In 2016, Eric Metaxas published a book called “If They can Keep it.” In a post, mariner reviewed it at the time. Metaxas took the title from a phrase Benjamin Franklin spoke upon leaving a meeting of the founding fathers. The great experiment was to let citizens run the nation. Citizens would select fellow citizens to represent them in a Federal Republic that spread the agenda of managing the goals and processes of government across three representative levels – Federal, State and Local governments.
In other words, you, mariner, and every other US citizen have a daily chore of looking after the philosophy of government, the guaranteed equality of freedom, the mores of economy and culture, and the quality of representation in government. Together, citizens comprised a central power that controlled the nobler objectives of political science.
Metaxas described the daily chore as three elements of human character: The first is loyalty. We have forgotten that in the US, we aren’t loyal to a regime or an ideologue. In the US, the strength of our society is not loyalty to the flag. No, it isn’t. We are loyal to each other. Not just in political rituals or paying taxes; each of us has a bonded responsibility to look after our fellow citizens and they must look out for us. Eric Metaxas said the US is founded on freedom. Freedom requires belief in freedom; freedom requires loyalty; loyalty requires virtue.
The romantic element in this new philosophy of government was similar to a citizen’s commitment to their spouse and children: a DAILY act of responsibility with family and with affairs of state. In effect, citizens comprised a massive Board of Directors. However, mix this with the other part of the great experiment, the right of freedom to be whoever a citizen chooses to be, the guarantee to believe in any manner, and the minimal intervention of government imposing on one’s freedom raised a deep-rooted flaw. The two elements were and are in conflict: one espousing national unity and responsibility for the quality of government countermanded by guaranteeing a life of individual freedom to be what one chose to be. Benjamin was astute in his comprehension of a direct conflict between responsibility to a unified society supporting the rights of everyone and at the same time supporting the right of everyone to be individualistic.
What held the great experiment together for one hundred years was a common philosophy that commerce was obligated to perform in behalf of the citizenry. Commerce was measured first not by profit but by quality of support to the citizenry. However, the guaranteed freedoms of the constitution led to the opportunity to be as wealthy as one could possibly be – the obligation to citizen wellbeing fell by the wayside. During the last half of the nineteenth century (1850 – 1900), capitalism emerged. A socially aware economy partnered with the government rapidly became an economy of financial opportunity without accountability to the citizen “Board of Directors”.
The cultural conflict is clear: How does one look after the wellbeing of everyone else yet sustain independence to further one’s own wellbeing?
Recently, mariner’s wife listened to a podcast featuring Princeton University economist Uwe Reinhardt, one of the nation’s leading health care economists. On the matter of health care, he said the US will never solve the issue until all Americans on all sides come together as one nation to decide a common tax or fee that will enable comprehensive, government-paid healthcare. The hard part is bringing together a defunct Board of Directors. Since the Viet Nam war, the nation steadily has fallen deeper into the natural human grouping of tribes. Even the “two party system” in Congress splinters into more and more ‘tribes’ as new issues arise. Congress is not designed to be a parliamentary system. Nor, it seems, an authoritarian oligarchy – no matter how hard Donald tries.
Over time, every political system suffers entropy and new challenges. It has been 250 years, more or less, since the great experiment was launched and many changes in economics, technology and industrialism warrant some jostling of the political structure and goals of any nation during that era. But these are not normal times for change.
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The entire world is in the throes of shifting from one nation, one economy to international economic agreements. It is not a time to throw rocks into the gearbox of the US economy. The forces at work are monopolistic corporations invading a new money system where regulation and political influence are scant. An example of the effect is similar to Amazon.com or Walmart or Google diminishing or eliminating local businesses or incorporating the small business marketplace into the large corporation – in effect curtailing how smaller businesses invest and grow. Replace local businesses with nations; a scramble for global market share is underway. The US, early on the scene, put together the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a consortium of 12 countries agreeing to share a global market. Sadly, some terms of the agreement were overbearing to a given nation’s participation and the Congress was ignorant of the context in a global economy. Donald has cancelled participation.
Another area in the throes of global change is Artificial Intelligence. Cloud technology and ever smarter software will displace millions of labor class jobs around the world. Again, corporate interests see a time when job salaries and jobs can be eliminated – without obligation to the jobless employees.
Further, world population is in dire straits. For the developed nations, including the US, demographics are skewed toward older, retired individuals who no longer contribute to the economy; rather, the nations must support the retirees – a double whammy.
Under developed nations suffer corrupt governments or oligarchies. There is no dependable economy. 20 million people in North Africa face starvation.
Finally, Planet Earth is changing. Only the fossil fuel industry and its allies refuse to accept global warming despite visible, three dimensional evidence.
There are many other collapsing systems that humans depend on in the environment. The list above is a collection of economic issues in serious disrepair as the world moves into a truly new age.
Will the great experiment survive?
 “If You Can Keep It” by Eric Metaxas, copyright 2016, Penguin Random House. ISBN 9781101979983 hardbound — ISBN 9781101980002 ebook. $26.00 hardbound. Or see your library.