By Greg Smith
“Well the eagle’s been flyin’ slow, and the flag’s been flyin’ low, and a lot of people sayin’ that America’s fixin’ to fall.” – Charlie Daniels, “In America”, May 1980.
Concerned about America’s future? It is high time for some positive thinking and strategizing for the country we want in a decade and beyond. This nation has faced great problems since its inception. Examining the nation’s history provides perspective into the American capacity for growth and development when properly governed. Fact is, we can overcome. We always have.
Through history most societies changed little over seven generations. Even when there was progression instead of regression, advances were generally minimal and marginal. A time traveler from nearly any period of human history going back 140 years usually would have noticed little difference. But even with industrialization factored in, considering the metamorphosis of 1803 to 1945 should make any American confident we can face any challenge, solve any problem.
In 1803 the U.S. population was about 6.5 million, mostly clustered on the East Coast. New York City, by far the largest city by population, still had less than 100,000 residents in 1810 — there were farms in Manhattan into the 20th Century. The amount of land in the U.S. that could have been considered ‘developed’ would have been measured in the hundreds of square miles against the 3.79 million square miles the nation would eventually encompass. And when President Jefferson completed the Louisiana Purchase he had to send a military expedition from 1804-1806 headed by Meriwether Louis and William Clark to explore the heart of the continent just to find out what lay west of the Mississippi River.
The ensuing 139 years included the burning of Washington in 1814, substantial contentions surrounding slavery and a brutal civil war, Indian wars, Southern Reconstruction, labor riots and robber barons, construction of the Panama Canal, several shorter and one Great Depression and the attack on Pearl Harbor. There were plenty of problems along the way.
By 1939, by choice, the U.S. was a nation with an army smaller than that of Rumania — yet still lacking for basic amounts of materiel. Six years later the United States was the world’s leading military power. Even while fielding massive armies of young men – workers – in the European and the Pacific theaters America’s economy fed and sustained its own and much of its allies’ militaries. The U.S. Navy was larger and considerably more powerful than the combined navies of the rest of the world. U.S. air forces had been supplied with thousands of the then highly sophisticated B-29, along with almost two hundred thousand other combat aircraft that eventually ruled the skies, plus nearly another ninety-five thousand support aircraft.
The U.S. was the only nation able to fight large, sustained campaigns in both hemispheres. And in 1945, the massive $2 billion investment in the Manhattan Project paid off making the U.S. the only atomic power.
An argument these were merely causes of industrialization ignores the fact all the other industrializing nations completely existed in 1800. The United States which by 1914 was producing over one-third of world industrial output – roughly equivalent to the next three nations of Germany, Britain and France combined – by and large did not exist at the beginning of the 19th Century. Americans overspread a continent creating new political entities and societies while almost simultaneously turning wilderness into an economic engine of unprecedented magnitude. The Census of 1890 was the first to find the American Frontier no longer existed. This was less than a decade before the U.S. Navy, using modern warships that were antecedents of the battleship, defeated the Spanish at Manila Bay.
If you need a slightly more recent example, consider the period of 1981 to 1991. In January 1981 Iran still held 52 American hostages. The U.S. military was considered a “hollow” force while the Soviet and other Warsaw Pact militaries enjoyed considerable advantages in size, especially in armor and artillery. Aside from air power American military technological advantages had eroded. Inflation and unemployment were rampant – the misery index reached 21.98% in mid-1980. Inflation from 1970 to 1981 was 112.4%. “Rust Belt” became a household word. The U.S. economy and international influence appeared in freefall.
Only a decade later, a U.S.-led coalition squashed the world’s fourth-largest military in the most lopsided fashion imaginable. Shortly thereafter America was left as the only superpower. The U.S. economy had long-since healed and was in the midst of a transformation focusing more on technology and services. In the ensuing years U.S. military and economic dominance caused some to label America a hyperpower and hegemon. Between the reforms and bold actions of the Republican Congress from 1995-99 and President Clinton’s willingness to work with them the budget was balanced and national debt actually began to be retired. Unemployment reached a low of four percent, considered to be full employment. In short, it was one hell of a turnaround.
This is not empty nationalism but facts that illustrate of what America – what any nation in which individual social, political and economic liberty prevails — is capable. Today the largest challenge we face is our debt and deficit. The federal debt-to-GDP ratio is now roughly 1-to-1. It actually reached 1.2-to-1 shortly after the end of World War Two. According to an article by Matt Phillips in The Atlantic, the U.S. was able to push the debt-to-GDP ratio down to pre-war level of about 0.43-to-1 by 1962.
The path back to long-term prosperity is simple: Less government, more personal and economic freedom. Cut regulation, slash the tax code, get out of the mortgage business – in essence stop trying to make the world perfect. Government has long since passed the point where its intervention causes more problems than it solves. History has provided the recipe for success, we need only follow it. ©
Greg Smith is a freelance writer and political consultant who lives in Bantam, CT. His blog is found at http://www.betterfatthanfascist.com.