Making America great again


Temba A. Nolutshungu

Mr. Nolutshungu is the Director of Free Market Foundation of South Africa.


Liberty is what made the United States of America different from the rest of the world. It was at the core of America’s historical greatness and the fundamental value of its people. Liberty is embedded in the American constitution.  It defines it. It is a return to the liberty on whose shoulders modern-day Americans stand that will make America great again.

Incumbent and future generations may not fully realize what the Founding Fathers meant by liberty; that liberty is predicated on respect for and protection of individual liberties of which the most important are personal choice, freedom of exchange, protection of private property, and freedom to compete

Like a fountain, from liberty flow numerous socio-economic consequences that can be summed up as prosperity and overall human progress.

Many empirical studies, most notably the Economic Freedom of the World (Fraser Institute and over 100 other thinks tanks), the Index of Economic Freedom (Heritage Foundation), Freedom in the World (Freedom House), and The International Property Rights Index (Property Rights Alliance) demonstrate the correlation between economic freedom on the one hand and high economic growth on the other. High growth comes with high levels of employment and high levels of participation by citizens in the wealth-creation process.  In short, the good life.

Thucydides (460 BC – 400 BC), the ancient Greek historian and author of The History of the Peloponnesian War, said, “The secret of happiness is freedom.  The secret of freedom is courage”

The United States has been sliding down the world economic freedom rankings. In 2000, it was the 2ndfreest economy in the world on the Economic Freedom of the World (EFW) rankings. On the 2015 rankings, it was the 16th. From news reports, it is clear that the American people are not happy with what is happening in their country. To identify what is going wrong, the EFW reports are a useful guide.

The 2015 report shows that freedom has declined in the following areas since 2000: judicial independence, impartial courts, protection of property rights, controls on the movement of capital and people, and increased administrative and bureaucracy costs faced by business. Together, these erosions of economic freedom have had a substantial negative impact on the lives of the average American, on their incomes and their quality of life.

America needs to rediscover and return to its philosophical roots. Public policy that is informed and defined by the basic concept of freedom will relaunch the country on a growth trajectory that has not been seen in recent years.  This will result in the realization that the goal of ‘making America great again’ is achievable. However, even presidential contenders who appreciate the wisdom of the Founding Fathers of America are stymied by what Milton Friedman called ‘the tyranny of the status quo’.  The few presidential contenders who embrace the ideas of the Founding Fathers on liberty are loathe to be perceived as seriously upsetting the prevailing policy arrangements.  Because of these self-inflicted inhibitions that pander to populist sentiments, were such a contender to become the president, he or she might conceivably be disinclined to implement policies that would be defined by freedom. But, as Nelson Mandela, the late president of South Africa, emphasised said “There is no such thing as part freedom”.

America’s voters can be divided into two camps: on the one hand there are those who are of the view that the state should look after them and everybody else; on the other hand are those who believe in personal responsibility and enhancement of individual liberties. The latter hold that the state should neither impede nor abet their own endeavors in pursuit of their aspirations.

Unfortunately, at great cost to individual liberties, in the heat of elections, contenders generally tend to pander to the former view.  When such contenders assume power with a statist, nanny government mandate, even more interventionist statist policies are implemented and existing ones progressively reinforced. As a consequence, the goal of making America great again is thwarted.  Irish Lawyer, judge and politician, John Philpot Curran (1750 – 1817) cautioned that “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty”.

It will take a president of strong moral character and great resilience to turn things around for the better and to maintain the courage of their convictions as they refocus on long-term objectives as opposed to management of short-term goals that do no more than tweak the status quo.

With this in mind, well-considered, bold and clear policies informed by the concept of liberty should be implemented. When America fully embraced freedom-oriented policies and reached the zenith of its support for individual liberties and a free market, that defined an era that saw the highest economic growth and socio-economic improvement for the greatest number of people in the shortest period of time.

The slide of the United States on the ratings and rankings measuring economic and other liberties must be turned around. It is obvious that to do this and make ‘America great again’, to generate enormous resources is a necessity. But, this challenge can be met. Launch the country on a high economic growth trajectory based on policies that are predicated on freedom. This means abandoning dabbling with discredited socialistic, freedom-repressing violations of the rights of the people. If this is done systematically and with dedication and consistency, America will be truly great again. So will any other country that unequivocally adopts liberty as the defining principle for all its policies.

The words of William John Boetcker (1873 -1962) American public speaker speak resoundingly to the matter:

You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift

You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong

You cannot help little men by tearing down big men

You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer

You cannot help the poor by bringing down the rich

You cannot establish sound security on borrowed money

You cannot further brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred

You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than you earn

You cannot build character and courage by destroying men’s initiative and independence

And you cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they can and should do for themselves

Temba Nolutshungu is a director of the Free Market Foundation (FMF).  He is also chairman of the Langa Heritage Foundation and trustee of the Helen Suzman Foundation, the Cape Town Carnival and is also a council member of the (SA) Institute of Race Relations.  He is a past director of the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront and Langeberg Holdings Ltd.
This article was first published in Forbes magazine on 6 October 2016

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