Saturday, July 7, 2007

Independence Day

It was a lovely week at Lake Anna. To commemorate Independence Day I read most of Gordon Wood's book "Revolutionary Characters" (no great shakes - marked by the historicist impulse to reduce the Founders to characters who played their parts as demanded by the Enlightenment imperative for reputation - but still 99% better than most everything written by historians nowadays), and then spent the evening with my family at the lakeside setting off some modest fireworks, burning marshmallows and watching the more impressive fireworks displays launched from other docks around the lake (where do they get those really big ones??).

Independence Day was and remains one of my favorite holidays of the year. It doesn't hurt that it's in the middle of the summer, and seems almost always to be a beautiful day. But, early on I felt tremendous pride helping my mother or father put up the American flag on the front porch of our house (we had two - the regulation flag and the colonial flag with 13 stars); in the year of America's bicentennial (I was 12) I learned all the names of the signers of the Declaration and how to sign their signatures (I can still do a pretty mean John Hancock). I would dutifully read the Declaration every July 4, and do so now aloud to my children, revealing to them the full extent of my nerdiness.

Nevertheless, this past Independence Day I was filled with misgivings about the course of the nation that I love. This article in "Moneyweek" goes some way to expressing some of those fears - mainly, the increasing hollowness of our celebration of independence given our deep and largely self-inflicted dependency on foreign powers and especially despotic regimes that serve as our creditors. The author of this article articulated well some of my own deep misgivings:

"In May, Personal Savings ranked in at a negative 1.4 percent of income (or a minus $140 billion annually). Consumers are still not saving enough and continue using credit to offset any shortfall in income just to keep up with normal expenses like a mortgage, groceries, and gas because they have chosen to live extravagantly. One major cause of our country’s need to import massive amounts of foreign capital to keep our economy afloat stems from a weary American consumer struggling to live and pay the rent, but behaving like they’re rich.

"The United States might be the only superpower but we still owe Japan and China each about a trillion dollars. (We owe even more to the Gulf Arabs.) With no savings, America continues to run an $800 billion dollar trade deficit. We are effectively giving America away to our creditors and if we continue to give more and more away, we will lose the ability and the will to take back control and ownership of our own economy. Not only are Americans, individually, becoming debt slaves, but the country on a national level is losing its independence this 4th of July, one manufacturing job and one container shipment at a time, as jobs continue to go overseas."

He ends his article with the following admonition - the sort that one rarely if ever sees in the financial press, whose interest is closely aligned to the plutocrats whose national loyalty is tenuous at best. The author - Richard Benson - writes: "It's time to get out of debt and live small, not large. Own only what you need, not what you want so you can save. Invest in beautiful things you will enjoy for years, rather than fancy dinners that only leave your stomach bloated and your wallet empty. Build up savings in tangible assets that will hold their value regardless of the rate of inflation. America the beautiful is still a rich country. On July 4th we should be celebrating our financial independence because without it, there is no freedom."

Imagine one of our current candidates running on this platform! Not a chance in hell, I realize (even Ron Paul stops short of calling too explicitly for self-sacrifice). But, one wonders what would happen if one of the candidates, really any of the 37 or so dwarfs, had the courage to say any of these sorts of things aloud. Might Americans show themselves to be true friends of liberty after all? Might the better angels of our nature govern our baser appetites? We now seem to equate freedom with the ability to purchase whatever we want whenever we want - whether we have the money or not, and regardless of what nations we borrow from - and have lost the firm sense of the connection of the words freedom and independence. It is a connection we need to reestablish, and very soon, lest we lose all.

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