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The Secret of American Prosperity

Americans have enjoyed the world's highest standard of living for at least the last one hundred years, and probably longer. Libertarians will tell you that the cause of this prosperity is economic freedom. There is no doubt that economic freedom is an important factor in our marvelous economic development, but where did the idea of economic freedom come from? It came from men imbued with Biblical teaching.

  • Samuel L. Blumenfeld,
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Americans have enjoyed the world's highest standard of living for at least the last one hundred years, and probably longer. Libertarians will tell you that the cause of this prosperity is economic freedom. There is no doubt that economic freedom is an important factor in our marvelous economic development, but where did the idea of economic freedom come from? It came from men imbued with Biblical teaching. Adam Smith, for example, was well-versed in Biblical principles of economy.

The Necessity of a Biblical Moral Code

Capitalism also requires a moral code. With it, businessmen can trust their colleagues. Without trust there can be no climate of integrity needed to make contracts and agreements viable. Free enterprise cannot grow if its practitioners live by a moral code other than that found in the Bible. And it has been essential to the growth of America for the past two hundred years. It could not have flourished as it has today if the institution of private property had not taken hold in this country. Property rights are a natural outgrowth of individual rights, which our Constitution has protected from the beginning.

Much of what has gone wrong with American free-enterprise today is due to the rejection of the Biblical moral code that governed business practice in the past. The Harvard School of Business teaches secular business ethics to its students. But secular ethics, based on humanist moral relativism, is no substitute for the Ten Commandments.

Today, hardcore pornography is big business. It can thrive in a system based on economic freedom. However, it can't thrive in a system based on Biblical morality. Separating economic freedom from its Biblical roots has degraded and corrupted our society. Our free enterprise system has been perverted to permit the growth of cultural insanity. The answer, of course, is not a secular dictatorship to rein in the pornographers. What it does require is a revival of the Christian moral system.

When such a system was in place earlier in America's history, pornographers operated underground. When they were found, they were prosecuted and put out of business. Dishonest businessmen went to jail. Today, pornographers thumb their noses at the Justice Department, which, under Attorney General Janet Reno, gave them full freedom to take their trade to the limits of human depravity. It is hoped and expected that Attorney General John Ashcroft will begin closing down at least the most depraved of the pornographers. But the war against terrorism has just about monopolized the activities of the Justice Department.

Freedom to Invent

There is another very important factor that has helped to make us the richest nation in the world. This country has been blessed by an incredible number of inventive human beings whose inventions have changed the way the world lives. A way to become aware of this extraordinary phenomenon is to read a mid-19th century report from the U.S. Patent Office. One is amazed at the inventive genius of the American, who is not only inventing new things, but is also constantly improving existing inventions.

That spirit of invention is another outgrowth of individual freedom, the freedom to improve and invent. Both England and France contributed to this explosion of invention in the 19th century, but it was in America that inventive genius and creativity were greatly celebrated and rewarded with wealth and celebrity.

In the space of only two hundred years we have gone from the stagecoach to the 747 jumbo jet. The names of our inventors used to be honored in our school textbooks. But today's youth hardly know how our prosperity came about. They think that it is a product of big government regulating human endeavors.

Eli Whitney obtained the patent to his cotton gin in 1794. In that same year John Hewitt and four other mechanics set up the first steam engine to be constructed in the United States. In 1807, Robert Fulton built the first steam-driven ship. In 1834, Cyrus McCormick invented a mechanical mower and reaper, a machine that cut grain as it advanced across a field and then ejected the cut grain in quantities enough to be tied into a sheaf. And that was just the beginning.

The Necessity of Private Property

The Patent Office provides the inventor with copyright protection. Our legal system, based on the concept of private property, permits inventors to invent and retain the rewards of their inventions. We all know of Samuel B. Morse and the Morse Telegraph, Alexander Bell and the telephone, the Wright Brothers and flight, Edison and the electric light, and dozens of other important inventions.

All of these inventions required the building of factories, which required the raising of capital, which brought investment banking into the picture and individual investors buying stock in new companies. And once the products were produced, advertisers and retail outlets were added to the economic fabric.

Probably no invention has had a more dramatic influence on our lives than that of the internal combustion engine, which gave the individual the means to travel great distances in the privacy of his own automobile. Mobility, comfort, and privacy gave individuals an enormous sense of well-being and physical power. With the automobile, life has become far more pleasant and expansive.

Meanwhile, radio, television, computers, faxes, and copy machines continue to evolve into more sophisticated instruments of daily life. There is seemingly no end to computer development and new conveniences in communication. Today, one can send an email from Boston to Australia or China where it is instantly received. Who could have predicted that such convenience would become real?

We haven't even touched on such important improvements as the great American bathroom, the refrigerator, the washing machine, the microwave oven, escalators, and much more.

So, what is the secret of our high standard of living? First, the concept of private property, tempered by Biblical morality, then economic freedom as a natural outgrowth of individual freedom protected by a legal system based on the Constitution, and also inventive genius, which spawned the growth of factories, investors, advertising, retail outlets, mail order businesses, door-to-door salesmen, and internet commerce.

The fabric of American capitalism is made up of Biblical threads reflecting Biblical law. There are secular forces in our society trying to rip those threads apart. Private property has been undermined by environmental groups advocating socialism in the guise of environmentalism. Economic freedom is being misused by pornographers to debase our culture. Abortionists and secular physicians have subverted scientific investigation with anti-Biblical medical experimentation. Corporations and accounting firms are cooking books instead of adhering to Biblical morality. As the Bible tells us, the love of money is the root of all evil.

Can we get America back on its Biblical track? It will take a mighty, concerted effort to do so. But if we want future generations to enjoy the freedoms and prosperity we inherited, we have no choice but to take up the challenge.

  • Samuel L. Blumenfeld

Samuel L. Blumenfeld (1927–2015), a former Chalcedon staffer, authored a number of books on education, including NEA: Trojan Horse in American Education,  How to Tutor, Alpha-Phonics: A Primer for Beginning Readers, and Homeschooling: A Parent’s Guide to Teaching Children

He spent much of his career investigating the decline in American literacy, the reasons for the high rate of learning disabilities in American children, the reasons behind the American educational establishment’s support for sex and drug education, and the school system's refusal to use either intensive phonics in reading instruction and memorization in mathematics instruction.  He lectured extensively in the U.S. and abroad and was internationally recognized as an expert in intensive, systematic phonics.  His writings appeared in such diverse publications as Home School DigestReasonEducation Digest, Boston Magazine, Vital Speeches of the DayPractical Homeschooling, Esquire, and many others.

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