“Hope is waiting for someone else to do it.”
The above quote is by a character in Robert Harris’ book “Munich”, the German diplomat Paul von Hartman, in a conversation with his British counterpart, Hugh Legat; it is in reference to stopping Hitler. It takes place during the 1938 negotiations between Chamberlain and Hitler. I recently saw the movie version, which was not disappointing as often is the case. It is a very insightful understanding into the nature of hope when it is not accompanied by a plan of action; in essence a useless emotion often leading to frustration.
I heard on the news the other day about recent polls that show the majority of Americans find they are worse off now than they were in years past, and even more troubling, do not see a better future, one where they can achieve prosperity; it’s understandable that when people have positive expectations of the future that are not realized, there will be disillusionment. If those expectations, or hopes, are not accompanied with a plan of action to achieve prosperity, then all they become are disappointments waiting to happen.
What were these expectations, and perhaps even more importantly, given current circumstances were they realistic? What was puzzling to many news commentators was the concurrent news about how well the economy was doing; I’m not referring to all the political bravado on display with the administration’s victory laps given the latest economic data, I’m referring to the economic data itself. Beating all the forecasts, we have a record 517K jump in jobs created, decelerating core inflation, and increased labor force participation. So why all the doom and gloom?
There are explanations regarding the labor statistics offered by some economists, like the end of the extraordinary benefits that enabled many workers to wait until they had to get back to work, coupled with the growth in wages due to high labor demand. Then some note that the inflation stats ignore the increasing costs of food and energy. Some express concern that the Fed’s policies on interest rates are pushing us toward a recession and that labor statistics are a lag event. All of this has validity, but does that really address the doom and gloom found in various polls?
Polls also show that the majority of people find that the nation is going in the wrong direction and that its leaders appear unable or unwilling to do anything about it. Apparently the doom and gloom is more than just economic in nature. What the polls don’t tell us is what people find to be the right direction; we have the negative but not the positive feedback. Maybe the right questions are not being asked, or maybe we are looking in the wrong places for the right answer.
There’s a great study called “The Human Freedom Index”, published biennially; it’s a huge joint undertaking by the Fraser Institute in Vancouver, and the Cato Institute in DC. They work with and draw on statistical data from various organizations throughout the world that study and measure the personal, civil and economic freedoms of people in 165 countries, measuring over eighty indicators to establish rankings; they’ve been doing this for about twenty years, establishing a solid reputation based on experience, breadth and depth of objective analyses, and clarity of presentation. This latest edition was published in 2022 for the period 2018 to 2020; the lag is due to the huge data base they need to gather and analyze, a very time consuming process. What struck me as an American is the poor ranking of the US, especially compared to previous editions; for 2020, the overall ranking for the US is 23rd, lagging behind such countries like Switzerland, Sweden, and even Taiwan; it fell seven places since the prior edition. While relatively high in economic freedom, the US had appallingly low rankings in personal and human freedom, a country founded in principle to highly value those things.
Among the statistics that jump out are the low rankings for the rule of law, freedom of movement, and the size of and regulation by government. One would hope that in the land of the free the US could manage to at least place in the top ten overall rankings, but hope is not a plan. While we have what many countries do not, i.e. a constitution that simply and clearly establishes the rule of law, we fail to protect basic rights; we have the plan, we just lack the action. This poses a loss of identity as to what differentiates the US as a country, which in turn accounts for a lack of confidence in leadership; while there have been expectations for a meaningful change with each election cycle over the last twenty years, they were crushed with one myopic administration after another.
While Americans have become painfully aware of their falling purchasing power due to bad monetary and fiscal policies, they can’t seem to grasp that the addiction to a free lunch was not a solution, but a drug making them numb to the reality that such policies contribute to the erosion of the freedoms they took for granted. They are distracted by the political theatre of endless partisan posturing, little of which addresses our problems, like crushing debt, cultural polarization, or dangerous foreign policies.
What history shows us is that the policies of a century ago led us to failed economies, rising trade tensions, expanded government, loss of liberty, rampant nationalism and ultimately catastrophic war. If this all sounds familiar it’s because here we are again, and despite our hopes to the contrary, we don’t seem to have a plan of action to change course. Hope is useless without action but aimless without a plan. Hope is not just wishing for things to get better, it involves actively making things better.
Maybe it’s time for the American people to act rather than just hope; encouragingly, we see signs of that happening. Parents are becoming more involved with their children’s education instead of just complaining about politically motivated curriculums, falling standards and failing scores. Alternatives like charter, private and home schooling are increasing rapidly. People who are not career politicians are running for local office at an increasing pace. Some local and state governments are actively resisting the dictates of the Beltway and performing as they were intended. There are student organizations at some universities pushing back against the draconian dictates of the administrations of higher learning.
These are just nascent and localized signs that people are beginning to understand that just hoping for change is not a plan. There are even some in Congress that have shown the courage to propose ideas that others are afraid to even think about, like a plan to balance the budget; the resistance to such common sense, especially in the face of record debt, exposes the level of corruption that has become so imbedded in our political DNA.
It is also increasing apparent that the political class, the elitist regime that makes the hunt for power such a blood sport, is in panic as the two main political parties are fracturing along the fault lines of failed ideologies. This will become increasing obvious as we enter into yet another round of elections in 2024 that will likely be even more contentious than the last. What the American people should not just hope for, but vote for is whoever represents a true change of course away from all the failed policies that have led us to rank only 23rd in real human freedom. “He that lives upon hope will die fasting.” Benjamin Franklin