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Americans were a great people because, on a whole, their basic needs were met. Land, natural resources, and labor were abundant through the end of the 19th century. America was founded on the principle that any man can carve a life out of the wilderness. If a man worked hard, he had the reasonable expectation of being able to feed, clothe, and shelter his family. Freed from the pressures of survival, Americans brought modern democracy to the world through their revolution for self-determination. Not because under British rule they could not feed their families, but because they felt higher order needs, freedom and justice, were not being met.

Science, Art, Engineering, Ethics can only flourish when the basic needs are met. Maslow studied man’s needs and motivations and found a relationship between them. He postulated the following hierarchy:

Maslow Gif.jpg

From Wikipeadia

This hierarchy states that people, as a whole, are motivated by a desire to satisfy physical and psychological needs. Their motivations and therefore their actions are defined by the lowest set of needs that are denied to them. A starving man will concern himself with getting food. Wealth, friendship, morality, and even self-respect, become secondary considerations when a man has an empty stomach. When he can satisfy his hunger, he will turn his attention to the next level in the hierarchy, his security. He will look to securing employment, securing and protecting wealth, and thereby securing the safety of his family. The satisfaction of higher needs such as love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization must be put off until he and his family are safe.

Maslow’s Hierarchy defines a general relationship between the satisfaction of an individual’s needs and his motivations. However, Maslow himself conceded that an individual’s actions are not always motivated by strict adherence to his hierarchy. As such, this relationship is more relevant when applied to a group of people than to an individual. When looking at what motivates a society, the truth of Maslow’s Hierarchy becomes apparent as individual deviations from the relationship are made statistically irrelevant.

Societies, particularly democratic societies, reflect the motivations of its citizens. If a society’s people are well fed and safe it will elect leaders less likely to be motivated concerns of wealth and security. And, they are more likely to be elect men who like the populace as a whole, can afford to value Science, Art, Engineering, and Ethics.

Poor societies, on the other hand, are more likely to be run by men motivated by wealth and security. People fearful of not being able to feed themselves or their families will follow politicians who share, or profess to share, their fears. Their leaders will prioritize security over justice and expediency over the arts. Like 1930’s Germany, these poor democracies will be more likely to degenerate into dictatorships.

To prevent America from being lead by politicians motivated by fear and greed, it is therefore imperative that the basic needs of our citizens are met. If not, freedom, justice, and equality will become secondary to security and the liberties that define America, the liberties Americans have died to insure for ourselves and our posterity, will be lost.

It is therefore in our own self-interest to insure that the basic needs of our fellow citizens are met. Failure to do so will result in our own liberties being curtailed as the government, motivated by fear, chooses security over freedom. Our own wellbeing is dependant on the wellbeing of our fellow man. This truth need not be based on morality or religion. It is a scientific truth, one that may be derived from the sociology and psychology of the human animal.

Americans have always valued “promoting the general welfare”. The preamble of our constitution states that the American government was created with this goal in mind. To achieve this goal, the American government has chosen to promote capitalism. Promoting the general welfare in America and promoting capitalism became synonymous. So much so that in the 1950s it became tantamount to treason to even suggest that capitalism was not the best way for America to meet that goal.

However, over the twentieth century Americans became increasingly disillusioned with Laissez-faire capitalism. The history of civil law in America is the history of increased regulations on free capitalism. That history was written by politicians elected by citizens whose needs were not met by unrestrained capitalism, or, by citizens whose morality was offended by the deeds of men in their pursuit of money.

Despite America’s basic belief that capitalism is the best engine to promote the most good for the most people, America enacted laws to limit the excesses of capitalism. Monopolies and trusts were banned. Child labor was strictly limited. Workers were guaranteed the right to organize. Standards for workplace safety were enacted. A minimum wage was passed into law. While these laws reduced the profitability of businesses subject to them, they were a necessary response to the indifference to human suffering of the “Invisible Hand” that governs a capitalist economy.

Yet economists still preach free and unrestricted trade with respect to global capitalism despite the catastrophic impact such policies have on the American people. American’s current economic troubles are not an anomaly, they are a trend. America has been losing manufacturing jobs for over 150 years. No country, not even America can sustain that forever. America is at a turning point in its history.

America passes laws that limit the potential for harm that results from corporate greed, but allows foreign corporations, not limited by our laws, to compete freely in our markets. Americans pass laws that say that it is unconscionable to pay a worker less than a minimum wage and then allow products to be imported into its markets from countries paying far less that this minimum. It imposes environmental and safety restrictions on its companies and then import goods from countries that devastate ecologies and kill or maim their workers in unsafe factories. American corporations are used to finance a large part of its citizen’s health care through employee benefits and as a source of tax revenue to its government, yet allow foreign goods to be sold in its markets without bearing any part of its people’s health care or tax burden.

This was fine when the rest of the world was recovering from the devastation of the Second World War. It was fine when much of America’s current competitors were still third world nations. But the world has changed. America in now part of a global economy and it has squandered its head start. Competitors now have an industrial base as good or superior to ours. We have shared, or had stolen, our technological advantage. It is pure hubris to think that America can, through tenacity and ingenuity rebuild our economy without addressing basic economic inequalities we ourselves have imposed on our markets.

In order to provide for the common welfare the American government must either abandon those values which make us uncompetitive, or, change the free trade agreements we have entered into. Failure to do so will destroy the American economy and thereby, the culture we hold dear.

Some will say that free trade and free capitalism are core American values. They will say that giving up these values will destroy the America we love. But I say these are not core American values. Free trade and unrestricted capitalism were simply the best means we had to promote the general welfare. To insure the majority of the population was motivated by higher goals. If these tools are no longer effective in achieving that goal, then we need to discard them and find tools that work.

America will inevitably change its free trade policies. Americans are too pragmatic not to change a system that is hurting them. But before we do, American culture may slide own Maslow’s Hierarchy. It may lose the culture of affluence and squander our children’s birthright.

Some may say that this is short sighted. That capitalism sill provides that best good for the most people and over the long run, despite the short term cost to America, the world will be better off. I say that it is not reasonable for the world to expect Americans to sacrifice the welfare of our children on an altar to free trade. Nor would the world be a safer place if America were reduced to baser motivations. It is in the world’s interest that the cultural gains made by our, or any, affluent society are not lost.
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