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"Capitalists" Didn't Build America; We Did

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Listening to certain segments of American society from the rapidly becoming notorious US Chamber of Commerce to the most local political advertising, one could be excused for the mistaken belief that this nation was built by "capitalists" rather than patriots. This myth is harming the nation.

2010-10-28-get_breaker_imagesOxford.jpg1890 Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania

Unbridled capitalism results in a race to the bottom. Weak or no government oversight of the private sector results in poverty and violence. How can I say this? I grew up on the wreckage of the hard coal industry where coal companies deliberately undermined to collapse the very cities supporting them. Corporate practices like bodies of workers killed in mining accidents (many) were wheeled home in wheelbarrows and unceremoniously dumped on the new widow's front porch. An eviction notice followed shortly thereafter. Railroad brakemen routinely lost limbs and lives. Why? Because railroads resisted installing air-brakes because it was cheaper to replace brakemen than buy brakes. Think these days can't return? Remember Erin Brockovitch or Love Canal? Today, listen to corporate resistance to pollution and energy regulation and innovation.

When government fails the private sector through not enforcing rules and regulations, mere survival requires corporations to cut corners to remain competitive. Bad people and businesses thrive; responsible businesses contract. Capitalists are not bad. Most of the professional businessmen (I was one), I worked with were amazingly honest, hard working folks wanting to build a better company and world. Businessmen and women need help to guarantee that complying with laws and regulations may not be compromised by "bad actors" stealing market share and profit. This is the duty of government and the very mechanism that made us the economic marvel of the world.

Our nation was, and is still being, built by all of us. Our founding fathers were a noisy rabble of men dedicated to the principal that all men are created equal and free. A stunning thought for their times and one for which many would pay dearly. Were they merchants? Yes, some. Were they missionaries? Yes, some. Did an alphabet soup of nations contribute people to our shores? You bet. No single group from the frontiersman to the farmer to the manufacturer to the preacher built this nation. America was built by all of them.

One of our strongest national traits is to incorporate all of this stew into a nation. To mix all the "-isms" together to see what happens and grows strong. The results are incredible but not without significant price. Slaves were beaten and killed. American Indians were lied to and slaughtered. Workers were abused to the point where slavery looked attractive. All of these sins were committed by this nation. Yet, we overcame our evil angels; embraced our good and prospered.

What saved us was intent. From the Declaration of Independence, to the failed first government under the Articles of Confederation to the Constitution, this nation strives for the lofty goal. Sometimes it may seem as Winston Churchill put it: "Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing...after they have exhausted all other possibilities." . However, we do strive for the "right thing" which is and remains an intriguing first. No right of kings or religious kingdom but rather the proposition that excellence and progress can be pursued successfully.

Review our history, not the pseudo fascist myths of crying men but rather our real blood and guts history full of false starts, slavery and bloodshed. Be astonished that we Americans succeeded so well. The founders knew that America was a work in progress and vast opportunities and hazards were in our future. Incredibly, in fits and starts, we lived up to our founders' dreams. Not just those who signed the declaration but those unknown and heralded souls who lie forgotten in marked and unmarked graves across the nation. Do not forget who built this nation. The people, everyone of them, built it and nourished it.

We become a nation of soldiers and factory workers when required. We become a nation of artists and scholars when required. We become a nation of preachers and merchants when required. These transitions are never easy and often cause turmoil and instability. When challenged, the American people deliver, often in ways never imagined. When someone tells you that we are a nation of shop keepers, farmers, soldiers, religious and capitalists, agree with them. Reality is that not one "economic system", religion or people built this nation. Reality is we all built it; we are all part of it and we are all its future. We are America past, present and future. We are the good, bad and ugly. We are Americans. Sometimes we lose sight of what that means and how far we have come and where we are going. Remember our nation's lodestar is a better future. It isn't power or religion.

Election day is just ahead. Think about what it means. Think about where this nation is and where it should go. Then vote.

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