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Friday, July 05, 2013

Paul Krugman: E Pluribus Unum

How much has America changed since 1776?:

E Pluribus Unum, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: It’s that time of year — the long weekend when we gather with friends and family to celebrate hot dogs, potato salad and, yes, the founding of our nation. And it’s also a time for some of us to wax a bit philosophical, to wonder what, exactly, we’re celebrating. Is America in 2013, in any meaningful sense, the same country that declared independence in 1776?
The answer, I’d suggest, is yes. ... And that’s a remarkable thing when you bear in mind just how much the country has changed.
America in 1776 was a rural land, mainly composed of small farmers and, in the South, somewhat bigger farmers with slaves. And the free population consisted of, well, WASPs: almost all came from northwestern Europe, 65 percent came from Britain, and 98 percent were Protestants.
America today is nothing like that,... America is, in fact, a nation of metropolitan areas...
And ethnically we are, of course, very different from the founders. ... We’re no longer an Anglo-Saxon nation; we’re only around half-Protestant; and we’re increasingly nonwhite.
Yet I would maintain that we are still the same country that declared independence all those years ago.
It’s not just that we have maintained continuity of legal government, although that’s not a small thing. ...
More important, however, is the enduring hold on our nation of the democratic ideal, the notion that “all men are created equal” — all men, not just men from certain ethnic groups or from aristocratic families. ...
Of course, our democratic ideal has always been accompanied by enormous hypocrisy, starting with the many founding fathers who espoused the rights of man, then went back to enjoying the fruits of slave labor. Today’s America is a place where everyone claims to support equality of opportunity, yet we are, objectively, the most class-ridden nation in the Western world — the country where children of the wealthy are most likely to inherit their parents’ status. It’s also a place where everyone celebrates the right to vote, yet many politicians work hard to disenfranchise the poor and nonwhite.
But that very hypocrisy is, in a way, a good sign. The wealthy may defend their privileges, but given the temper of America, they have to pretend that they’re doing no such thing. ...
So, yes, we are still, in a deep sense, the nation that declared independence and, more important, declared that all men have rights. Let’s all raise our hot dogs in salute.

    Posted by on Friday, July 5, 2013 at 12:24 AM in Economics | Permalink  Comments (54)

          


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