation. We have forgotten about freedom, the rule of law, civil rights and liberties, capitalism, entrepreneurship and we have stopped leading through our example. The three points that I presented, economic freedom, personal liberty, and foreign policy are linked. When we start building a military empire overseas, we end up losing civil liberties at home. We must accept that our interventions in foreign countries have blow-back. We are destroying our national security by inflaming enemies that we created in the first place, we are sowing the seeds of the next threats to our civil liberties at home, and we are feeding an unsustainable deficit that will lead to increased inflation or higher taxes. We must learn that government cannot provide solutions to problems that it created. Instead, government should get out of the way and allow America to become a leader in business, enterprise, and liberty once again. As citizens, we must help put this nation back on track.

At the end of his explanation, McAvoy tells the college students that what once made America the greatest country was an informed generation. It is not too late. I invite you to explore the variety of issues that I presented in this post. Familiarize yourself with what is happening and then tell your family and friends about it. There is strength in numbers and if enough people wake up we can change this country back into what it once was. The answers to these issues lie in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence, except we have forgotten how to use them. Our Founding Fathers had just fought for their liberty and had just set up a new government. McAvoy called this the worst generation ever. I disagree. This generation has an opportunity to become the greatest country in the world once again. But it is up to us to act before it is too late and restore our way of life. Please take a moment to reflect on the meaning behind the following quote from Benjamin Franklin. At the closing of the Constitutional Convention a lady asked Franklin on his way out, "Well, Doctor, what have we got--a Republic or a Monarchy?" Franklin answered, "A Republic, if you can keep it."

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