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Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Good News from Twentieth Century History


Being free; being rich; being secure from external enemies—these are all very good things. The great good news of twentieth century history is that these are not independent goods between which one might have to choose. Rather they flow from each other and mutually support each other in virtuous circles. So one could have reasoned from first premises: freedom leads to capitalism; capitalism leads to wealth; and wealth can be turned to military might, when the need arises. But each one of these steps is sufficiently contingent and uncertain that one might harbor reasonable doubts that conclusion always obtains but for the evidence of the great conflicts of the twentieth century which confirms that—at least at the current stage of technological and social development—it always holds.

The happy conclusion is that a nation like the United States will remain rich while it remains free and hence will never face a foreign threat it cannot defeat. For all foreign threats fall into one of two categories:

  • Those who are not free and rich, like the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. While they might seek our destruction, they will never have the military power to succeed in their plans.

  • Those who are as rich and free as we are, like a hypothetical billion-strong Switzerland. They might be able to conquer the United States, but why would they want to? Such a war would inevitably involve the death of countless young Swiss men and the destruction of immeasurable amounts of property. Why would the Swiss take this option, when all its advantages can be more readily and cheaply obtained by just trading freely with the United States?Incidentally that is also the reason the United States has never seriously considered annexing Canada, even though that has easily been within its capacity for at least a century.

So let’s not worry and just get on with the real business of civilization: inventing and trading stuff.

Unfortunately, the above analysis omits one possible scenario: A foreign nation which is much more populous than the United States might become sufficiently free and rich to approach or surpass the United States in its total economic, and hence military, power, while still remaining sufficiently unfree and poor to seriously consider violent means against the United States. The obvious (only?) candidate for such a nation is, of course, the People’s Republic of China.This is a far graver threat than some Middle Eastern gangs of savages who even on their single luckiest day managed to murder only a quarter of the number of American who were born that same day.

This possibility is indeed worth worrying about, along with the United States’ precipitous drop in relative freedom and wealth over the course of this century so far. To remain safe, the United States must reverse this trend and become much freer, richer, and more populous.

There is one ingenious step which would further the position of the United States in several respects. There are more than a million citizens of the PRC with intelligence at or above the one-in-a-thousand level. All of them should immediately, and without application, be mailed green cards. The United States still being a much richer and freer place than the PRC, a substantial fraction of this group would find it a more hospitable place than the PRC and move here. Even those who currently only appreciate the wealth of the United States would over the years come to appreciate its freedom too and switch their political allegiance to it. The effect would be to substantially strengthen the United States and weaken its greatest potential threat.