Reflections for the New Year”  By Phyllis Hunsinger          

This article was previously published in the January 2024 Business Times

Resolutions are common to hear at the beginning of a new year. Less thought of is the idea of reflection, that is, looking back so that the view looking forward is even more clear. Margaret J. Wheatley expressed the importance of reflection when she said, “Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences and failing to achieve anything useful.”

According to polls taken in 2023, the majority of Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction. Beginning in January 2023, an NBC poll showed 71% dissatisfied with the direction; in June 2023 CNN reported from the AO-NORC poll the largest dissatisfaction numbers at 85%, and in November 2023, an ABC News/Ipsos Poll said 76% of Americans disapprove of the country’s direction. This level of dissatisfaction by Americans for their governments’ policies is noteworthy. Reflection is needed to determine how the country has gotten off track.

What were the ideals and principles that made this country great? What was unique about this country that provided economic and quality of life opportunities to its citizens? Will it be possible to hit reset?

The notion of property rights is key to the uniqueness and the success of America. This means every man has a right to the fruits of his labor, the right to own both physical and intellectual property, and the right to make determinations about his property. Capitalism, the economic system by which America has thrived since its formation, is predicated upon the right to own property. Our founders established a government whose responsibility was to protect the individual property rights of its citizens.

Currently the term individual appears to have been relegated in importance to the concept of groups. Individual responsibility, individual effort, and meritocracy are rarely recognized as positive characteristics. Groups of people, perceiving themselves as bound together by race, lifestyle choice, or discrimination, have lobbied for, and received special treatment at the expense of the individual whose rights are often trampled in the process. The declaration of Independence speaks of individual rights, not group rights. Failure to recognize individual rights begins the journey in the wrong direction.

The polls referenced above indicate extreme displeasure with most aspects of American leadership. These responses were in reference to individual rights, taxation, immigration, and economic policies. There appears to be a recognition that something is dreadfully wrong in America.

Lawrence Reed, President Emeritus of the Foundation for Economic Education, and a champion for liberty, presented to the young people attending the Western Slope Economic Leadership Conference at CMU in November 2023, the “Seven Principles of Free Enterprise.” He said these fundamental truths serve as the foundation for a free enterprise system:

  • Free people are not equal. Equal people are not free.
  • What is yours you tend to take care of. What belongs to everybody (or nobody) falls apart. The importance of property rights and protecting those rights is key.
  • Think of the long run, not just the short run. Think of all people, not just some people. This is the law of unintended consequences.
  • If you encourage something, you get more of it. If you discourage something, you get less. People respond to incentives and disincentives; creators should not be vilified.
  • Nobody spends someone else’s money as carefully as he spends his own.
  • A government big enough to give you everything you want is also big enough to take away everything you have.
  • Character makes all the difference in the world.

The founders of America placed governance in the hands of the people by designing a representative government in which citizens have the power of the ballot box. If the country is headed in the wrong direction, the blame must be placed squarely on “We the People.” When voters abandon the principles of free enterprise in exchange for the government picking winners and losers, rewarding some groups at the expense of others, wasteful use of taxpayer funds, and growing government and its indebtedness,  there is little wonder that the U.S. is heading in the wrong direction.

Serious reflection on where we have been and where we are headed is important. Now to the last question, “will it be possible to hit reset?” Perhaps not.

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