Before the Berlin Wall came down, I worked at a supermarket where a regular customer, a refugee from Communist Yugoslavia, once told me, “In my old country, we were lucky to have small shops that sold some food; in America, we have supermarkets for toys.”
Not a criticism, her comment suggested that this fact was something which Americans should take pride in. I was then one of those Americans who feel unearned guilt simply for living in the wealthiest nation ever. Now, on Thanksgiving or on any other day, I have no such feelings when others criticize us for living in a “materialistic” nation. Instead, I take pride in contributing, albeit modestly, to that wealth.
Shortsighted historians attribute America’s wealth to her abundance of natural resources. The Indians, however, sat on the same resources, yet they never emerged from the Stone Age. Consider, also, that Ukraine is one of earth’s richest lands in natural resources. Yet in 1932-33, Stalin deliberately starved to death 6 to 7 million people there. Whether deliberate or not, famines were commonplace under Communist regimes. At the other end, Hong Kong, with its predominantly capitalist economy, earned its wealth with few natural resources.
In short, America’s unprecedented wealth is due to her being the most capitalist, that is, the freest, nation in history. Unlike Iran, for example, where a scholar was recently sentenced to death for essentially encouraging people to think independently of that theocracy’s religious clerics, America is where the individual was finally set free to think and act on his own ideas and judgments.
Americans have always earned their material necessities and “luxuries” through hard work. Yet we are universally maligned as immoral for being “materialistic,” despite that materialism rests on the most fundamental, life-sustaining moral virtue — productivity.
I once looked at the abundance of food on my Thanksgiving table as a person who believed wealth is a fixed quantity, a pie from which America “stole” the largest slice and thereby deprives poor nations of their “fair share.” In reality, that food is the product of my years of initiating thought and action at my jobs, from the primarily manual labor I once did to the mental work I do today.
But most importantly, the materials I possess, and the subsequent happiness I gain from earning them, rests on the freedom that my government still predominantly upholds. Thus, I can live my life as I see fit.
In Iran, I would likely be jailed or perhaps sentenced to death for this column that highly praises America, a nation the Iranian religious clerics call “the Great Satan.” And therein lies the root to why Iran is a poor nation, and America is the greatest, wealthiest nation in history.
So this holiday season, I hope that, like me, you have a bountiful, guiltless Thanksgiving, and that as a hard-working, productive American you will shop at such stores as Toys “R” Us and FAO Schwarz with pride.