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As I See It

If history repeats itself, far too few Mississippians will make the effort to vote in this Tuesday’s general election. The result: a rather small minority of qualified voters will select our elected officials.

I wish it were otherwise, but along with gray hair comes increasing acceptance of the way things are.

There are many times when I wonder if we have grown too soft and complacent to appreciate what we have here in America. For a time, the tragedy of September 11th seemed to unify our country and create a sense of concern that the future of our way of life was perhaps not as certain as we thought.

What is it that we have that millions of others so desperately want for themselves and that millions of others desperately want to destroy? The timeworn answer is freedom — and that is the correct answer. However, I think it might be informative to expand a little on what freedom means and why it’s so important to us.

Freedom to do what? Go where we want and do anything we want as long as we obey the law and are mindful of the rights of others. America offers a degree of mobility and opportunity unavailable anywhere else in the world. In addition to providing a stage for movers and shakers to make a fortune, we also provide a better life for ordinary people than does any other country.

Our free economy has unleashed the creative power of entrepreneurship at a level unprecedented anywhere else in the world. Our government, even though we make sport of criticizing our elected officials, functions better than any other form of government on earth. The reality of having to face the voters every few years keeps government responsive to the concerns of its citizens.

On several occasions over the last few years, my wife, Debra, and I have been a host family for groups of visiting Russians who were here to learn America’s secrets and take that knowledge back to their hometowns. They live in our home for about three weeks so we get to know them fairly well.

For first-time visitors to America, our malls and supermarkets are things to behold. Aisle after aisle filled with more “stuff” than they have collectively seen in their lifetime. Quilted toilet paper, fabric softener, cordless phones, disposable diapers are some products that catch their attention. Telephones that provide a dial tone every time you pick up the receiver and accurate highway signs that actually warn of repairs up ahead. Going for miles and miles without seeing a single police officer. All these things we take for granted here in America while the rest of the world marvels at the fairy tale lives we live.

Beyond just the material wealth we possess is the freedom to make choices about whom we will marry and what religion, if any, that we will practice.

Where America shines brightest is the way we care for the poor and ordinary citizens. Actually, American has very little poverty when compared to the poverty experienced in other parts of the world. For a time, I managed a business in Mexico and I have seen poverty there that would be intolerable in our country. There it is considered just another way of life.

We provide many of our poor citizens with housing, food and medical care through programs financed by the taxpayers and we incorrectly assume this is done everywhere. Believe me, it is not. Nonexistent health care and malnutrition and starvation are common in many places around the world.

Well, we do lots of things right in America. We have the freedom to choose how we will pursue our own destiny. If we fail financially, we can merely file bankruptcy, wipe the slate clean and start all over again without ever having to answer for our mistakes or irresponsibility. What a country!

In a column entitled, “What’s so great about America?” that appeared in The Christian Science Monitor last summer, a citizen of India was asked why he wanted to come to America: “I want to move to a country where the poor people are fat.”

I suppose that reply really says it all.

Thought for the Moment — It is perhaps more difficult to answer the question “Why are we here?” than it is to answer “What ought we to do, now that we are here?” — Justice Harry Blackmun (1908-1999), United States Supreme Court

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.


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