How does America get its groove back?

“In truth there is no such thing as a growth industry. There are only companies organized and operated to create and capitalize on growth opportunities. Industries that assume themselves to be riding some automatic growth escalator invariably descend into stagnation.”- Theodore Levitt

The above quote is as true for countries as it is for companies. Countries do not just grow because that is the way it is and how it forever shall be. Countries succeed because of good institutions and hard work. These two things are absolutely necessary.

America is a place built on work. Whether a bolt bolted. A fender hammered. A sale made. A book written. Or a student taught. Hard work is at the core of America’s success. As this work is done things are created. These creations, both tangible and intangible, add up collectively to our economy and to our society.

We are a nation of achievers and traditionally our institutions have encouraged an ethos of achievement.

One of the things that has defined America is our work ethic. Born on the American frontier where work equaled life, and sloth equaled death, this ethic has traditionally permeated our society.

From our earliest days we as a society have recognized also that innovation plus hard work is an amazing cocktail for success. Those who thought in new ways and worked hard were likely to succeed in America to a much greater extent than in other parts of the world. Europe for instance which was and is more socially stratified than America was no friend to the hard working dreamer, unless one was already part of the ruling classes.

But is America still the land of the free? Is America still the land of opportunity?

Though both former articles of faith still hold true to some extent, they are less true than they used to be.

In our minds we may still be the land of the free, but the TSA screener at the airport might take issue with this desire for freedom. So too might the Department of Homeland Security which is launching drones into America’s skies as I write this.

As for opportunity, much of this has been diminished by the hairball of regulation one must deal with to do nearly anything in this country. For instance in the 70s only 1 in 50 jobs required a license. Now 1 in 3 do.  There are taxes around every corner. There’s a fee for this economic activity and for that.  One must always worry about being out of compliance or with being sued.

We as a country are fat and unhappy. Our economy and civil society reflect this.

Where did the spark go? When was the last time America shook it on the dance floor?

It’s been far too long.

But we can get our vitality back. It will be painful. Many people won’t like what it will take to get there. Like a couch potato lacing up his sneakers and pulling himself onto the treadmill, I can guarantee that the only thing on our quest for a better America we will experience for a while is pain. Sometimes we will wonder why we ever pulled ourselves away from the TV at all. It’s so comfortable on the couch.

It’s comfortable, but we’ll die there if we don’t get our act together.

How do we get back in shape as a nation?

We cut the fat through rigorous effort. We trim government. We drink the veggie smoothie of reduced services. We get rid of the excess which keeps our economy and society couch bound.  And  then we run the way this country is supposed to run, with guts and smarts, Prefontaine style. And we will once again lead the world out of the economic mire.