If you could start the perfect country, what would you do?
I would start with what real estate agents always say matters most — location, location, location. I would want a mild climate in a location that is not near too many other countries with expansionist views, a location blessed with good weather, arable land and a reasonable amount of natural resources.
I don’t want to focus too much on the material part of it, although it’s a pretty good bet that Ethiopia would be screwed no matter what the political system was. If you can’t feed your people, that’s a big handicap.
The economic system matters. We’ve seen in the last 30 years in this country that an unrestricted, laissez-faire free market system can create an amazing amount of wealth, but when there is no government involvement at all, that wealth seems to gravitate toward the top.
That’s where a progressive tax system seems to work the best. The greatest period of egalitarianism — our strongest middle class — came in the 1950s, when the top tax rate was 90 percent. We don’t judge the success of a country by how rich its richest people are, but by how many of its people are able to raise happy, healthy families and hope for a better future for their children.
That doesn’t mean you have to have a Socialist system, but it does mean the government can use tax revenues from a progressive system to make sure that most of its citizens at least have a fair shot at success.
Conservatives love to talk about not wanting to take away people’s initiative, but the fact is, there are children in this country who did nothing any more wrong than being born into the wrong family who have almost no chance to succeed. Why should my children — who had four years of college paid for and didn’t have to take out loans — get such a leg up on kids whose parents couldn’t give them any help at all?
An awful lot of what I think a country should be can be summed up in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1944 State of the Union. We were at war in 1944, but FDR was already thinking about what postwar America should be.
Socialism? Maybe a little, but in 1944, more people seemed to understand that we were all in this together and we ought to at least take care of our country’s children. That’s a pretty far cry from a political party that seems to love babies only until they’re actually born.
Here they are again:
“The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
The right of every family to a decent home;
The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
The right to a good education.
All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.
America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for all our citizens.
For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.”
That’s where my perfect country would start. When World War II began, FDR told America’s businessmen that he didn’t want to see any millionaires created by the war. American business had its duty to do just as America’s soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. And for the most part, they did it.
No, America wasn’t the perfect country in 1944. If you were black, much of the country had a apartheid ever bit as racist as South Africa. If you were Jewish, anti-Semitism was still the rule rather than the exception. If you were gay, you were deep in the closet. And if you were a woman who didn’t want to be only a wife and mother, things were tough.
But it’s amazing how many people in those groups and others still saw America as a wonderful place.
And what was most wonderful about it was that there wasn’t a government that catered to rich businessmen and big political contributors on the scale we do today.
We have Ronald Reagan and his followers to thank for that change. I always thought that Reagan’s tragic flaw was that he believed people got rich — even when they inherited their wealth — because they were better people than folks who weren’t rich.
Ronald Reagan’s America isn’t my country.
I stand with FDR, believing that we are our brothers’ keepers and that America is great when America is good.
That’s my perfect country.