Survival of the American Way of Life
by Ezra Taft Benson. From God, Family, Country: Our Three Great Loyalties, pg. 305. 1974.
The phrase “survival of the American way of life” carries a somewhat different connotation to various groups even within the United States. Probably to no other group will it bring a more significant meaning in terms of farms of America than to those who operate our farms and ranches. As one who has been reared among them, served them, and been served by them, I declare that our rural people are today the strongest bulwark we have against all that is aimed not only at weakening, but also at the very destruction of our American way of life. It seems that man must get his feet into the soil to keep sane. In any event, no other segment of our population knows so well that “as ye sow, so shall ye reap.” America and the world must learn this eternal truth. Failure to do so can bring only disappointment, suffering, and desperation.
It is not surprising that we should turn our thoughts to a consideration of those factors which will determine in large measure our future success and happiness as a nation through the preservation of the American way of life. What, then, is the American way of life? What are its fruits? Do we really want our free enterprise system to survive?
If you could have spent a recent year with me in war-torn Europe, that which you would have seen would have given the answers. It is heartrending to see people who have lost their freedom of choice—their free agency—and who feel no security; who have no homes they can call their own; who own no property; whose hearts are filled with hatred, distrust, and fear of the future.
The outlook for free enterprise in the world has never seemed so uncertain as now. A world survey by the New York Times shows that nationalization is growing rapidly, especially outside the western hemisphere. Many nations have a mixed economy brought about by an increase in state control and a corresponding weakening of the private enterprise system. Under various forms of socialism and communism, the growth of governmental restrictions and nationalization goes on apace. The seriousness of the situation demands careful reflection by all interested in the preservation and perpetuation of our system of individual free enterprise, predicated, as it is, on a democratic capitalistic economy under a republican form of government.
The New York Times also printed the results of a survey of twenty-two nations, made by correspondents—and of all the countries, Canada appeared to be the only one in which private enterprise “can be said to be functioning today with anything like the freedom from governmental controls that obtains in the United States.”
Millions of people today have become slaves to the state. The dignity and value of the individual, except as a tool of government, have vanished in many parts of the world. We have experienced in years past in many nations, including America, the slavery of person to person. We fought two great wars to settle these issues in our own land. The first was a fight for national freedom; the second was a fight for freedom of person from person. The current question, and one that has brought and is bringing so much sorrow and misery to people in many parts of Europe, is that of slavery of the individual to the state.
Should we as American citizens be concerned? We need not think it cannot happen here.
Fortunately, the founding fathers of this great land, under the benign influence of a kind Providence, established a solid foundation aimed at guaranteeing a maximum of individual freedom, happiness, and well-being. “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” they said in the Declaration of Independence, “that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” This inspired document proclaims clearly that governments should be established on such principles as “seem most likely to effect” the “safety and happiness” of the people. The Constitution of the United States, which Gladstone has described as “the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man,” was aimed to “establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”
In these sacred documents are embodied eternal principles that no man, group of men, or nation has the right to withhold from others. Here is our basis for freedom of individual achievement. Our Constitution with its Bill of Rights guarantees to all our people the greatest freedom ever enjoyed by the people of any great nation. This system guarantees freedom of individual enterprise, freedom to own property, freedom to start one’s own business and to operate it according to one’s own judgment so long as the enterprise is honorable.
The individual has power to produce beyond his needs, to provide savings for the future protection of himself and family. He can live where he wishes and pick any job he wants and select any educational opportunity. He is, to a high degree, free through his own hard work and wise management to make a profit, to invest in any enterprise he may choose, and to leave a part of his accumulation to be inherited by others as they may, in large measure, determine. He may enjoy the sacred rights of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, and freedom of worship. To this American entrepreneur his home is his castle, and in the event that he is accused of an offense against the laws established by the people, he has the right of trial by a jury made up of his own fellow citizens.
All these and more, embodied in written documents that cannot be changed easily and quickly to suit the whim of some would-be dictator, are our heritage under the American way of life. Here is freedom guaranteed by the limitation of government through a written constitution. Do we recognize and fully appreciate the priceless value of this legacy? Now, while the world is in commotion and turmoil over ideologies and political philosophies, is a good time to reflect upon the past. It is a good time to draw a few comparisons—to take stock.
Under these principles of freedom and enterprise America has become the richest nation under heaven and has grown to be the most powerful and influential nation in the world, using an economy based upon freedom of individual achievement. Here has been established the most highly developed industrial system in the world, together with the technological equipment, human and otherwise, to support it.
