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Friday, August 27, 2010

America Faces a New Culture War

The Constitution shall never be construed... to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms.” —Samuel Adams

America faces a new culture war," writes Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, in his new book “The Battle: How the Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America’s Future.” This is not a fight over guns, abortions, religion and gays. Nor is it about Republicans versus Democrats. Rather, it is a struggle between two competing visions of America's future.

One vision, Mr. Brooks writes, continues to see America as "a unique and exceptional nation organized around the principles of free enterprise." The other envisions our country moving toward a "European-style statism grounded in expanding bureaucracies, increasing income redistribution, and government-controlled corporations."

"These competing visions are not reconcilable," he concludes. "We must choose."

On the face of it, given the history of our nation and its extraordinary record of providing generations of Americans with unprecedented freedom and opportunity, the choice between free enterprise and statism shouldn't seem a difficult one. Moreover, as Mr. Brooks points out, poll after poll shows that whenever asked whether they would rather live in a socialist or free-enterprise economy, about 70 percent of Americans of all political stripes - and no matter what the current economic conditions - invariably choose free enterprise.

Why then does the statist 30 percent - a distinct minority - seem to be in control of the other 70 percent - a clear majority?

For one thing, Mr. Brooks writes, the "30 percent coalition is led by people who are smart, powerful, and strategic – people who make opinions, entertain us, inform us, and teach our kids in college." This "intellectual upper class is far more statist and left-wing than the average American, and is getting more so – the chief adversary of the free enterprise system today."

At the head of this intellectual upper class, Mr. Brooks writes, "are our current leaders in Washington D.C. – starting with activist, bestselling author, and Ivy League academic, President Barack Obama."

From the outset, Mr. Brooks writes, a basic objective of Mr. Obama and his allies has been to strengthen and expand the grip of the 30 percent coalition on young people – "adults under 30. This is not just a fifth of the adult population: It is the future of our country." The three long-term strategies to keep young people in the 30 percent fold, Mr. Brooks says, are "to pay off their debts, give them government jobs, and make sure they never have to pay for the services that the government provides."

On the economic front, the 30 percenters gained significant ground over the past decade when Republicans proved themselves just as fiscally irresponsible as their Democratic counterparts. However, Mr. Brooks writes, "The real game changer – the opportunity to expand the 30 percent coalition – was not the Democratic sweep of 2008. It was the financial crisis of 2008-2009, which was used as a tool to attack the free enterprise system and change America's culture for good."

The attack succeeded in great part because of what Mr. Brooks calls "the Obama narrative," built on several key claims. Among them: Government was not the cause of the economic crisis; government knows how to fix that crisis; the way to save the economy is through massive government growth and deficit spending; and only the rich, not the middle class, will pay for the stimulus packages.

"All of these claims are false," Mr. Brooks writes. "To get the real story of the financial crisis, we need to dismantle this narrative piece by piece." And that is what he proceeds to do, in the process making "the moral case for free people and free markets" with strength and elegance.

You can read more by clicking here

One of the hypotheses Mr. Brooks puts forth is: Happiness is not money, but earning your success, in essence control vs. money. I would like to expand on this as I have considerable experience to draw from.

As I write in my book, Footsteps on the Land, I began my career in the private sector and when I relocated to California I took a position with the California Division of Highways as a highway engineer – a civil service government job. I was young and this seemed a good way to insure my security while raising family.

It was a decent job with decent pay and benefits and I was doing well as far as career advancement. After a few years I began to realize that this was a job and I really had nothing to show for success other than continued employment and a retirement dinner.

For this reason I decided to breakout and go into business for myself. Along with two partners and eventually three we started a small civil engineering and land surveying business that quickly grew to twenty five persons. I was making a little more money, working harder, but it was more rewarding and I was fueling my passion to be engaged in free enterprise.

Over a ten year period we grew the business to 100 people with two branch offices. When two of the partners wanted to retire and with a downturn in the economy I merged the business with a similar firm and continued with them as an owner.

The ensuing twenty two years saw our new firm grow to over 800 persons with offices throughout California and the western states. We even did business overseas, for which I was responsible. For thirty two years I was a part of America’s free enterprise system. There were long hours and frustrations along the way, but in the end I could look back with pride at what I accomplished.

