You ask me that question, Derek, and you deserve a serious answer. Your hope is that with hard work you and your generation can help restore freedom in the U.S., and also restore the greater opportunities that come with it. The WWII generation asked a variation of the same question you just asked: “What hope is there for us because we went through a Great Depression, the bloodiest war in the history of the world, and now we have a mountain of debt and a 94% tax rate on all income over $200,000?”
What did that generation do? After the war, they supported politicians who increased freedom. For example, a bipartisan House and Senate cut the top tax rate on corporations from 90% to 38%; they cut the income tax rate as well; and then they slashed federal spending so much that the U.S. began having budget surpluses again. Businessmen said they would invest in this country and create jobs for returning soldiers, if only Congress would give them incentives to invest. In 1945 and 1946 Congress did just that. As Robert Doughton (D-N.C.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, announced, “We have given business a green light. They claimed that what they need is encouragement. Now if they don’t go forward, the responsibility is on them.” In that new atmosphere of increased freedom, American investment surged and opportunities soared for young college students.
Inventors came forth in the next decade and either invented or expanded the production of copying machines, television, motels, fast food, and even ball point pens. More houses were built, and more cars were bought. Unemployment, which was regularly 15-20% before the war, was only 3.9% after the war. The CEO of General Motors, Alfred Sloan, said, “I haven’t any feeling at all that we are going to have a serious recession in this country.” He saw the increased freedom and he knew American ingenuity would prevail.
The Civil War generation also asked your question. After that war, the nation was still divided; the South was virtually destroyed; and U.S. national debt had increased over 40-fold from 1860 to 1865—by far the greatest five year percentage increase of debt in the history of our country. What hope was there for the next generation? The hope that more freedom would yield more opportunities and would bring our nation back together. To some extent, that is exactly what happened. Under President Grant, the hated income tax was actually eliminated. The U.S. cut federal spending drastically, and our nation had 28 straight years of budget surpluses. Half the national debt was paid off.
What happened after the Civil War? That generation used their freedom to make the U.S. the greatest economic power in the world. One American steel company became bigger than all the steel companies in England put together. One American oil company refined more than two-thirds of all the oil used in the world. The Germans invented aspirin, but Americans made it cheaper. American beef, through newly invented refrigerator cars, dominated much of the western hemisphere. From typewriters to toothbrushes, Americans came up with new inventions, and usually made them better and cheaper. Southerners came North to work, and Northerners invested in the South. Our nation to a large extent healed its wounds and enjoyed the greater unity that freedom so often brings.
The hope for your generation is that you will meet the challenge of the loss of freedom today in the same way that the World War II generation and the Civil War generation did after war came and liberties were denied: They increased freedom, opened up our great human potential, and enjoyed the prosperity that followed.