The Restoration of American Ingenuity
In a recent article from CNN, an intelligent gentleman, Douglas Rushkoff, took note that technological advancements in the production of necessities are trending toward the destruction of certain jobs, as most of what Americans need is produced by an increasingly small minority of their countrymen. Suggesting that one of the larger problems Americans will face in coming years is not a reduction of wealth, but rather a reduction of legitimate means by which to transfer such wealth to individuals, he then states:
We're living in an economy where productivity is no longer the goal, employment is. That's because, on a very fundamental level, we have pretty much everything we need. America is productive enough that it could probably shelter, feed, educate, and even provide health care for its entire population with just a fraction of us actually working.
It is only natural, for those who understand the Laws of nature's God, to be disgusted with the thought of a welfare-coddled majority using the violence of the state to plunder those who labor for the majority's long-term subsistence (though the article did not ultimately advocate such socialism). Yet if one is honest enough, even the most conservative must acknowledge, on some level, that Rushkoff is correct. What Americans need is produced by very few, and therefore the majority will most likely, through no easily surmountable means, have to acquire those necessities in a way other than via their direct production.
Adam Smith noted this imbalance as well, stating in The Wealth of Nations that the value of a nation's industry depends most upon agricultural output, the city being entirely dependent upon the country for its very subsistence. He argued that although a nation can rely on trade to secure its own food, the nation itself will grow much more powerful far more quickly if it first develops agriculturally. For a nation with a wealth of agricultural production can afford to grow inexpensively, and because the subsistence of its citizens is produced by some, others are free to pursue a diversity of employments which otherwise may have seemed less important, and perhaps even frivolous.
It is ironic that intelligent men such as Rushkoff see the minority's production of excess subsistence as the problem, when in fact this attempt to legitimately procure one's food, medicine, and other necessities by means other than direct production is the engine that has brought the West so much wealth. It may perhaps be argued that American laborers may not be producing so many goods themselves, but supposing that their property was not threatened by an increasingly oppressive socialist state, they would be free to invent ways, as their forefathers did, to create a myriad of products and services which others would find useful or entertaining. Rushkoff is correct when he acknowledges the value of the informational industry as part of America's future: the gift of ingenuity, with which man has been blessed by God, will bring comfort and enjoyment to generations which have not yet been born, in ways which have not yet been imagined.
But there is another problem which is more dangerous than the supposed inability to invent alternative means of procuring subsistence, and it is twofold. The first is that men, weakened by a fear of the unforeseeable, will seek to plunder their neighbors' capital with the sword of the state, resulting in a severe reduction in investment, which will do nothing less than stifle the ingenuity of the entrepreneur and drive the working class into poverty. This is not to say that men should be left without any means to procure subsistence, as even the Laws of God provided workfare programs for those truly in need (not to mention other means by which men could maintain their independence from those who owned the means of production). But it must be noted that the invented conveniences of life which Rushkoff mentions did not exist in times past, and that the wealth of tomorrow, should it not be sabotaged by the dishonorable, will be more convenient and luxurious by both the Providence of the Creator and the unforeseen ingenuity of future generations. Yet if necessity is the mother of invention, socialism will not only make men comfortable in their intellectual impotence, but it will punish those who create. It will rob -- not redistribute from, but rob -- the noble, the creative, and the industrious, until nobility and creativity and industry become hallmarks of victimhood rather than traits of heroism.
The second downside directly resulting from the spawning of a servile generation is an excess of consumption. While Smith thoroughly refuted the concept of an "imbalance" of trade -- stating that while one nation may benefit more than another, both nations benefit in any willing transaction -- he noted that an imbalance between intranational production and consumption could very well destroy the nation which encouraged non-production. Such consumption is the difference between the owner of a manufacturing plant and the spoiled prince with too many servants. The former and the latter both exchange their wealth for labor, but the labor of the former replenishes his expenses by producing goods. The labor of the latter simply consumes. And if America trends not toward ingenuity and entrepreneurship -- a building of wealth upon wealth -- but rather, believing that the ingenuity of man is behind her, toward servanthood and consumption, she will become impoverished regardless of her level of agricultural development.
There was a time when between the shores of the Atlantic and the Pacific, the most inventive men the world had ever known established a new opulence in honor. It was these national treasures, a fertile and productive motherland populated by a relentlessly vigilant and biblically religious people, which helped inspire others to venture into new paths, knowing that they could reward others and themselves in labor, in production, and in success -- oftentimes more than if they farmed for themselves. Today, this spirit has been perverted into almost its opposite. Our amber waves of grain have become a source of envy instead of an inspiration to patriotism.
It may perhaps be said that if Americans were to have the socialist oppression, both fiscal and social, lifted from them, then they would again aspire to greatness. This belief is partially true. But liberty is not the result of a system. It is forged in the fires of justice by men who know -- not by the ever-changing tide of human philosophy, but according to the Laws of the Almighty -- what their unalienable rights are, and that such rights must be secured at the price of nothing less than sleepless vigilance and shed blood.
America's problem is not that Americans do not have liberty and rights, but rather that they cannot with any serious consensus define what liberty and rights are. It is that in their temporal blindness, they do not look to an eternal glory in the very heart of the Father, as immortal beings in pursuit of immortal honor, but rather grasp desperately for satisfaction through the present hour though it cost them their very dignity. It is no surprise that these most ignoble generations have squandered that for which their forefathers have sacrificed so dearly.
It must be asked, then, in what the restoration of American ingenuity and industry truly lie. To that there is but one answer. America may perhaps one day rediscover the engine of wealth known as the human mind, but it will not be until she has first rediscovered her heart. As the anthem goes:
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And ev'ry gain divine.
Jeremy Egerer is a recent convert to Christian conservatism from radical liberalism and the editor of the Seattle website www.americanclarity.com.