Our republic has now been an operating unit for almost two centuries. During that period we have developed a productive plant and a way of life that have given the highest standard of living for the masses known to the civilized world. In the long run, a nation enjoys in the form of goods and services only what it produces. We have established an all-time record of production.
Within the past century we have received a huge increase in net output per man-hour. These vast gains in human welfare have lessened human toil. At the time of the Civil War the average work week was seventy hours. In America the inventive genius provides horse-drawn and tractor-drawn equipment, and one family can cultivate 50, 100, 200, or even 400 acres and more. A man working by hand has the physical force of one-tenth of a horse. A man with a ten-horsepower tractor has ninety times that much power. American ingenuity under freedom of choice has harnessed tremendous amounts of mineral energy to do physical work. Most occupations in the United States today require more horse sense than horsepower. Under our free enterprise system there are good reasons to believe that the technological progress of the past will continue in the future, perhaps at an accelerated rate.
Our free enterprise system also allows for all necessary flexibility. No other economic program responds so readily to changes in wartime and peacetime demands. Witness what happened after the fall of France in 1940, when the President asked Congress for 50,000 planes to strengthen America’s defense in a dangerous world. Other nations and some of our people cried, “Impossible! We haven’t the plants, money, or materials.” What was the answer of America’s free enterprise system? By June 1945, 297,000 war planes had been produced, nearly 100,000 of them bombers.
No fair-minded person contends that the private enterprise system is perfect. It is operated by human beings who are full of imperfections. Many of us deplore the fact that a few of our corporate entities seem to lack that social consciousness proportionate to their power and the privileges granted them by the state. Some businesses apparently still fail to recognize that there are social and spiritual values as well as profits that should be considered in their operations.
Neither do our needs always correspond to our demands under the free enterprise system. For example, the American male still prefers steak and potatoes and apple pie to a better balanced diet. Many American families often prefer housing below a decency level to the “indecency” of getting along without a family car. As a nation we have spent twice as much money for liquor and tobacco as for medical care, about the same for movies as for the support of the churches, and almost as much for beauty parlor services as for private social welfare. Whether wise or unwise, these decisions on the part of individuals as to how they spend their money are the result of free consumer choice, which is a part of the free enterprise system.
With all of its weaknesses, our free enterprise system has accomplished in terms of human welfare that which no other economic or social system has even approached. Our freedom of individual opportunity permits us to draw upon our natural resources and upon the total brain and brawn power of the nation in a most effective manner. This freedom of individual choice inspires competition. Competition inspires shrewd and efficient management, which is conducive to the production of the best product possible at the lowest price.
Are we to discard a system that has produced so much simply because it has not worked perfectly? We all admit there are abuses. One should not condemn an entire system because of the abuses of a handful of those who do not play the game according to established rules. We often refer to the family unit as the very basis of civilized society, and yet all will agree that family life is not perfect—divorces are too frequent, some homes are unhappy—but our objective is not to throw the family overboard, but rather to work for the improvement of family relations. Even the churches of America are not perfect, but no sane American would recommend that the churches be discredited and discarded. We all recognize religion as the basis of true character-building for which the world is starving.
The evidence clearly indicates that our most cherished rights and interests are all a part of the American way of life. Can communism, socialism, fascism, or any other coercive system provide these priceless blessings which flow to us as a part of our American way of life? The common denominator of all these coercive systems is the curtailment of individual liberty. Surely we will all agree that our Constitution provides the basis for the only economic system acceptable to true Americans.
Although we all cherish the material blessings which flow from the American system of individual achievement, it would be folly for us to close our eyes to certain challenging and dangerous trends that are in evidence and that strike at its very foundation. As Americans, far removed from the struggles which won for us our freedom, we are inclined to take the inevitable blessings of freedom for granted. It has been seven generations since the adoption of the American Constitution. Many in America today seem to have forgotten the cost and the value of freedom.
In addition, during the past few years, particularly, loud voices have been calling attention to the weaknesses of private enterprise without pointing out its virtues. We have been teaching our people to depend upon government instead of relying upon their own initiative as did our pioneer forefathers. Our freedom to work out our individual destinies has been abridged. We have been looking upon government as something apart from us and have failed to realize that we, the people, are the government.
