Gratitude for the American System, with a Little Side of Happiness

I wanted to take a bit of a break from showcasing entrepreneurs to talk about something quite close to my heart.  Perspective…

America is an imperfect place, but it is still an extraordinary place.  Most of human history is characterized by scarcity, war and tyranny.  Today, few Americans experience any of that.  Indeed, the poorest Americans today have lifestyles that are equal to those of the average European.  What’s more, almost every American today – the vast majority of the people on the planet for that matter – enjoy lives that even kings of a century ago could never have imagined.  From cell phones to jet flight to video games to MRI machines to air conditioners to the Internet and much more.  And while Kings had plenty of food and shelter and personal transportation at the ready, most people of the day did not.  Today almost every American has these and much more, and much of that is due to the efforts of American entrepreneurs such as those I chronicle here. 

While understanding that America is imperfect, it’s simultaneously possible to recognize that it is the greatest nation that has yet been crafted on God’s green earth.  The United States is the first nation in human history to be founded on the basic premise of the inalienable individual rights given to men by God, and that notion was the foundation upon which much of the modern world has been built.  Over the course of almost 250 years the United States has been a powerful force in driving more freedom and more prosperity than any nation in history.  The United States helped the British (who were the primary power driving the movement) and the French eliminate slavery throughout the world.  The United States twice played a key role in saving the world from a cataclysm.  The United States was the power behind the collapse of the Soviet Union.

While those events were important from a global history perspective, from the perspective of the everyday lives of people around the world a phalanx of American entrepreneurs have done even more. Cyrus McCormick revolutionized farming that had not changed substantially in over 5,000 years and freed up billions of people to do something besides farm.  JD Rockefeller was the driving force that reduced the price of home heating fuel and later gasoline over 90% in the late 19th century, giving the common man access to energy he’d never had before.  Henry Ford, while he didn’t invent the automobile, his assembly line innovation made transportation options available to the masses like it had never been before.  There are of course other, more mundane things as well.  Things like shipping containers and video games and frozen foods and air conditioning and electric washing machines… but at the end of the day the greatest thing about the American system of individual liberty, limited government and Capitalism is the opportunity it has given to every single American.  This system, in the 1950’s, one of the most dynamic moments in human history, allowed the United States, with less than 5% of the world’s population, to generate over 25% of the world’s GDP, something that had never been done before by a population that small.  And the beauty of the system is that it is fueled by crazy things that everyday Americans come up with: “a culture that tolerates and even extols the frivolous fertilizes the garden from which the consequential emerges.” Which means anyone and everyone has the opportunity to contribute and make the world a better place or generate vast wealth by building a better mousetrap or some combination of both. 

So, as we watch people across the country disparage America, say it’s never been great and claim that she’s the source of all evil, remember that those accusations are being hurled by people who have benefited from and enjoy the fruits of the system that created the greatest advances in all of human history in a myriad of fields, and many, if not most of them, were developed by American entrepreneurs. 

As such, my goal with this blog is to showcase those people who have given us so much, who have, as Adam Smith suggested, for their own reasons, made a better mousetrap, created a more efficient widget or somehow otherwise built or invented something that citizens would willingly exchange their hard-earned money for.  It’s that mutually beneficial free exchange of goods and ideas and services that gave us the extraordinary world we live in today.  It’s far from perfect, but it’s by far the greatest that’s ever been created by men.

When you look at the world from that perspective, gratitude becomes a lot easier to embrace.  And when all is said and done, gratitude is maybe the single greatest driver of happiness in the world.