I make a lot of mistakes. I choose the wrong lane in traffic jams. I pick the wrong lottery numbers. And yes, I even go in the wrong direction from time to time. These are small decisions.
Sometimes I mess up in bigger ways. I’ve made business moves that took years to unwind, and sometimes I wish I’d pursued a different major in college, although I’m thrilled with my career.
But all of these choices have one thing in common: they were mine. I made them on my own, after considering, and often ignoring, all the advice and input of others. I get to live with the consequences, enjoying the successes and hopefully learning from the failures. I pass no blame.
I wouldn’t have it any other way… and that’s part of what makes me a proud American.
Our country is based on the premise that we’re all entitled to screw up our lives. We can choose to drop out of high school at 16, major in obscure topics in college, or spend every nickel we make on whatever weird hobby catches our attention.
We can say what we want, go where we want, and join groups with whomever we want. Along the way, we know that everyone will do something stupid. We’re only human. We’re prone to poor judgment based on limited information, where we typically give too much weight to the latest data point.
Maybe our decisions will work out. Maybe not.
But as bad as an individual’s judgment might be from time to time, it pales in comparison to the alternative – letting others make decisions for us. I bristle at the very notion of giving someone else control… which is also part of being American.
I don’t want someone a thousand miles away, or down the hall for that matter, making decisions that affect my life, even though I know that sometimes it has to be this way.
We hand off decisions on national security, international trade, and a host of other things to elected officials. But I don’t like it very much, and I’d prefer to keep as much responsibility as possible close to home.
It’s not that I think politicians are bad, or out to take advantage of me. It’s that I know something about them. They’re only human, too. They might know more about individual topics, but they’re just as prone to bad decision-making as the rest of us.
The U.S. is built on the foundation that we’re equal. Some are smarter, some are faster, and some are better looking. But no one has a higher claim to pursue his vision of the world than anyone else, particularly if that means forcing decisions on others.
If through free association and agreement we determine a course of action, so be it, but don’t tell us that we should do something because it’s “good” for us when we don’t agree. It’s bound to start a fight.
For almost a decade, the federal government and central bank have been handing down dictates, telling us we’ll be better off if we simply conform. The worst of the financial crisis passed, but everyday life hasn’t improved much. Some asset values are much higher, but wages are still stagnant and the true cost of living – health care, rent, and education, not TVs and home phones – is through the roof.
At this point, most Americans don’t think the next generation will have the same opportunities as previous generations, or a higher standard of living.
It could be that things really are different this time, and there are no choices that will change our economic path.
Maybe, but I don’t think so.
I think if we scaled back the amount of government involvement in our daily lives, from punishing interest rate policies to crushing regulations and offensive asset forfeiture, we could at least be optimistic about the future for our children.
If we give small businesses a chance, instead of requiring permits to be landscape workers or makeup artists, then perhaps more people will strike out on their own.
In short, if we take back the freedom to make decisions, good or bad, then perhaps we can put the country back on the right path. Whether that turns out to be true or not, at least we would know one thing for sure – we were true to our heritage of giving everyone the right to determine their own path.
And that’s the most American thing of all. Happy Fourth of July!
Follow me on Twitter @RJHSDent
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