The USA Is Going to the Dogs, as It Always Has in the Past

9006571_ML (3)Some people say that the USA is going to the dogs (no offense intended, perros), and it’s child’s play to demonstrate many ways in which this claim is true—growing police brutality, burgeoning government debt, ever more numerous and onerous regulations, destructive monetary and credit-allocation policies, boiling ethnic and religious animosity, endless foreign wars, to mention but a few issues among many. But there’s a problem: the country has always been going to the dogs. Yes, in certain regards life in the USA used to be freer; but in other regards it used to be less free. Yes, the government’s policies are horrendous and destructive; but in many ways the government’s policies were always horrendous and destructive.

No decent person likes the building of a fortified wall to keep peaceful migrants from entering the Land of the Free freely, but at least we are not marching members of the Five Civilized Tribes hundreds of miles at gunpoint in the dead of winter to live and die in a remote wilderness. No decent person likes the way blacks are victimized by the drug war, the crooked cops and prosecutors, and the prison-industrial complex, but at least we no longer have chattel slavery where human beings are bought and sold like livestock at private auction. No decent person likes the demonization of Muslims, but at least we haven’t forced all of them into prison camps, as the West-coast people of Japanese ancestry were forced in 1942-45. And so forth.

The country has always been rotten, full of coercive busybodies eager to use state power to punish their neighbors whose conduct, creed, or ethnicity did not please them. The country has always been teeming with hotheads eager to go to war with practically anyone who seemed to them suitable for killing. The country has always been ruled by crooked politicians and scheming, would-be crony capitalists. Rotten, rotten, rotten to the core from the get-go.

Yet it was always rescued, redeemed, and pulled back from the abyss by the legions of basically decent people who left their neighbors alone, who worked hard and well to supply consumers with valued goods, who discovered better, more productive ways of producing and altogether new goods and means of production to delight people and make their lives better. Beyond the doors of the busybodies and the vicious racists lived the people who designed and built the sanitation systems that allowed great cities to escape the periodic epidemics that had always swept away large segments of their populations from time to time and to suppress the acute infectious diseases that plagued many people chronically and killed many infants and children. Beyond the precincts of racists and crony-capitalist swindlers lived the humane writers such as Melville, Twain, Bierce, Jeffers, Heller, and others who had not been taken in by the popular madness. Most of all, the many, many ordinary people who simply worked, worshiped, innovated, built, and kept out of other people’s business allowed the country to prosper and progress. There’s a lot of ruin in a nation, Adam Smith observed, and the history of the USA has been living proof of this observation.

So, yes, the country is going to the dogs. But it has always been going to the dogs. Yet it has survived and, in many ways, prospered and overcome some of its worst inclinations. Let us pray that the people at large will once again find the sense and the fortitude to do what must be done to drag the country back from the self-destruction to which large segments of the population and their favored political leaders are always pushing it.

Robert Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy at the Independent Institute, author or editor of over fourteen Independent books, and Editor at Large of Independent’s quarterly journal The Independent Review.
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