In honor of Independence Day and the patriotism that we all feel towards our country, let’s veer off the personal finance path for a moment. For starters, if you have read the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, or Bill of Rights lately, please do yourself the favor. No better day than today.
After that, let’s start the conversation with this question:
What makes a country “great”?
I think this is a particularly important question that we all ask ourselves at this point in time. There are a lot of things that divide us, but one thing that unites us, or should unite us, is that we want to see our country succeed. We want it to stay great and become even better.
Let’s set aside what we have been as a country or currently are for a moment and start with a blank slate, with a little exercise. What do you personally think makes a country great? Before you get to my list below – I’d encourage you to make a list of your own so that we can compare notes, without influence.
I have high standards, but shouldn’t we all have high standards? I think it’s difficult for a country to be great without some form of the following:
- a truly democratic vote. One person, one vote. Every vote is equal and representation is fair and just. Voting is encouraged (not suppressed), accessible, quick, and easy – the higher the participation, the better.
- an election system where political contributions are publicly funded or capped at levels accessible to all incomes and corporate and private dark money/influence is kept out.
- separation of powers – a system of checks and balances.
- an independent and free press.
- the rule of law matters. Nobody is above it.
- significant and continued investment in shared infrastructure.
- a fair and just legal, court, and prison system.
- equal access to data and information (ideally via strong local libraries and a speedy broadband connection).
- diversity in backgrounds and opinions.
- broad and equal guaranteed human and civil rights, liberties, and freedoms (speech, religion, voting, assembly, press, etc.).
- an investment in people through an affordable education and works skill that leads to opportunity for economic/financial success for all.
- kindness/care for its citizens and for the citizens of other countries.
- a desire to fill the role as a shining light of good for other countries.
- broad consumer rights and protections.
- harsh punishment for government and corporate corruption and corporate anti-trust.
- strict protections for the water that we drink, air that we breathe, and land that we walk on.
- an emphasis on data, science, truth, and transparency in the government decision-making process.
- strong employee rights that put an emphasis on health, safety, the right to form a union, equal opportunity, equal pay for equal work, and family/life balance.
- affordable health care for all as a right, not a privilege reserved for only the wealthy.
- economic justice and a muted level of economic inequality.
Realistically, our country scores high marks in at least a third of these, average marks in another third, and we are very inadequate in the final third. Let’s take a second to appreciate what we do have, but understand that we should never take it for granted. There are those who actively aim to chip away at these bedrocks for their own personal gain. We have to fight to keep what we have and fight to advance what we don’t.
We must also be wary of ‘shortcuts’ that can appeal to our frustrations and base instincts but will always leave us worse off in the long run:
- individualism at the expense of the collective good.
- authoritarian rule and tyranny.
Next, I would encourage you to become active, if you are not already. I believe that our country is suffering from a bit of an identity crisis because there is a lot of disengagement and armchair criticism going on. Surely, none of us thinks this country is perfect, and if you’re not happy with the status quo, the only way to improve it is to get out, get involved, and help make this country better.
How can YOU help make our country better? Pick one or two of the items from your list or mine that you feel the most strongly about and find ways to get involved:
- donate effort and money to organizations that support those objectives.
- vote (electorally and with your dollars).
- hold your elected representatives accountable to doing what is best for the country (at times this may differ from what is best for you personally).
- consider becoming a public servant or running for office.
- engage and discuss with everyone, not just those who agree with you.
- lead with empathy and love. Treat others as you would want to be treated, but expect nothing in return.
If this country is going to improve, we have to come together for the common good.
Happy 4th, everyone.
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