A Forgotten Day & a Forgotten Country

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On
this date in 1886, the Statue of Liberty was first unveiled in New
York Harbor.

You’re
probably aware that the Statue wasn’t built in America. It was built
with money voluntarily raised from the people of France – and
then erected in New York Harbor with money voluntarily raised from
the people of the United States.

Foreigners
were grateful for America’s liberty, because the very existence
of such a country as ours meant that someday they might be able
to have the same peace and liberty in their own countries.

Then
& Now

Today,
117 years later, that America doesn’t exist anymore – even
though politicians love to talk about "our freedoms."

In
1886 America had an open hand to the rest of the world. America
didn’t fear anyone and no one feared America. Today Americans live
in a state of siege.

The
idea of invading the Philippines or bombing the Sudan or intervening
in Nicaragua or overturning a government in the Dominican Republic
or starting a war with Iraq would have seemed ludicrous to the American
people in 1886. As John Quincy Adams put it, America didn’t go abroad
in search of monsters to destroy. Today America has troops in over
a hundred foreign countries.

In
2003 the maximum personal income tax rate is 35%, plus 15% for Social
Security tax. In 1886 the maximum income tax rate of any kind was
0%.

In
1886 taxes at all levels of government consumed less than 7% of
the national income. In 2003 taxes take roughly half the national
income.

In
1886 the federal government spent $242 million. In 2003 the federal
government will spend over $2 trillion – 10,000 times as much.

In
1886 the federal debt was $1.40 per person (adjusted for inflation
to dollars of 2002 value). In 2002 the federal debt was $21,564
per person.

In
1886 there was no Securities & Exchange Commission, no Food
and Drug Administration, no Interstate Commerce Commission, no Federal
Trade Commission, no federal regulatory agencies of any kind. In
2003 every conceivable thing in America is regulated in some way
by some level of government.

In
1886 there was no Federal Reserve System. The U.S. government simply
minted coins from gold or silver brought to the Treasury. All paper
money was issued by private banks, who redeemed the paper money
on demand with gold or silver. While there occasionally were bank
failures, small panics, or crashes, there was nothing to compare
with the gigantic failure of the banking system and the Great Depression
that occurred after the founding of the Federal Reserve System in
1913.

In
1886 there were no crimes against the state – no drug laws,
no prohibitions of any kind. People lived their own lives, and if
you didn’t like the way someone lived, you simply didn’t associate
with him. You didn’t run to the legislature to try to get a law
passed to change his conduct; you just stayed away from him. In
2003 there is no law regulating conduct that is so ridiculous that
someone won’t introduce it in the U.S. Congress or some state legislature.

In
1886 America, the individual stood above the state. In 2003 the
state’s "compelling interest" comes first.

If
America in 1886 was a land of liberty, what is America in 2003?

A
Free Country

In
1886 anyone living in America could be assured that:

  • No one would
    ask for his papers;
  • No one would
    fasten a number on him;
  • No one would
    extort a percentage of his income as the price of getting a job.
  • No police
    would invade his home without warning and a warrant; a person’s
    home truly was his castle.

No
Longer Unique

Today
politicians talk about our liberty, our freedoms, our unique heritage
– as though they still existed in any meaningful way.

In
fact, there’s nothing unique about America anymore. Yes, it’s a
better country than others in some ways. But by and large, America
is little different from the countries of Europe and Asia –
where every public issue must be settled in the legislature and
imposed upon everyone by force.

Today
any group of people can get together and vote to take money away
from the people who’ve earned it, vote to regulate the lives of
other people, vote to tell other people how to live. We have long
since torn up the Constitution and every single article in the Bill
of Rights.

I
love the Statue of Liberty, standing tall with her lamp held high
– "liberty enlightening the world." The mere sight
of it is a moving experience.

But
it’s been desecrated by politicians who take its name in vain.

And
what we have in America today is so far from what existed in 1886
that they really should replace the Statue of Liberty with something
much more appropriate – perhaps soldiers holding assault rifles.
Call it the Statue of the World’s Policeman, the Statue of the Superpower,
the Statue of the National Interest, or the Statue of the All-Powerful
State.

But
don’t try to call it Liberty. That isn’t what we have today.

Restoring
America

Today’s
date won’t be celebrated, because what it stands for no longer exists.
It’s a forgotten day, just as the real America seems to be a forgotten
country.

But
it isn’t really forgotten. Many of us know what once was and what
could be again. And that’s why we refuse to give up.

We
want to bring back 19th-century freedom and marry it with 21st-century
technology.

Then
we can again celebrate this day and this country as it should be.

And
once again that great statue of Lady Liberty can provide light and
hope and inspiration to the entire world.

October
28, 2004

Harry Browne [send
him mail
], the author of Why
Government Doesn’t Work

and many other books, was the Libertarian presidential candidate
in 1996 and 2000. See his website.

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