Trust in America

I’ve been asked the question, “After what you have heard and seen over the past couple of years, do you still trust the American public?” I must admit that after seeing the responses to positions that I have taken in public and in the far reaches of the Internet, I must say that I have been given reason for pause. Personal attacks, uncivil debate, half-truths peddled as whole and doctrinaire positions taken with the seriousness of an MTV reality show are the root of my discomfort…and all of this was before the Safeway shootings in Tucson.

I do admit that I am tempted to succumb to a view of a dark future and a transformation of the country that I love to something that I do not recognize. Calls for “hope and change” are omnipresent and fall from the lips as easy as the modern appellation of “Have a nice day” at any local business. I fear that they contain just as much sincerity and meaning. I am as yet unconvinced that those who utter these words even understand the import and significance of the actions required to affect such an end. I worry that the easy and seductive siren songs of “progressivism” and socialism are being seen as the grand savior to us all and yet, I remain convinced that this is but one more challenge in the evolution of a still young Republic. I do remain optimistic.

The lack of any sort of context, the misrepresentation of history and the shallowness of the discussions make me wonder if our education system has reached a breaking point. Younger respondents are often wrong at worst and incomplete at best, not only in opposition but in recognition of the roots of their own political positions. As what we see are but a small radical minority, I tend to refuse the proposition of many conservatives that this is a result of indoctrination in the schools. I would propose that it is not the pressing of an ideological presupposition on our children, rather an incomplete education without context and understanding of our past…and it isn’t just a vacuum at school, it is in the homes as well. Ignorance of the past is a far easier task to accomplish than miscasting it and is far more dangerous.

Education and growth as thinking, reasoning adults requires much more than just going to school. It requires experiences. I can’t speak for others but in my case, I had the advantage of growing up on a farm where I learned about hard work, responsibility and how a market worked every time we took a crop to market or bought and sold livestock. I was encouraged to grow and sell my own livestock, I took produce from our garden to the farmer’s market and I learned that I could earn as much or a little in proportion to the effort I made. I also learned that I had to put aside money from this year’s crop to support the planning of the next. I learned that I could exercise my own choices and independence to affect my earnings. I also had my first lesson in “progressivism”.

One summer when my cousin and I were 13, decided to sell watermelons at the farmers market because they were a sure sell, they were easy to transport and unless you dropped them – were hard to spoil. My grandfather owned the land, so he “rented” it to us for a nominal fee. My cousin, being from the suburbs, came to my grandparents to spend the summer vacation so he was a little less than enthusiastic about the amount of work that had to be done to be successful. Seeing an opportunity for an object lesson, my grandfather made it a competition. We could have as little or as much land as we wanted. We both selected plots of roughly equal size, a little over 3 acres each,  both borrowed the same about of seed capital (no pun intended) and we each got an allowance of 500 pounds of fertilizer from the farm stock and off we went.

We both knew that working 3 acres would be a lot to do alone, so we each got 3 of our friends to help. As a salary, I made a deal with my 3 friends that they would each be responsible for an acre, I would help in all of them and they would be paid in accordance with the time that they spent and the yield from each of their plots. My cousin, on the other hand, chose to tell his 3 friends that no matter what happened, they would be paid equally for the summer and they would be collectively responsible for the plot.  The stories start to diverge from this point.

My guys were motivated. They saw an opportunity to make a good sum for the summer; they took pride in the private ownership of each of the plots and worked hard to make them productive. One of them rigged up an irrigation pump out of an old go-kart engine and pieces of scrap from our shop.  We drew water from a neighboring creek and were able to irrigate the patch even during the driest parts of the summer. The worked even if I didn’t ask them to, they kept up with their hours. At the end of the growing season, we sold a little over 3,500 melons at an average of $1.50 each for a gross of about $5, 250. First step was to take care of the overhead, about 750 bucks, I kept 500 bucks for creating the opportunity and my friends and I got payments ranging from $800 to $1200 based on the amount of time and effort that each put in. 2 of my friends decided to go into business with me for the next year and we all invested $250 as seed money for the next summer – deposited in a savings account in a local bank.

My cousin’s guys were less motivated. They also saw an opportunity to make a good sum for the summer; but in a different way. Since my cousin had already promised them equal shares, there was no individual drive, quite the contrary. It started well but inequalities of effort started to develop. One of the boys started neglecting his share of the work and it didn’t take the others too long to figure out that they were doing all the work. About 3 weeks in, my cousin had a hard time getting any of them to show up and one disappeared for an entire month.  He cut a special “deal” with one boy and promised him a bigger cut, leaving less for the other 2. As a result, at the end of the growing season, they sold a little over 2,000 melons at an average of $1.00 each (they were much smaller than ours) for a gross of about $2,000. Less overhead than I had because they did less, about 400 bucks, leaving them to split $1,600 between the 4 of them. Then the problems started. The “special deal” came to light first, taking $200 out of the pot, cutting it to $1,400. Then the boy that was gone for a month demanded a full share because that was what he promised. The boy in the middle grew very angry with the situation and there was an altercation. Parents were called. At the end of the day, my grandfather made my cousin split the $1600 in 4 equal parts and pay the “special deal” out of his own pocket, leaving him with $200 for the summer and animosity of all of his friends. Needless to say, this wasn’t an ongoing concern for the next summer.

In the Great War between the “isms” – Liberalism on the left and Conservatism on the right, the Left has yet to learn these lessons that I learned as a boy. This is a childishly simple illustration that will likely be met with some degree of disdain but it is as valid as any economic analysis. My grandfather played the role of government by having to pick winners and losers and assigning arbitrary values to the product of their efforts. Some were more equal as others, as is the case with “managed” systems and an authority decided not based on effort or value created but a factor of “equality”. When one favored group gets a benefit to support the system, it leaves less for the total and socialistic regimes have always required the favor of one group or the other to form a majority for control. When there is no incentive to work, the work is not done or done poorly, yet the expectation of full benefit is still present.

Free enterprise is an integral part of conservatism and it works, every time it is tried. It is a effective answer to progressivism. Rather than an arbitrary authority assessing value, price and effort regulate it without interference. Could we have failed, sure…but we didn’t. For my cousin, it was a hard lesson to learn about the definition of “fairness”. He evidently learned because he became a successful bond trader.

This is why I still have faith in the American public – if 13 year olds can figure this out, it should be a small matter for adults to do it. The spirit that gave birth to this country still exists in the heart of every 13 year old. That spirit needs to be fed with knowledge and challenged to think. That is why I persevere with my meager talents. Not everybody has the benefit of a watermelon patch and a long, hot Mississippi summer, yet every person within the sound of my voice or the reach of my words is an opportunity to create a thinking human being. Even if they disagree with me and I can cause them to think, it serves the greater purpose.

I do have faith that we can learn the lessons about the natural state of man and freedom in time to change course. The sun is rising over the horizon. Morning in America will dawn anew.

God bless the United States of America and long live the Republic.

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