NetNet TV: Have We Lost Our Gumption?
One hundred and twenty years ago a Frederick Jackson Turner warned that America was witnessing the "closing of a great historic movement." The American frontier, which Turner argued was central to the development of the American character, was no more, according to the 1890 census. America was for the first time in its history a geographically complete country.
What this meant, Turner implied, is that America would become less economically and politically democratic. It meant that individualism would whither, while we'd grow more tolerance of the rise of experts, administrators and limits on our liberty. Educational accomplishment would become more important, as would a king of civic professionalism in governmental affairs.
If you can't recognize that as a prophetic vision of the American experience since 1893, you just haven't been paying attention. It is a vision of America domesticated—a word derived from earlier words in more ancient tongues that literally meant 'housed.' But the same ancient words that gave us domestic also gave us dominate. To come to live together under the same house was to come to be dominated.
In our inaugural episode of NetNetTV, Jeff Cox and I explore what I take to be the final phase of the domestication and domination of the United States.
The financial and economic frontiers have been hemmed in, for good and for bad. Regulation has arisen to stamp out the worst excesses, but we've also much some of that restless, nervous energy that characterized the American economy. We're a more unequal place, our markets dominated by experts, shaped by administrators, and many of the economic resources that might have found a home on the frontier sit idle in a country that fences everything that looks even a bit frontier-ish. Men sit idle, machines rot, once great cities of industry collapse into physical and economic ruin.
We've gone, as I like to say, from cowboys to cowards. A whiff of something that smells like the end of quantitative easing triggers fainting spells in markets. China sneezes and the peoples who built an empire between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans develop pneumonia.
Jeff thinks I'm wrong about this. Deep down, I hope he's right. Despair about the direction of national history or economic conditions, however, is not a sin—especially if it is correct.