At the birth of the United States we were a nation of rebels fighting for liberty from economic and religious oppression. We founded a new nation where every man had the opportunity to pave his own way. These ideas, though now more common, were not popular. Alongside the legacy of individual rights America also has the heritage of being a progressive nation that, in several ways, and also has not changed.
In our infancy we were prompt to draft a constitution that put protective measures against the federal government into our national manifesto. As time progressed we began to narrowly identify ourselves with economic success and that measure has clouded the perspective of many into believing that the balance sheet is the primary measure for the success of a nation. Now, we watch jobs drift overseas, our trade deficit continue to grow, and formal education become prohibitively more expensive for a growing percentage of our population. All this might lead us to believe that the United States is falling behind.
However, there is more to calculate than the numeric values of our economy. We must factor the status of our society. Our perspective on the success of this country has been so heavily linked to the Gross Domestic Product, that the primary value we see in being American is in the value of our currency. There is a parallel between our economic standing and national pride, and that parallel has to be broken. By capturing a more rounded view of our nation’s impact on the lives of its citizens and the rest of the global community we will gain a more accurate measure of our standing as a country.
In a relatively short time the United States has risen to become a global “superpower”. We have amassed great wealth and proven to be an influential force in the world economy. We have solidified our place on the map and in history in a relative blink of an eye. We have reached the pinnacles of success in every measure of the civilized world. Our rapid growth, however, seems to have come with some painful side effects.
Technological advancement has created a detachment from nature, the elements, and climate. Since we now live in an autonomous age we value people less and technology more. In the pre-industrial era it took the contribution of a village of people to produce the food to sustain the village. Now food for thousands can be produced by a few dozen.
Capitalism, the divine gift of economic mobility, has left us with abundant human discard. An unbalanced system has us always teetering on extravagant wealth or the brink of collapse. The financial turmoil endured by our government is no different than the lifestyles led by its citizens. America has become a culture of fiscal extremists.
There is much to praise economically in America’s short history, but on the opposite side of the coin we are left with societal exhaust. A strong economy finds itself spending more on plastic surgery, psychotherapy, and the other things that make us “happy”. One cannot ignore that this is in part due to our ability to afford these luxuries but the “pursuit of happiness” has somehow turned into the pursuit of money. People who are financially successful are often unfulfilled with their self-image. We attempt to use our increased economic success to fill social and psychological shortcomings.
In a booming economy we augment the speed at which we communicate only to stifle the depth of our connections. As we connect less, we shorten our capacity to gain interpersonal knowledge and consequently mute our own self –discovery, which in turn limits creativity. This also de-socializes commerce, making it easier to see people as resources instead of members of a community.
As America achieved military, technological, and financial superiority we began to identify ourselves with these things and took them as a source of national pride. We began to lean on the numbers associated and ignore the actions needed to attain them. American citizens could not help but be proud of that success. As a result we neglected the social systems at work behind the systems of the economy. We began to accept business practices that were destructive to our international neighbors. We began to see unscrupulous dealings occur and overlook them for superficial payoffs. Americans have become more concerned with numbing our pains than investigating their causes.
The socio-economic parallel is a false association between the success of our nation and the success of its industries. To accurately measure the success of our nation we must also qualify the abstracts that are imperative to healthy life. We must measure our government’s ability uphold the Constitution, provide a fertile environment for us to sustain a decent livelihood, and maintain a safe place to build our families.
With a constitution founded in protecting the rights of the individual we were able to break free of global societal norms like race/gender discrimination by in large. These breakthroughs were not without struggle but because we had a powerful document supporting our law there was the necessary foothold to make the needed strides at critical moments. This is also part of what makes America great, not simply the success of our businesses.
Additional protections have led to the increase of all manners of self-expression. Tolerance and acceptance are seen as traits of the progressive modern citizen. Prejudice and judgment are viewed as perspectives of backward and old-fashioned members of society. Innovation is valued above baseless tradition.
New businesses crave imaginative employees. Large corporations are acknowledging the power of the micro marketer. Artistic professions are on the rise as we discover and accept that joy cannot be written on a check. We are slowly becoming more concerned with the ethics of our businesses and how the people working within them are treated across all borders. We are seeking to build communities not only corporations.
Americans are heading toward the next frontier. We are hungry for a new journey as the nation is again changing. But, after having built its empire and solidified its place as a superpower, Americans are still in pursuit of happiness. It is our new challenge to innovate ways of maintaining that hard fought acclaim where we can account for the status of our society and economy alike.
The root of all business should be people collaborating to improve the quality of life experience by its patrons. We have seen what can happen when we fend only seek revenue. If we push beyond the margins of profit, again, America can be on the cutting edge.
We are amidst a change in the social and economic landscape and we have the chance to set the example once more. We were once a developing nation that learned the hard way the side effects of ignoring the people that hold up our industries. We know what lies ahead in the way of strike, unionizing, and the heartache that comes along with that transition. The model of business where people are sacrificed in pursuit of profit is outdated.. To set the new paradigm is to reaffirm our place as a world leader.
An excerpt from Mr. Robert Kennedy’s speech at University of Kansas in 1968 provides the perfect context for this essay.
“We will find neither national purpose nor personal satisfaction in a mere continuation of economic progress, in an endless amassing of worldly goods. We cannot measure national spirit by the Dow Jones Average, nor national achievement by the Gross National Product. For the Gross National Product includes air pollution, and ambulances to clear our highways from carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and jails for the people who break them. The Gross National Product includes the destruction of the redwoods and the death of Lake Superior, It grows with the production of napalm and missiles and nuclear warheads… It includes… the broadcasting of television programs that glorify violence to sell goods to our children.”
“And if the Gross National Product includes all this, there is much that it does not comprehend. It does not allow for the health of our families, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It is indifferent to the decency of our factories and the safety of our streets alike. It does not include the beauty of our poetry, or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials… the Gross National Product measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except what makes life worthwhile, and it can tell us everything about America— except whether we are proud to be Americans.”