We have also been making individual success unpopular. There has been a tendency to refer to men who have cash to invest in tools and equipment for the use of workers as “coupon clippers,” “economic royalists,” “capitalists,” and “profiteers”—as though there were something inherently bad in it. Evidence of this fact is found in the writings and discussions of our high school and college students, the majority of whom, it is reported, believe private enterprise is a failure, although they don’t have a clear understanding of what private enterprise is. With them, as with many adults, there is a vague notion that it is some unfair system which tends to give special advantage to big corporations and wealthy individuals. This attitude is encouraged by certain textbook writers who hold the idea, in many cases, that a government-planned economy is the remedy for all of our economic ills and the weaknesses in our American way of life, to which they readily point without referring to the beneficent fruits of the system.
We are rearing a generation that does not seem to understand the fundamentals of our American way of life, a generation that is no longer dedicated to its preservation. A long-range educational program beginning with the adult level is, of course, the only answer. Our people, both before and after they arrive at the age of the right of the ballot, should understand what it is that has made America great. We can only appreciate freedom if we understand the comparative fruits thereof. It was Jefferson who said: “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” It is one thing to win freedom; its preservation is equally important. If reference is made continually to weaknesses of the private enterprise system without any effort to point out its virtues and the comparative fruits of this and other systems, the tendency in this country will be to demand that the government take over more and more of the economic and social responsibilities and make more of the decisions for the people. This can result in but one thing: slavery of the individual to the state. This seems to be the trend in the world today. The issue is whether the individual exists for the state or the state for the individual.
In a democracy the real danger is that we may slowly slide into a condition of slavery of the individual to the state rather than entering this condition by a sudden revolution. The loss of our liberties might easily come about, not through the ballot box, but through the death of incentive to work, to earn, and to save. Such a condition is usually brought about by a series of little steps which, at the time, seem justified by a variety of reasons and which may on the surface appear to be laudable as to intent. It has been pointed out that the more basic reasons offered by would-be planned economy advocates are “the desire to change and control others, the search for security, and the desire of individuals or groups to improve their own economic status or that of others by means of direct governmental intervention.”
Europe today is evidence of the fact that one of the most common routes toward serfdom is followed by those in search of economic security. Never has there been so much apparent interest in security. Many programs so labeled have wide appeal. In order to appraise properly any so-called governmental security plan, however, we must look behind its name. Many so-called progressive programs are attractively labeled, and if we are to preserve our freedom and liberty, we must constantly analyze the nature of issues and programs and ignore labels that have been attached to them.
Equality is also a favorite term. Most people believe themselves to be below the average in income; therefore they feel they stand to gain through equalization via governmental intervention. All would like to equalize with those who are better off than they themselves. They fail to realize that incomes differ, and will always differ, because people differ in their economic drive and ability. The evidence clearly indicates that government has been unable to prevent inequality of incomes and, further, that equalization efforts usually stifle initiative and retard progress to the extent that the real incomes of everyone are lowered.
Many of our problems and dangers center in the issues of so-called fair prices, wages, and profits and the relationship between management and labor. We must realize that it is just as possible for wages to be too high as it is for prices and profits to be excessive. There is a tendency, of course, for almost everyone to feel that his share is unfair, whether it is or not. An effort to adjust apparent inequities often calls for government subsidies. Too often these are authorized without asking, “Who will pay for them?” Much of our program of letting the government pay for it can be described as “an attempt to better yourself by increasing your pay to yourself and then sending yourself the bill.”
The only safe and solid answer is the mechanism of a free market operating in an enterprise and free competition. Here everyone has a chance to cast his vote in the election that will decide what is a fair price, fair wage, and fair profit, and what should be produced and in what quantities. To contradict the justice of that decision is to contradict the whole concept of justice by the democratic process. All will agree that the democratic processes and the free market—both parts of our American way of life—are not perfect, but they are believed to have fewer faults and to do a better job than any other known device. A sure way to take a shortcut to serfdom is to discard the sovereign rights of all the people in either the political or the economic realm.
We must remember that government assistance and control are essentially political provisions, and that experience has demonstrated that, for that reason, they are not sufficiently stable to warrant their utilization as a foundation for sound economic growth under a free enterprise system. The best way—the American way—is still maximum freedom for the individual guaranteed by a wise government that establishes and enforces the rules of the game. History records that eventually people get the form of government they deserve. Good government, which guarantees the maximum of freedom, liberty, and development to the individual, must be based upon sound principles, and we must ever remember that ideas and principles are either sound or unsound in spite of those who hold them. Freedom of achievement has achieved and will continue to produce the maximum of benefits in terms of human welfare.
Our way of life is based upon eternal principles. It rests upon a deep spiritual foundation established by inspired instruments of an all-wise Providence.