During my life I have had opportunities to visit many different countries. Many of them were, at the time of my visit, ruled by governments that were Socialist in nature...some even coming close to Dictatorships. And, over time, I have noticed a peculiar constancy of national attitude: the level of "contentedness" is the inverse of the level of personal freedoms. The higher the level of government control of personal and business life, the lower the level of happiness and the higher an attitude of "resignation."
There have been volumes written about the financial toll as well as the results of Socialist, Marxist and even Communist governing. And one finds it hard to disagree with the fact that those types of governments have always ultimately failed...usually after having exhausted the earnings and savings of the "rich" to finance government benefits. It is undeniable that during this period of governance there is a sense of "happiness" and contentment with this approach.
One difficulty with all of this is that during this period of euphoria over low cost or "free" benefits, the majority become accustomed to doing less work, lowering production as well as efforts to succeed; after all, the government is guaranteeing an acceptable existence without any consequences from failed performance...one need not "earn" anything. It is, indeed, the good life...apparently. And people adjust to that attitude.
But ultimately life demands the discovery and acknowledgement that there is no such thing as "free" anything...lunch, government benefits, guarantees, etc. This is not a "happy" discovery, even to those who know in their depths of soul what the truth is...no one enjoys playing life's equivalent of Musical Chairs when the loser finds his family going hungry, without housing, and having lost the knowledge and conditioning to be independent.
Many of those nation states then turn to anarchy and slowly develop new government entities that for a time do not forget the lessons of the previous experience.
This commentary is NOT about those.
There are nations that even after the early blush of easy benefits continue to support a Socialist style governing...it usually has some democratic element, such as elections and the appearance or fact of some popular representation, yet applying the leveling elements of a Socialist environment. Much of Europe is governed in this manner.
One of these nations is Norway. My father immigrated to the United States almost a century ago; he waited for years and had to have a sponsor that guaranteed that he had a job ready for him, and had a place to live, and generally could show that he would not be a burden to the government or to anyone if he were allowed to come to the United States. In due course he became a citizen...and held the United States in high esteem for the rest of his life; we were told that while our heritage was important, we were first and finally Americans and this was our country and to which we owed our total allegiance. We were here to be a part of the American existence, not to complain or try to change it.
Why did he come to America? Because he was from a family that had fallen on hard times, with the early and unexpected death of his father. Norway guaranteed an existence. He would never have gone hungry. He would never not have had a job.
But...he could never have improved his existence. He couldn't save enough to buy property and build a house...the taxes were too high. Sure, that meant that he never had to pay for Doctors or hospital or elderly care services. But he could not improve his personal existence. The governmental system protected his status, but did not allow him the financial freedom to improve it.
America guaranteed nothing...BUT the chance, the opportunity, to risk all but allow him the reward as well as the consequences of his own efforts. THAT is what America used to offer; it is the essence of a Capitalistic and Democratic governing status.
That opportunity to succeed on the basis of your individual efforts...as well as the risk of failure...is what makes democracies different from Socialist nations. And that governing approach encourages an optimistic point of view as well as the total effort to succeed on a self-reliant basis. For my father and for many of his friends, a government guarantee would have been an insult...an indication that someone thought they weren't good enough to succeed on their own, that they were "less-than" others. Even during the Great Depression, my father did whatever work he could find and never once doubted that he would survive and ultimately succeed. Even during that period, my father remained optimistic, knowing...believing...that the hard times would pass and he would then succeed.
His attitude was the same that our Founding Fathers must have had; they wanted independence, not patriarchal or matriarchal care and governance.
Americans always have complained...but they also found much to support their internal happiness. For every element in their lives that were a challenge, there was one or more that provided a source of happiness, of opportunity, of joy. No one problem was insurmountable.
In socialist nations the government is the single, overwhelming element in your life; if you have a problem and the government cannot "fix" it, it will never be fixed. You are locked into a level of existence and, while that might be insured, you will rarely be able to change it or improve your place in that society. And that promotes a certain sense of resignation and even sadness that colors your existence. Oh sure, there are celebrations and moments of joy...but they are temporary and often seem transparently unable to hide the underlying sense of having to be satisfied with what and where you are.
Lately, I have found myself looking around and growing sad as so many Americans seem to be coming to the conclusion that their only choice is to take what the government can provide, feeling uneasy but finally accepting the not-always-so-slow incursion of government into their lives, regulating how they can live, what they can say, what they can read or hear, who or what they may worship in public. Like wild pigs, they are becoming comfortable with being fed, instead of foraging on their own, and ignore the erection of a fence on one side of the food, to be followed by the erection of a second side...and so on, until they will find that they have allowed themselves to be imprisoned and no longer have any freedom of choice at all. And then they, too, will feel what my father felt so long ago in Norway; an imprisoned existence. And there will be no "United States of America" to hold the promise of a different way of life.