If you ask just about anybody — or scroll through Facebook or Twitter — it seems like our society is on the verge of collapse. We’re hopelessly divided and face one scandal after another. But the Fourth of July is a good time to remember that things aren’t so bad. In fact, they’re wonderful.
Consider how far we’ve come since our nation was born 241 years ago. Fighting the Revolutionary War, our Founding Fathers had problems far greater than King George’s tweets. They had no phones, no electricity, no cars, let alone the bare essentials. Washington’s soldiers marched across frigid terrain without shoes! They couldn’t argue about vaccines — there were none. They lived in a time when even the common cold could be fatal. The first Americans lived, on average, only until their mid-30s; today, many 30-somethings are still climbing out of adolescence.
Since then we’ve seen a meteoric rise in standards of living, thanks to technological innovation, courageous entrepreneurs and global advances in liberty. In less than 30 years, the share of people living on less than $2 a day has shrunk from more than 30 percent to less than 10 percent.
Almost half of the world’s population has access to the internet — letting them stay in contact with distant loved ones, access a vast compendium of knowledge, and start businesses to lift themselves out of poverty. On the technological front, 3D printers may soon allow us to print organs. We already have self-driving cars and prosthetic limbs controlled by thought. Things are good.
The injustices that led to the Declaration of Independence make most of our political problems seem like trifles. That revered document describes grave abuses of individual rights that led our ancestors to break free. The Founders complained of a tyrant who forced Americans to quarter troops, and protected those troops from prosecution when they committed crimes — including murder. The king deprived Americans of trial by jury and imposed ruinous taxes without representation. He restricted immigration and free trade, and unleashed a swarm of government bureaucrats on us. (OK, some problems persist.)
In 1776, endorsing the Declaration of Independence’s ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness was considered treason, punishable by death. Today we publicly criticize officials on social media without fear.
We still face challenges, to be sure. Nearly a third of Americans need government permission to pursue their chosen vocation. It’s not just doctors and lawyers, you also need a government license to pursue such harmless jobs as applying makeup, cutting grass or arranging flowers. Study after study shows that this licensing does not protect the public but stifles competition for the benefit of entrenched businesses, depriving Americans of economic opportunity.
Entrepreneur Arty Vogt, for example, used his life savings to purchase a moving company only to learn that you need the state’s permission just to operate a moving company in West Virginia. He applied for a license but was denied because the state’s “Certificate of Necessity” law allowed bureaucrats to determine whether his business was “necessary.” In practice, this was a Competitor’s Veto law — if existing businesses objected to your competition, the state denied your application.
Property rights, too, are undermined. You need a permit to do just about anything with your own property. In California’s coastal areas you need a “development permit” just to have a fireworks display! Towns have even had the nerve to demand property owners give up the right to vote on future tax increases in exchange for a permit to renovate a house. In Wyoming, EPA bureaucrats threatened Andy Johnson and his family with $20 million in potential fines for building an environmentally friendly stock pond on their private property.
The good news for these victims of government overreach — and many others — is that we live in a society so compassionate that it funds many charities to defend our rights.
Defending the Declaration of Independence’s legacy, we fight against those who violate our rights — and freedom is winning. Arty challenged the Competitor’s Veto law in court and the legislature repealed it. Now he can compete with whomever he wants. After Andy fought back, federal bureaucrats backed down, letting him keep his pond and pay no fine.
In the midst of political quarrels, it’s easy to forget how wonderful this country is. This Fourth of July, instead of lamenting the state of things, enjoy your time outside at the barbecue. We’re freer today than we were yesterday, and getting freer. That’s something to celebrate.