In the musical West Side Story, several of the characters who are recent immigrants to New York debate the pluses and minuses of their new home in the song "America."1
The young women sing:
Skyscrapers bloom in America
Cadillacs zoom in America
Industry boom in America
One of the young men counters with:
Twelve in a room in America
Steven Sondheim, who wrote the lyrics, was expressing what new immigrants had experienced for more than a century. America is the land of opportunity. But when you get here, it's not always easy.
Paolo von Schirach, writing for the Global Policy Institute, said it this way, "throughout the world America is viewed (sometimes with envy) mostly as a country with great opportunity for those who are willing to push forward with determination, grit, passion and heartless aggression. American is the Promised Land where making money, advancing one's social position and building a better future for oneself is easier than elsewhere." 2
With America's companies selling their goods and services to the whole world, with American entertainment culture seeping into every corner of the globe, it's easy to see how people outside the U.S. might view our country as theplace to get rich. And if their home country offers limited opportunity, it's understandable they'd want to move here.
Many Americans have this view but in a negative way. They see our version of capitalism as a way for the rich to get richer while the disadvantaged suffer.
But von Schirach says that these views are mixing up cause and effect. America's founders did not have the goal of setting up a nation that would simply produce material prosperity. Instead, the goal of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution was to establish personal freedom—the kind that could not be found in monarchical Europe.
When freedom is guaranteed by law, prosperity naturally follows, along with many other good things.
"America became rich," writes von Schirach, "not because becoming rich was the declared goal; but because it upheld and proliferated the Freedom of its citizens."
Of course, our freedom includes economic freedom. It's the ability to create, invest in, and develop an idea without undue interference from government. And it's this kind of freedom that has made America the world leader in innovation and opportunity.
We wish you and your family a happy Independence Day.
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