Column on Whether America is Still Special

America Was Special
Tibor R. Machan
Despite its awful flaw, slavery, at the start, America had begun as a
country founded on very special, radical principles. More importantly,
these principles are true–they aren’t merely myths or superstitions men
and women held for a period of time. That we all have basic rights to our
lives, liberty, etc., is true and not just some fiction (as the late
George Carlin liked to maintain in his curmudgeonly fashion). After all,
nearly all of the criminal law across the globe recognizes it, at least
implicitly. But few countries incorporated these truths into the daily
fabric of their citizens’ economic lives.
Of course not even in America was the economy fully free. Nor did freedom
of speech or even religion rule the realm completely, without some serious
exceptions. But compared to other regimes around the globe, the ideals and
ideas of a free society took greater hold here than elsewhere. That is
what made the place exceptional, that’s why millions fled to it, that’s
what made it a sanctuary to so many and still does.
The differences between countries are not like those between geometrical
shapes. They are more gradual, so that while North Korea is a radically
different place from America, Germany or New Zealand is not. And today
more and more countries are adopting legal principles, institutions, and
public policies that resemble those favored by the American Founders and
In some regions of the globe, such as India and China, some of these
principles, especially those bearing on economic matters, have been
embraced quite adamantly. That wouldn’t yet make them fully free
countries; not even the US can be so called, given its oppressive drug
laws and some other public policies. But in certain vital areas of human
affairs, such as commerce, science, technology, and the like, embracing
even less than fully the principles of liberty will mean a great deal. And
one thing it will mean is that the people of these countries will become
far more productive –and they will also be consuming a lot more–than
they used to. So America is gradually having to face people from elsewhere
who are competing in the global economy. And they are enjoying the fruits
of this competition and making matters more difficult for those in the USA.
Just as when America fielded the famous basketball “dream team” but
eventually faced teams from other countries that learned to play equally
well, so America has been enjoying considerable advantage in many areas
which it no longer does, if only because the obstacles to being part of
the competition are being removed in other places. That would mean, among
other things, that Americans will have to work harder and smarter in all
areas of production than they did previously in order to keep up their
standard of living.
In addition to these geopolitical changes, there is also all the
technological developments that face people in many industries. No one can
sit on his or her laurels and expect to just coast to easy success. As
with a marathon race that is being run now by millions more than earlier,
so with the global economy the contestants are facing a great deal of
pressure now. (A good book about this is Fareed Zakaria’s recent
Post-American World.)
All of this would of course be welcome news to those who find it thrilling
to face new challenges in life. But if statis is one’s habit or
preference, if one wants to be settled into a job, business, or profession
without making adjustments, without having to be alert to the new
opportunities that keep coming up, one will not be enjoying the current
market place.
In fairness, of course, one needs to acknowledge that quite apart from the
global economic changes facing us, there are also all the obstacles we
face that bureaucrats, meddling politicians, and their cheerleaders in the
media and the intellectual arena place before us and that make matters
doubly difficult as we come to terms with challenges in the market place.
Free men and women are more likely to meet these than are those whose
minds and bodies are in partial bondage to mal-practicing governments.
So beside learning to deal with new peaceful developments around the
globe, it is also vital to work on removing the artificial, indeed
criminal, intrusions that make it difficult to adjust to novel situations.
This is why politics is no luxury but a realm where vigilance in making
improvements is as necessary as anywhere else in our lives.

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