2011 FIFTH PLACE ESSAY
by Daniel Kendrick, Age 18
Submitting Teacher: Kay Guthrie
America is unique. Every other country in the world was founded by accidental forces of history: by one city conquering its neighbors, by two despots signing a treaty of confederation, or by a tribal group growing large enough to call itself a "nation". America was founded on principle. What was that principle? The recognition of the rights of the individual. What were its rewards? Life, liberty, and prosperity.
America is the greatest country on earth because it alone has the honor of saying that it is not a nation, nor the property of a tyrant, but a land of rights. France is a nation for the French. Russia is a nation for the Russians. Japan is a nation for the Japanese. But for whom does America exist? It exists for every man who is willing to live by his own effort, not by that of others, whether he gets it by begging or stealing. It exists for every man who can stand up and say that rich or poor, black or white, male or female, skilled or unskilled, theist or atheist are not essentials; that the one essential is that he is a human being, entitled to life, liberty, and property—no more and no less. America exists for everyone—not unconditionally, but for those who can speak that oath and thus deserve it.
America is great because it is free, because that freedom—arising from the Enlightenment's dedication to reason—gives to every man willing to use his own reason and abilities the power to produce. Stossel's video, therefore, is spot-on when it comes to the issue of America's productivity. As Stossel himself proved, the time and effort it takes to get a business license in most states pales in comparison to most countries in the world. In this country, the law exists for the most part to protect the right to produce, not to destroy it.
But America's laws are not the whole answer. After all, America can, unfortunately, no longer be called the freest country in the world, economically. The tax rates in Eastern Europe are much lower—a flat 13% in Russia, for example. The reason why businesses do not flee to Russia (apart from the endemic corruption) is that America still retains one of the most business-friendly cultures in the world. Even in countries much freer than Russia, the culture is hostile to "bucking the trend" and regards failure as a permanent shame. Thus, as the video demonstrates, immigrants like Anthony Sullivan still come to America from highly developed countries because American culture offers an individuality that the rest of the world lacks.
Stossel's video also makes excellent points about immigration. In America, immigrants come and become a part of our society. They do not "conform" and abandon their identities, but they adjust those identities to fit the individualistic character of this land. Contrast this to Europe, where, as the video indicates, "multiculturalism" has led to the division of society into isolated ethnic groups, or to Japan, which does not face any such issues because 98.5% of the population is Japanese. The reason for this is that "multiculturalism" is founded on the premise that a man is defined by his culture, and that no culture is better than any other, since there can be no standard to judge. Under "multiculturalism", any cultural integration is bad because it might lead to the destruction of ancient traditions like female circumcision. Thus, the "multiculturalists" are led to say: "This is my culture; that is yours; and let's not mix the two." America has thankfully avoided that pitfall. The only fault in America's immigration policy is that it keeps out and even deports—for no good reason—unskilled workers who come here for jobs, not handouts.
However, Stossel's video is misguided on one crucial point: the moral meaning of capitalism. Among of the criticisms of America mentioned in the video (all of which are baseless), was this: that America is evil because it is selfish and does not give enough to the rest of the world. Stossel's response was to say: we are good; look how much we give in charity. What he should have said was that the criticism entirely misses the point. America is great because it produces. In America, we make money. Those who make millions in this country do so because they produce goods which they trade for the money of others. There is nothing wrong with charity, if it is considered a minor virtue. But to make it the justification for our existence is to say that a businessman is good not because he produces wealth, but because he gives it away. The only reason we can afford to give away "the scraps from our table" (as one critic put it) is because we prepared that banquet in the first place. If we lived like medieval ascetics, we would have nothing to give—because we would have nothing for ourselves.
One cannot defend capitalism—or America—on the doctrine that man's role is to live for others. For no matter how much the defenders of capitalism laud the benefits it gives to the "greatest number", its opponents will ignore the economic facts when they correctly see self-interest at its heart. Thus, Kantians like Dinesh D'Souza and others who defend America on entirely the wrong grounds do more harm than the critics. The critics are fools and would be powerless if they had no intellectual support. However, when D'Souza says that reason is impotent to know the world as it truly is, it opens the door for the "multiculturalists" to say that there are no standards to judge cultures, except subjective feelings. And when the "defenders" say: man's duty is to live for others, the critics have no trouble finding an economic system which fits that role—and it isn't capitalism. Only by defending the morality of the individual's pursuit of happiness can America answer its critics and be proud of its liberty and productivity.