Builders of the American Dream

Our recent celebration of Independence Day set me to thinking about how many of our holidays focus our attention on what has made America great and how it came about. Independence Day, of course, emphasizes the colonists’ declaration of independence from the British king’s tyranny and the freedoms we gained by that independence. Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day emphasize the men and women of subsequent generations who served and often died or were wounded to preserve and maintain that freedom. Too often unsung, however, are the thousands of everyday people who have taken advantage of the opportunities afforded by that freedom to improve themselves and others, thereby making America an even greater nation.

Common, everyday people like you and me invented the automobile, the airplane, the telegraph, the telephone, the light bulb, and many other now-common time- and labor-saving devices. We think that people with names such as Ford, Wright, Morse, Bell, and Edison were somehow different from the rest of us. And they were in many ways. But they were, in the final analysis, just common people who showed initiative and ingenuity and took advantage of America’s freedoms to do extraordinary things. The aforementioned names are now household names that nearly everyone recognizes and can tell about to some degree. But millions of other people also contributed to America’s greatness.

Totalitarian and authoritarian “big brother” states have tried to control, regulate, limit, and even artificially induce such innovative people, but America liberated them, giving them the freedom to dream, to risk, to attempt, and then to succeed or fail. Many times, they succeeded, but even in failure they learned something–what to do better or differently, what not to do, etc. In the process, they became wealthy because they helped others through their efforts. Contrary to statist thinking, such people were not greedy oppressors. Rather, they were imaginative and innovative and sought to help themselves by helping and serving others in various ways. Those others were not forced to buy the good or services that they developed. Rather, they willingly chose to buy because doing so was in their own best interests. The innovators’ wealth was the reward for their serving their fellowmen.

A segment of society seeks to gain power and wealth and control over other people by turning groups against each other using mankind’s sinful nature: envy, jealousy, and covetousness. They strive to make the poor turn against the wealthy, the unsuccessful against the successful, the non-producers against the producers, and the laborers against the financiers. The instigators of such class warfare seek–with the ready complicity of the envious, the jealous, and the covetous–subsidies for the noncompetitive, handouts (“entitlements”) for the non-productive, and taxes on the successful. The only beneficiaries of such actions, however, are the demagogues and their cronies. Consequently, consumers are forced to buy inferior products. Innovation is stifled. Capital is dried up because those with money are less willing to risk its loss. And only government grows.

Absent such counterproductive, anti-freedom obstructions, however, growth and wealth increase across the board. Common people come up with great ideas; capitalists fund the development of those ideas, transforming them into useful goods and services; consumers are better off; and everyone in the process (design, manufacturing, marketing, transportation, and distribution) is rewarded. It’s a win-win for everyone–except the statists.

Oh, wait! Even they benefit because they use the same goods and services that they are trying to suppress. Some of them decry technology and those who make it possible even while they use that technology. Others rail against carbon emissions and greenhouse gasses while they jet around, emitting far more than the average persons, who will be heavily taxed if the dictacrats have their way. And legislators pass laws placing onerous restrictions on innovation while exempting themselves.

In several future blog posts, I’d like to feature the stories of some exemplars who sought no special favors or advantages, asking only for the freedom to try, and who developed ways of helping others. The names of some of them will be familiar to many readers, but they might not know the story behind their names, or, as Paul Harvey was fond of saying, “the rest of the story.” But all of them made invaluable contributions to their fellowmen. And in the process, they played important roles in making America great.

In this regard, I recommend several books for your consideration. One is James K. Fitzpatrick’s Builders of the American Dream (Arlington House Publishers, 1977). Beginning with Daniel Boone and going through Douglas MacArthur, Fitzpatrick tells the stories of the contributions of thirteen great Americans who realized for themselves and made possible for others the American dream.

Another good work is Thomas DiLorenzo’s How Capitalism Saved America (Three Rivers Press, 2004). DiLorenzo provides a definition of capitalism that demolishes collectivists’ efforts to broad brush all entrepreneurs and capitalists as greedy oppressors and sets the record straight. Beginning with the Pilgrims and proceeding to the twenty-first century, he shows that Americas has become great and individuals’ lives and living standards are the best in the world because of capitalism.

 

But two other books, both by Burton Folsom, put the argument for freedom and against statism on the bottom shelf where everyone can understand it. In The Myth of the Robber Barons (Young America’s Foundation, 2010) and Uncle Sam Can’t Count (HarperCollins, 2014), which he wrote with his wife Anita, Folsom shows how capitalism (“big business”) has contributed to American–both national and individual–greatness and how government has predictably messed things up. Folsom shows how Vanderbilt, Hill, Rockefeller, Mellon, Dow, and other innovators and capitalists became wealthy not by stepping on and robbing others but by helping others and lowering the prices of the goods and services to a level that the poorest could buy at affordable prices what they needed. In doing so, they helped those common individuals rise and made the entire nation better.

I look forward to sharing in future posts some snippets from these and other exemplars’ lives. Stay tuned!

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