Selling Liberty Cheap

The spectacle of a woman proclaiming her support for President Obama because “he bought me a cell phone” was a telling moment in exactly how far we’ve descended as a country from the cherished ideas of liberty enshrined by our Founding Fathers. 

As school children, we’ve all heard the story of how Dutch settlers traded $24 worth of beads to the local Lenape Indians in exchange for the island of Manhattan which has since become worth substantially more today. In reality, the Dutch traded goods worth about $1000 for the island, but the contrast is no less relevant. We marvel at how cheaply the local tribe traded such a valuable piece of real estate while forgetting that 1) the Indians had no concept of land ownership and thought they were getting something for nothing, and 2) Manhattan didn’t become valuable until these European settlers built upon it. It was their industry and sweat that created the concentration of wealth we know today as Manhattan.

America’s Founding Fathers recognized that it was this willingness to impart sweat equity that created wealth and enshrined liberty into the fabric of America to insure that we would continue to increase the wealth of this country through our industry. A man is only willing to make improvements to property if he is sure that his ownership is without question and not subject to the whims of others. Additionally, he must be free to make these improvements and free to dispose of his property as he sees fit either through sale, gift, or inheritance.

Through this system, America became the wealthiest, most powerful country in world history and stands as the world’s lone superpower advancing the ideas of liberty and human rights across the globe. Along the way, great fortunes were built by industrious men such as Andrew Carnegie, John Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Henry Ford, and a great many others. As America’s wealth grew, so did her standard of living so that every American eventually benefited from this accumulation of wealth. It has been a slow process often marred by setbacks, but Americans today enjoy the greatest standard of living the world has ever known. The average American today has access to wealth and consumer goods the kings of history could never even imagine.

Along the way, there was and still is inequity between those with and those without, as there has always been throughout history. This is an inescapably fact of life, but there is now a political class which has arisen to exploit this natural condition of human existence to create envy and strife as a path to political power. The reasonable and necessary reforms this movement accomplished in its early existence has given way to attacks on wealth and calls for redistribution regardless of merit. An entire class of Americans has been created around the idea of entitlement and dependence upon government largess as opposed to the industriousness of productive work. Leisure has become an obsession and the lure of fame has replaced the pride of workmanship as the cherished American ideas underpinning the Puritan work ethic which served so well to increase American wealth.

In the early days of our country, there were restrictions on who could vote because it was thought that only certain classes were capable of the serious analysis required to choose capable leaders. Over time, these restrictions were abolished with the argument that all Americans should participate equally in the democratic selection process since all Americans had to endure the consequences of these choices. Arguments that certain classes would be led easily astray to select those of a populist bent promising something for nothing fell on deaf ears. Many were shocked at the displays of support for candidate Obama in 2008 based on the implication of increased government benefits that would come with his election. Many more succumbed to these implied promises and were rewarded with increased government benefits. Now we see a woman exuding her happiness at receiving what she believes to be a free cell phone, not aware that she is trading her liberty for a cheap consumer item and probably wouldn’t care even if she were aware. Like the Lenape Indians, she feels she is getting something for nothing.

America is composed of a diverse set of individuals as we are constantly reminded by those beating the drums of immigration reform that would open our borders to all who wish to enter with virtually no restrictions. There are industrious Americans and lazy Americans. There are bright, ambitious Americans and ignorant, slothful Americans. There are fiercely independent Americans and easily led Americans. It must be acknowledged that there are Americans cognizant of the ideas of liberty enshrined in our founding documents and Americans interested only in their personal comfort regardless of the cost, just as there are Americans capable of long-term strategic thinking and Americans interested in living only for the moment.

We have allowed the slothful class interested in personal comfort at the expense of personal liberty to gain the upper hand in America and threaten the very industriousness that has made all of this wealth, leisure, and personal comfort possible. The industrious class has come to resent those who demand we work ever harder to provide for their personal comfort at the expense of our own. They are showing their disdain through their refusal to participate in an American economy increasingly hostile to their existence, and their relocation to friendlier climes. Once this industrious class is gone, the system collapses and no one will have the luxury of leisure and comfort.

The system created to serve as a social safety net for those unable to provide for themselves has been perverted into an entitlement by those unashamed of living off the fruits of others’ labor. This class is only concerned with getting a better deal and unable to see the unsustainability of their demands on the system. Those whom the system was originally created to serve are crowded out and remain needy, while its resources are consumed by the greedy. We have allowed the rise of a class unconcerned with selling our liberty for their personal gain. Never mind the fact that our liberty is not ours or theirs to sell, but rather was purchased by American patriots who vanquished the British to secure America, and passed to each succeeding generation to be protected for the next generation. It is well past the time for us to retake our country and return to our foundational principles.

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