A Forgotten Day & a Forgotten Country

by Harry Browne

October 28, 2003      

On this date in 1886, the Statue of Liberty was first unveiled in New York Harbor.

You're probably aware that the Statue wasn't built in America. It was built with money voluntarily raised from the people of France and then erected in New York Harbor with money voluntarily raised from the people of the United States.

Foreigners were grateful for America's liberty, because the very existence of such a country as ours meant that someday they might be able to have the same peace and liberty in their own countries.

Then & Now

Today, 117 years later, that America doesn't exist anymore even though politicians love to talk about "our freedoms."

In 1886 America had an open hand to the rest of the world. America didn't fear anyone and no one feared America. Today Americans live in a state of siege.

The idea of invading the Philippines or bombing the Sudan or intervening in Nicaragua or overturning a government in the Dominican Republic or starting a war with Iraq would have seemed ludicrous to the American people in 1886. As John Quincy Adams put it, America didn't go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. Today America has troops in over a hundred foreign countries.

In 2003 the maximum personal income tax rate is 35%, plus 15% for Social Security tax. In 1886 the maximum income tax rate of any kind was 0%.

In 1886 taxes at all levels of government consumed less than 7% of the national income. In 2003 taxes take roughly half the national income.

In 1886 the federal government spent $242 million. In 2003 the federal government will spend over $2 trillion 10,000 times as much.

In 1886 the federal debt was $1.40 per person (adjusted for inflation to dollars of 2002 value). In 2002 the federal debt was $21,564 per person.

In 1886 there was no Securities & Exchange Commission, no Food and Drug Administration, no Interstate Commerce Commission, no Federal Trade Commission, no federal regulatory agencies of any kind. In 2003 every conceivable thing in America is regulated in some way by some level of government.

In 1886 there was no Federal Reserve System. The U.S. government simply minted coins from gold or silver brought to the Treasury. All paper money was issued by private banks, who redeemed the paper money on demand with gold or silver. While there occasionally were bank failures, small panics, or crashes, there was nothing to compare with the gigantic failure of the banking system and the Great Depression that occurred after the founding of the Federal Reserve System in 1913.

In 1886 there were no crimes against the state no drug laws, no prohibitions of any kind. People lived their own lives, and if you didn't like the way someone lived, you simply didn't associate with him. You didn't run to the legislature to try to get a law passed to change his conduct; you just stayed away from him. In 2003 there is no law regulating conduct that is so ridiculous that someone won't introduce it in the U.S. Congress or some state legislature.

In 1886 America, the individual stood above the state. In 2003 the state's "compelling interest" comes first.

If America in 1886 was a land of liberty, what is America in 2003?

A Free Country

In 1886 anyone living in America could be assured that:

  No one would ask for his papers;

  No one would fasten a number on him;

  No one would extort a percentage of his income as the price of getting a job.

  No police would invade his home without warning and a warrant; a person's home truly was his castle.

No Longer Unique

Today politicians talk about our liberty, our freedoms, our unique heritage as though they still existed in any meaningful way.

In fact, there's nothing unique about America anymore. Yes, it's a better country than others in some ways. But by and large, America is little different from the countries of Europe and Asia where every public issue must be settled in the legislature and imposed upon everyone by force.

Today any group of people can get together and vote to take money away from the people who've earned it, vote to regulate the lives of other people, vote to tell other people how to live. We have long since torn up the Constitution and every single article in the Bill of Rights.

I love the Statue of Liberty, standing tall with her lamp held high "liberty enlightening the world." The mere sight of it is a moving experience.

But it's been desecrated by politicians who take its name in vain.

And what we have in America today is so far from what existed in 1886 that they really should replace the Statue of Liberty with something much more appropriate perhaps soldiers holding assault rifles. Call it the Statue of the World's Policeman, the Statue of the Superpower, the Statue of the National Interest, or the Statue of the All-Powerful State.

But don't try to call it Liberty. That isn't what we have today.

Restoring America

Today's date won't be celebrated, because what it stands for no longer exists. It's a forgotten day, just as the real America seems to be a forgotten country.

But it isn't really forgotten. Many of us know what once was and what could be again. And that's why we refuse to give up.

We want to bring back 19th-century freedom and marry it with 21st-century technology.

Then we can again celebrate this day and this country as it should be.

And once again that great statue of Lady Liberty can provide light and hope and inspiration to the entire world.