WASHINGTON, August 22, 2017 — On June 7, 1776, a resolution was introduced in Congress which asserted that the United Colonies have a right to be free and independent states. Subsequently, on June 11, a committee was formed to draft a Declaration of Independence. The draft was presented to Congress on June 28. On July 4, after some revisions, the draft was adopted.
Among the key phrases in the Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Our forefathers recognized the importance of freedom, which leads to the right to pursue happiness. They wanted all Americans to freely choose their course in life without government setting that course for them.
Citizens welcomed this freedom. The results have been astonishing.
It took about 100 years for the U.S. to become the largest economy in the world. The U.S. became the most productive and most innovative country as well, because our Constitution guaranteed all citizens the right to freely choose their course in life, recognizing that people are motivated primarily, although not entirely, by self-interest.
It became evident that this freedom-oriented approach resulted in individuals taking on the primary responsibility for their own lives. Almost all other countries, whose societies had been in existence for hundreds and in some cases thousands of years, took a different approach. Those societies said that the people collectively have more of a social responsibility to other citizens.
This social responsibility was handled through the government, which redistributed wealth to ensure that all citizens, regardless of their contribution to the economy, maintained a certain standard of living. While this apparently worked for some of those societies, it was not the American Way.
Americans had a greater love for freedom and were generally willing to accept the responsibilities associated with individual freedom. This love of freedom led to the belief that Americans’ accomplishments were limitless. Americans believe that anything is possible and that we can succeed no matter what barriers are placed in front of us.
This entrepreneurial heart that Americans developed led to great achievements. This heart carried Americans when it seemed that success was impossible. This heart, which was generally filled with compassion, also was freely willing to assume some social responsibility. Over time and through the government, Americans were more than willing to ensure all citizens had the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, especially for those who were truly in need of help.
But then the role of government began to expand. And the attitude toward freedom changed.
The government increased income transfer programs and relaxed eligibility for recipients. The goal eventually became to reduce income inequality, which meant that income had to be taken away from those who freely earned it and given to those who, for whatever reason, did not earn it.
For those who contribute significantly to the economy and therefore earn higher incomes, the reduction in the income they earned became disheartening. The income reduction also tended to limit their freedom.
To minimize the amount of their earnings that the government took, they spent money and made investments in areas where the government provided tax incentives. This meant there was a loss of freedom to choose.
For those who received the income from the government, there was a loss of freedom because of the restrictions government placed on recipients. The government told them where they could live, where to spend the money that was given to them and what behaviors would not be tolerated.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman once said,
“The society that puts equality before freedom will end up with neither. The society that puts freedom before equality will end up with a great measure of both.”
During President Obama’s administration, income equality was clearly placed above freedom. He raised taxes on the middle class (through the taxes mandated by the Affordable Care Act) and raised taxes on the highest earners. He increased payments via food stamps, welfare and healthcare benefits to the lowest income earners.
These actions were all meant to reduce income inequality.
Obama placed restrictions on the business sector, the financial sector and on individuals as well. These restrictions were intended to provide protections to lower-income earners. What they really provided was a stagnant economy with limited opportunity and a loss of freedom.
That led to the anger and frustration that the US is experiencing today. Both sides of the political aisle feel the frustration and the anger. The extreme positions, on both ends, are embraced by individuals so angry that they routinely resort to violence.
Have Americans lost heart? Have we lost our love of freedom?
Let’s hope not. Let’s hope that this nasty, ugly, current hostility we’ve witnessed this summer is a phase that will soon be reversed. Let’s hope this reversal also happens soon so we can get our heart back, experience once again the rewards of freedom and start to become very successful once again.