Column from USA Today
Work together to restore ‘Shining City on a Hill’
Since I was born during World War II, my moral training included a hearty dose of patriotism along with religious rules and my parents’ insights. By late high school my questioning had reached an adolescent-type fever pitch. While I studied to be a teacher, the classes challenged us students to re-think the reasons for our moral decisions. We developed our own insights and guiding convictions.
During these contentious political times, the nature of morality in economics has been questioned, debated and argued over. This article looks at some ideas that influenced our Founding Fathers as they laid the foundations of our country’s civic morality and how those ideas affect the morality of our economic practices.
When King George III originally received the Declaration of Independence, the inalienable rights were life, liberty and the pursuit of property. Happily, Thomas Jefferson later changed property to happiness. Some plausible reasons for the change:
In Jefferson’s times, property assured that one and one’s children could be independent and have some status. The patriots rejected the power of kings and nobles to tax and to demand property. A family’s future could be ruined.
The Greek philosopher Epicures valued living so as to achieve peace of mind through courage, moderation and justice. In a letter to a friend, Jefferson said that he thought himself as an Epicurean, saying that happiness is the aim of life and virtue is its foundation
Alexander Hamilton and other Founding Fathers believed people would work for social happiness, not just their own pleasure. Such happiness comes from citizens deciding to postpone their own gain for the common good. John Locke greatly influenced the Founders when he stressed that true liberty demands that a person think carefully about what is best before deciding what to do: he is in control of himself.
Adam Smith, the champion of free trade and marketplace economics wrote “The Theory of Moral Sentiments.” He said, “How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.”
In 1776 Smith wrote “The Wealth of Nations” in which he encouraged an open market and free trade without limits from kings and ministers. He said that an invisible hand would control the market so that everyone prospered. In the film Wall Street, the main character says, “Greed is good. Greed works.” And so it does, for those who are not guided by the invisible hand that requires honest thought about what brings true peace of mind.
Our nation was begun by persons who followed the ideal that citizens would put the general good before their own desires for money and power. The invisible hand does not seem to be working right now. Could our country need guidance by laws, regulations and social programs to bring about the ideals that motivated the Founding Fathers to believe that a Republic like ours can work? Maybe we need a reminder to rejoice when we work for the common good.
Those who have the power to make laws, regulations and social programs need to work together to encourage all of our citizens to consider the ideals of the Founding Fathers for our Republic. They wanted a nation in which different talents, personalities and strengths work together as each per sincerely strives for a dynamic society which can be the “shining city on a hill” for the world.
Bonita Koenigsknecht is a resident of Mount Washington. She is from teaching, most recently fourth-grade at Guardian Angels School from 1989-2010. She leads water exercises at ME Lyons YMCA.