Blogger’s note: If you think you might have already read this post, you may have. But I added some new thoughts under Adds 1 and 2 at the bottom.
We’re running out of frontiers in America. In the beginning we had manifest destiny. We were not limited to the original 13 colonies which became the original 13 states. We kept pushing into the frontier in a continual westward expansion. That movement went on for more than half a century until we reached from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean and really a hundred or more years if you count filling in the gaps and developing much of the land. So for all that time we had a source of economic development and a relief mechanism for those who could not make it where they began or who were not satisfied with the amount of opportunity in their home environs.
Then later, the United States became a world power — not all at once, but over time, the Spanish-American War, World War I, and finally World War II when it led the drive to save the free world from the forces of tyranny.
After World War II, in particular, instead of pushing westward on the North American continent, the U.S. pushed its economic development around the world.
And then there was the New Frontier and the race for space which led to all kinds of spin-off industries.
And then the U.S. got complacent and some of the developing world began to develop and to some extent practiced what we had preached.
Meantime the U.S. was preoccupied with fighting the Cold War, that turned hot in Korea and South Vietnam, against communism that threatened democracy and capitalism.
The U.S. (along with its allies) won the Cold War while stalemating in the first and losing by default in the second accompanying hot wars.
But the remaining communists turned to capitalism in their economic policies while retaining communism for their governments.
And now the U.S. has no manifest destiny pushing it ever westward, no more or not as many foreign markets to conquer, has largely given up on space, and has no convenient Cold War enemy to unite itself in opposition to.
The frontiers have run out it seems.
It seems we may need some form of really new frontier, at least figuratively or in concept.
I’m not talking about taking over new territory necessarily. But the U.S. needs something to create a new energy (as well as new energy). Technology could no doubt take a big role in that. But the U.S. needs to alter its economic emphasis from consumption back to production and it may have to do more to push medium to small business development. The monopoly of huge impersonal international corporations who have little to no interest in supporting U.S. employment or investing in America itself has led the nation down the wrong path.
I understand President Obama got near silence from a U.S. Chamber of Commerce audience when he exhorted business leaders to create American jobs and to ask themselves (as JFK had urged in a slightly different context) what they could do for their country.
Big business feeds at the public trough with bailouts and hides behind the protection of the U.S. military and the support of tax-payer funded infrastructure but shows little patriotism in return.
It might be better if government policy and tax laws favored smaller business and those who give their whole allegiance to America.
In a previous post I ventured that a revolution, a revolt of the people, could come to America. While I don’t think that is really imminent, I do think there is that danger with so many seemingly trapped with nowhere to go — not even the frontier. A New York Times columnist writes about this, not a revolt, but the ever-shrinking middles class and lack of future job prospects as industry gets by and in fact prospers with fewer and fewer workers. While the column has a kind of super left-wing tone, I think it is worth contemplating. See: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/08/opinion/08herbert.html?_r=1&hp
Left-wing or socialist or Marxist revolts of the working class or out of work class are not something we have experienced in America — we always found relief valves, the frontier, marching off to war, and more recently an economic bubble created by a housing scam that eventually burst like all bubbles.
But historians, in fact my own mother who lived through it, will tell you that some people who today would likely never admit it, if they were alive, and who would probably be conservatives, flirted with socialism/Marxism in the depths of the Great Depression — but things got better. Ronald Reagan was a Democrat (Republicans read that socialist) before he switched relatively late in life to the Republican conservative cause. He served a stint as president of the Screen Actors Guild — that sounds kind of left-wing to me.
Of course desperate people don’t always lurch to the left politically. They sometimes go far to the reactionary right, finding scapegoats, such as those with a different religion or ethnic background to blame for their ills.
Something to keep in mind.