Steven G. Percifield--author

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Steven G. Percifield  Author and consultant
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Another of America's lost freedoms...

The freedom to fail

Nearly two centuries before the Founding Fathers established the framework of what was to become the wealthiest society the world had ever known, Captain John Smith, heading the Jamestown colony, set the tone for what was to follow. To paraphrase: if you don't work, you don't eat. Simple as that. Cruel though it may have sounded, it wasn't directed at those who were unable to work; it was directed at those who--for whatever reason--chose not to work. If you didn't participate in its creation, you didn't benefit from the new wealth that was generated.

The people who chose to follow the likes of Captain Smith to this land, risking hardship and starvation, did so (for the most part) to escape the tyranny of government and church which blocked them from realizing their individual potentials. These hardships were, for them, preferable to the stifling control of their lives they had experienced. They sought the individual freedom which would permit them a chance to individually succeed even if there were no guarantees.

The people who started and expanded the businesses that turned the U.S. into the business and consumer juggernaut it became, did so without assurance of success. Many succeeded; more failed. It's all a part of the elegant process by which capital is directed to success and away from failure. It is a brutal and often hurtful process. It is also inequitable in-so-much as it results in disparate individual income levels. But the wealth gained from the successes more than offset the losses of those who failed. The overall wealth of our nation expanded to unprecedented levels. And yes, that wealth did "trickle down" so that by virtually any measure, citizens of the United States--irrespective of their socio-economic level in our society--enjoyed relatively high standards of living.

The essence of our free enterprise system was that opportunity attracted wealth.

And the essence of our capitalistic economy was that wealth provided the seed for the creation of additional wealth. Both of these concepts are dependent upon individual freedom. But as with virtually everything in life, this sword of freedom cuts both ways; the freedoms which permitted wide latitude for success also permitted ample opportunities for failure be it of a personal or a business nature. 

It is human nature (for the most part) to find and select (among those much less fortunate) those with whom ones disposable wealth can or should be shared. Persons with only moderate disposable wealth (the vast majority) tend to share it with those persons or institutions nearest and/or dearest to their hearts--relatives, friends or church charities. Persons with great disposable wealth are able to spread it further.

Inequity again rears its ugly head, however. Certain groups of the perpetually needy have little access to those with any disposable wealth so are cut off from these primary lifelines. 

The point of all of this: our elected government, in its never-ending efforts to get reelected, has sapped the very freedoms that made this country great in the first place by mandating the elimination of suffering. Like the camel sticking its nose, then its head then its body under the tent flap until there is no room left for the person who built the tent, they have diminished the concepts of personal responsibility and the individual freedoms that accompany them.

The necessity of work has been largely replaced by various welfare and entitlement programs.

The risk of hardship as a penalty for not succeeding has been replaced by the government-mandated policy of lifelines so that "no one should suffer."

The principle of redirection of capital away from business failures permitting it to be used by more productive enterprise, has been replaced by the concept of "...too big to fail."

We have, as a country, in an effort to insulate ourselves from any pain or suffering, effectively lobotomized many of our self-directive instincts.

Mr. Obama, we need the right to fail. Please give it back to us.