The ongoing transitioning of America

They are told that the United States – that America is a mean nation that often bullies itself into getting what the rich corporate elite want.  Capitalism is seen as the worst economic model because it actually transfers wealth from the underclasses to the wealthy by taking advantage of them – either through the overpricing of goods or the underpaying of wages.  In fact, this drumbeat started as early as the 1870s and was seen by almost every class of American as being a cry for the implementation of some communist or hybrid socialist system. Groups such as the International Workmen of the World and even the People’s Party called for the government ownership of utilities, the means of production, and the abolition of the private corporate bank model and the implementation of a sub-treasury system to be governed by the United States Postal Service.

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Although no longer calling for some of those changes, the American Left began demanding more taxation for the wealthy, more social programs aimed at addressing poverty, and even government responsibility to assure that every American family had a sustainable living wage to move them from poverty to lower middle class.  At the heart of the issue was the argument that the wealthy were, beginning in the 1870s through the 1960s and reemerging in 2008, were not paying their fair share of taxes. For the most part, many of the college students I have encountered since 2007 have a disdain for all wealth – regardless of if it has been inherited or owned.  This same group that demands the latest benefits of capitalism bemoans the fact that the wealthy are just that – wealthy. They bemoan corporate greed, do not understand the reality of what corporations do with their profits, while demanding more innovation and newer products.

Somewhere in our efforts to reach new modern heights and follow the dreams of our ancestors that started this nation, we have forgotten to teach and be taught the lessons that they learned.  We forgot to learn, to understand, and to teach how the real business world works.  Within the Progressive model that was promoted in the early 20th century and still taught as an alternative to capitalism, efficiency was preferred over innovation.  Efficiency meant you had one or two styles and you could produce them and sell them as the lowest price possible.  The capitalist model that the American Progressive hates actually demands innovation, invention, and fulfills the desires of the consumer. Capitalism actually demands businesses provide not what is efficient but what the consumer wants within the price the consumer is willing to pay.  When you think of all the innovations we enjoy today – smartphones, GPS navigation, Blu Ray, or whatever else it may be, the consumer has demanded a certain need or want be met.  It is the job of free market enterprise to meet that need. Companies that meet the demands of the consumer exceed; those that fail to achieve that goal will eventually die off from their lack of ability to adapt to the changing marketplace.  It is a version of Charles Darwin meets the corporate world – survival of the most fittest company.

In our attempt to balance the needs of society with the needs of the individual, we have forgotten that the most important rights within our nation is not the right of the masses or the rights of the government – but the rights of the individual.  We have been taught about our rights and freedoms but somewhere along the way we were not taught about our responsibilities that came with those rights.  We were taught that the freedom of speech was absolute but not that we have the moral responsibility to try not to offend others when we speak.  We have been told we have a right to a trial by jury of our peers but have been taught that it is an inconvenience to serve in a jury for someone who happens to break the law. We have been told that we have the right to entitlements but no longer teach that one of the fundamental rights of mankind is the ability to sell one’s labor in exchange for cash.  This concept, first explained by John Locke as he began to explain the purpose of human government and if that same government did have the right to obstruct one’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of property.

It was this new political (and economic) theory that would find its way into the Declaration of Independence.  When Thomas Jefferson wrote that we all have the natural right of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness it was already an accepted theory among parts of European society and also the cause for great alarm among those that governed the people of Europe. It was this, and other concepts of the time such as the self-determination of religion, freedom of speech without fear of reprisal from the government, freedom of the press without fear of reprisal from the government, the right to a trial by jury, the right to a speedy trial, and many others that became accepted as classical liberalism.  It was referred to as liberalism because it sought to liberate the common citizen from the control of kings and the aristocracy.  It was believed in the eighteenth century world that the purest form of liberty was when society protected the rights of the individual.

Modern liberalism seeks conformity to a new standard foreign to these classical liberal values.  Hidden in the creases and shadows of the New American Left and under its version of liberalism is not an attempt to create equal opportunity, but to replace it with a system that fosters an equal outcome.  Thorstein Veblen, an early American economist and sociologist from around the turn of the 20th century, called for a fundamental restructuring of the American economy.  He proposed that the national economy be given to social engineers who would govern the national wealth and resources so that all were able to have a share in the national wealth. Many claim his writings are the foundation for the economic model that the New Left in America would adopt in the 1960s – and all that it is a repackaging of the work of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

The United States is in a state of transition that began slowly enough in the 1960s.  Now, with the election of a president who is politically rooted in the New Left, the nation has experienced an embracing and rapid shift to what would have been regarded just fifty years ago as a socialist or anti-capitalist agenda. The question remains if this transition will end with the United States rejecting the trends to European socialism within the next four election cycles and return to some form of capitalist-free market society or if the country will continue down its current path to a socialist system for all.

Alan Simmons

Alan Simmons is an adjunct instructor of history at Henderson Community College. He has been teaching at the college/university level since 2004. Within the scope of his degrees, his areas of emphasis are U.S. foreign policy, public policy history, political history, and U.S. history.

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