I’m not an economist, and not even all that interested in economic theory, but in living in the USA and listening to others, I’ve distilled our economy’s central drivers into three passions — three drivers. In our travels around the world and getting to know those who come from different economic systems, sometimes we are asked how Americans can be the way they are. Sometimes, frankly, we come off as heartless and driven workaholics. By and large, we’re neither.
These three passions are what’s at work behind and through it all, and without these the American falls behind. I have no desire here to defend these drivers, and I’m happy to entertain comments for and against, and I’m also keen on having others reframe our “drivers.”
What are the major drivers for American economics? What are its passions? What are its limitations and problems?
But this is how I see it:
First, ambition. America’s economy is shaped by and for the ambitious. If you want it, go get it. If you don’t want it, you won’t get it. One of the finest things I’ve read about America is Joseph Epstein’s Ambition: The Secret Passion. The book is not just about economic, but about “ambition” itself, but his study is one of the few on this topic — and it is quintessentially American. Ambition drives our belief in economic mobility (an idea suggested to me by Michael Kruse).
Second, ownership. What the American earns, the American keeps and owns and doesn’t want to surrender except by choice. The original Boston tea party was an assault on this fundamental American belief — that what the American has the ambition for, that the ambition that drives to an act of labor, and what that ambition has generated by way of produce or capital, is the American’s to keep. Sharing with others is by choice. And again, at work here is our belief in freedom (which also was suggested to me by Michael when he read this post for me).
Third, personal responsibility. If those first two drivers don’t get to you, this one might: Americans believe its citizens are responsible for themselves. They are to find work and do the work and they aren’t to expect others to take care of them. The American impulse is to see the poor as lazy.
Let me say it again, I’m not defending these drivers. Nor am I suggesting that Americans don’t think there should be government checks and balances against some of these three running out of control. What I am saying is that these three drive how Americans think about money and possessions. And I’m not saying any of these is Christian or biblical. I’m just saying that this is what drives our system. I could be wrong.
Can I say this yet one more way: Please don’t even try to read my politics through this sketch.