Some thoughts about the Fourth of JulyIn church last week, we sang some patriotic hymns, but we also sang a variation on "Finlandia" called "This is My Song", which basically is a declaration that "my country is great, and so are other countries." It's a fine notion for church, but patriotism is a funny thing: We have to get it in just the right amount -- a Goldilocks zone of pride, if you will. Too much, and you risk thinking that you're great just because of where you were born. Too little, and you don't feel the necessary "pride of ownership" necessary to make sure that the country you pass along to your heirs is better than the one you inherited.
As Americans, we inherit a really great set of ground rules -- we have free markets, the rule of law, and a generally peaceful territorial arrangement. Our challenge is to be proud enough of it that we work hard to make it better, but not get such inflated heads about ourselves that we fail to look around and see whether there are better ideas out there. A Canadian historian decided to stir the pot over Independence Day with a column in the Washington Post, arguing that we've really never shown the American Revolution to have brought about more good things than what happened in other British colonies that never rebelled. It's a bit of a cheap dig, but we do have to challenge ourselves to do better all the time. Charlie Munger at last year's Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting, argued that we should be taking advice from China. He wasn't referring to their manner of government, but rather to their discipline and the people's eager embrace of capitalism, inasmuch as they can get it. Of course, that's the best thing about being American: We don't have to mindlessly adhere to the old -- we've always been a country built around embracing the new. So enjoy your burritos and your BMWs and your Beatles -- we're better-off for it.
Our debts still challenge our independenceTo our great discredit as a nation, we keep taking a "hair of the dog" approach to debt...drinking more and more to stave off the hangover. As of Independence Day, we owe $16.7 trillion through the Federal government's overspending. Spread out over 314 million people, that's $53,305 per person. Per person! We are getting a huge subsidy from cheap energy right now, and if we're smart, we'll use this current bonanza to buy even cheaper energy for the future. What we have now -- especially in our huge natural-gas resources -- is a bridge to future energy sources that could be much cheaper and much cleaner than what we have now. If we don't invest wisely, we'll come to rue our bad decisions of today.