I write this not to say that I walked to school in the snow each day – both ways uphill, but to illustrate a point that there are millions of people in the country with similar stories. They have risked and sacrificed much to realize their dreams and make America what it is. These are the seventy percenters.

Then why is so much power in the hands of the thirty percenters? Because we have given it to them through apathy, feel good emotions and our willingness to take a government handout, no matter how small.

Apathy comes from the seventy percenters not showing up to vote or not really knowing the candidates they are voting for. Oh. We generally know the candidates for the big offices like President, Senator and Governor. How about Congress, city councils, and school boards? I plead guilty to these. I never know about the candidates for local school boards, henceforth I never vote for someone who had a Dr. as prefix or a PhD. as a suffix. I also shy away from anyone who has been in the education business, they have too much of a vested interest in maintaining the education monopoly.

Feel good emotions have been driving the voter for years. Things like school lunches, food stamps, aid to dependent children, are all programs the seventy percenters thought would be good for the poor people and he children. In every case these programs have exploded beyond the original intent, created great government bureaucracies and taken some or freedom away. Take as an example the no drug policy in schools. At the beginning the seventy percenters believed this was good as it protected the children. When the policy migrated to where even a Tylenol was contraband we wondered how it ever got to that state. Once the thirty percenters, the statist, get their hands on a program look out you freedom is at risk. Beware of feel good programs.

The willingness to take a government handout is the third reason the thirty percenters have the power they have. Every time the government gives you something with one hand they take away some of your freedom with the other. Two cases in point are home loans and college loans.

When the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) began insuring home mortgages to banks the housing industry and home ownership boomed. We all believed this was great and the government was doing a great job in our behalf. The FHA grew into HUD and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac came on the scene. This opened the door for massive political corruption got us into the mess we are in now.

College loans are another hand out the seventy percenters liked at the beginning. A student could get a low interest bank loan guaranteed by the federal government to pay his or her college tuition. What a great deal. As time went by and more and more youngsters could afford college, qualified or not, the colleges and universities saw a bonanza. They were able to expand their facilities, hire more and more teachers and staff and raise prices. After all, the students could afford it. They would only need to make monthly payments for the next twenty years. In many cases the jobs they got upon graduation did not generate enough income to cover the loan payments if they wanted to live on their own. Graduates began to default and the government was on the hook for the principal of the loan. With a massive default rate the government finally took over the entire program. This is another loss of freedom and an increase in debt. It was Alexis de Tocqueville who warned us this soft tyranny and Frederick Hayek in his book, Road to Serfdom.

If America is seventy percent in favor of free enterprise Greece and Spain are seventy-seven percent in favor of a government run economy. With the vast amount of government employees, public pensions enabling people to retire at 45, massive welfare programs and heavy regulations against the private sector these countries are broke and people are rioting in the street. They are not protesting for freedom as the Tea Party members, but for more government in their lives. They have given up their freedom for the security of the welfare state.

The Tea Party represents the major schism between Europe and the United States. Our seventy percent believe in free enterprise and freedom, while their seventy percent believe in the welfare state and serfdom. In essence the Tea Party is against what the Greeks and Spaniards want.

Free enterprise has made this the greatest nation on earth. While China can make iPods and iPads the investment and brains behind them reside in Cupertino, California. Free enterprise will flourish if the government gets out of the way and the voters force them to do so. The government stimulus packages haven’t stimulated anything except bolster the bankrupt coffers of the states. Government cannot create jobs, only free enterprise can do that.

The political elite mock and defame the Tea Party because they are fearful of them. They are fearful of their own citizens. They want to maintain the power of the thirty percent. They will maintain that power if the seventy percent does not act in unison to change this ratio. It matters not is you are a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or Independent you need to join hands with you fellow seventy percenters this November and begin to send the thirty percent out to pasture.

In some cases you will have to vote for the lesser of two evils. Don’t stay home or throw away your vote because you are not totally satisfied with the conservative candidate. No candidates are perfect. That’s what primaries are for. It has taken us a while to get where we are and we will not change overnight. The thing that is the most important this November is the message. The political and academic elite will get it if it is strong enough.

You also need to look at your life in the terms of are you giving the thirty percent more power. Party affiliation matters not, free enterprise does. This November is the Super Bowl of elections.

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