Richard Reinsch (00:04):
Hello, today we’re talking with Sam Gregg about the question, “What’s wrong with America?” Sam Gregg, many of you know, is a contributing editor at Law & Liberty. He’s also, his day job, he’s a research director at the Acton Institute. He’s the author of numerous books, including, he’s been on this program to discuss Wilhelm Ropke’s Political Economy and Becoming Europe. He’s also the author of the prize-winning book, Reason, Faith, and the Struggle for Western Civilization. He contributes to a number of publications and he is also a visiting scholar at the Feulner Institute at the Heritage Foundation. Sam Gregg, welcome back to Liberty Law Talk.
Sam Gregg (00:56):
Richard, always good to be with you.
Richard Reinsch (00:58):
So Sam, this question now “what’s wrong with America?” We can also discuss what’s right with America, sort of inspired by GK. Chesterton’s great book, What’s Wrong with the World? Now we don’t have to be as theological, obviously, as Chesterton, but it is to suggest that, or not to suggest, but to say there’s something wrong with America. Many people sense it. It has many facets to it. You follow political economy, you follow law, constitutional thinking, social thought, just any number of areas you write on. And so, I think you can address this well.
There was an essay published this week that a lot of people are talking about. Yuval Levin’s, “The Changing Face of Social Breakdown,” was the title, it was published in The Dispatch earlier this week, this being the third week of November. And Yuval Levin advances something in there that resonated with me. He said in the nineties, and that’s sort of when I was coming of age, that we had this sort of impression of America, still the high crime rate, a lot of anti-social trends, up-ticking, and a lot of just frenetic energy, a lot of chaos in America, a lot of dislocated people who had not been formed well, who had been let down by institutions.
And he says in this essay, we may have the opposite of that problem now in America. We may have a lot of passivity on the part of individuals pursuing education, pursuing career, pursuing family formation, having children, we’ve seen a decline in divorce in America, but we’ve also seen decline in marriage in general. We’ve seen a decline in out of wedlock childbirth, but we’ve also seen a lower birth rate. And so, you’ve all wondered why is that? And he thinks it, there really are no scripts anymore. And in the absence of scripts for people’s lives, people become inert and passive, and that has its own set of consequences. Let me ask you, I didn’t know if you had a chance to read that, but how do you react to that?
Sam Gregg (02:57):
Well, I did read the article and there are things that I had thought that Yuval Levin got right and there are things I suspect I’d quibbled with, because I think it’s true to say that the scripts to use his term have broken down to a certain extent. The American story, which maybe because I’m an immigrant, I tend to pay more attention to, but the American story of people coming to the United States or being born in the United States, they’re experiencing a path of upward mobility socially, economically, educationally, that story seems to have broken down. So that narrative, which has informed a lot of American political discourse has informed the way that Americans think about themselves and their country and the history of the United States. I think it’s true to say that there are many Americans who are skeptical about whether it’s even possible to live that story any more. There are some groups, some thinkers in the United States who would argue that it was always a myth and that it’s a myth that has covered up numerous sins on the part of the United States that are being present for a very long period of time, whether it’s the sort of the legacy of slavery or whether it’s the various isms that they say are permeating American society. So there’s lots of different ways of thinking about what’s gone wrong with America. I would say in many respects, that it’s also a question of ideas.
And to my mind, there are significant groups of people on the left. And now, by the way, some groups on the right who aren’t just questioning the scripts or the script as it was laid out for so many people coming of age in the 1980s and 1990s, there are people who are fundamentally questioning the founding of the United States, the key thinkers and ideas that have formed the basis of the United States, who are presenting a vision of American history as one of numerous forms of oppression. And many of these people, many of these groups have been very present in some of America’s major culture-forming institutions for quite some time.
And I’m not simply thinking about obvious places like the universities, where since the late 19th century, we had many professors often educated in German universities who came back and had a whole vision of essentially dispensing with the founding in many respects and adopting what came to be called the progressive agenda, through federal government, top-down management and administration of society, because bottom-up faith in freedom was messy and disorganized.
And so, if you go through the 20th century, that influence has always been there. And I don’t think you can discount the effects of the 1960s and particularly the generation of people that were formed in that period, that the thinking they were exposed to, the ideas that they imbibed. Now, that generation of course is, I guess you could say sort of on its way out in some respects, but their legacy is immense. And it’s a legacy of skepticism, it’s a legacy of distrust of basic institutions of America, a rejection in many respects of the ideas and the figures and the history associated with the founding and the way that that all played out in the 19th century.
I would suggest is that if we’re going to identify the boomer generation as being part of the problem in the sense that the legacy that they have bequeathed to the United States is at best a mixed one, there were other things going on, which reflected older forms of what you might call skepticism about the American experiment and ordered liberty.
So when a country, especially many of its cultural elites or political elites, legal elites, economic elites, when they start questioning the very experiment in ordered liberty, that’s very dangerous for a country like America, because that’s what defines the country. That’s what makes America different from other countries where they have a history, a long history, they have symbols, they have events, they have even an ethnic dimension, linguistic dimension to their history. And America’s always been different. The historian Gordon Wood makes this point in one of his more recent books. He says, what defines America are these key ideas, these key principles to which lots of Americans continue to refer when they’re thinking about what should the direction of the country be? How do we deal with our problems? We go back to look at these founding documents and principles and ideas. So when all that gets canceled out in some respects or dismissed as the product of late 18th century, white male slave holders, we shouldn’t be surprised a deep doubt starts to enter the body politic and no country can endure that for too long.
Richard Reinsch (08:31):
A Republic that depends on voluntary associations, voluntary political institutions, people have to want to be a part of them, have to want to run for all office or have to want to serve in various boards or anything about the vast network of voluntary civil society institutions in American life. All of those depend on people taking apart in the American project as a whole, and the inability to transmit your legacy, your memories to the next generation is certainly as you’re saying a major problem, it seems also just thinking about moving, maybe moving over to the right from it, talking about the left, there’s two conservative authors, one from the boomer generation, Mary Eberstadt, but also Helen Andrews, who would be a millennial, both sort of saying, I mean, Mary Eberstadt, if I’ve read her correctly, she wrote a piece recently saying to millennials and gen-Zs, “We robbed you,” talking about the boomer generation, “In terms of the legacy we’ve left you.” Helen Andrews has said, “Basically, more or less, yeah. You did. What we were left with is sort of fool’s gold in terms of the America that we’ve inherited.” What do you make of those, those critiques, which are kind of similar?
Sam Gregg (09:48):
Well, I think they carry some weight, because let’s think about the boomer generation. So these are the people born after World War II, up until around about 1964. That’s the generational cohort that we’re really talking about. And they grew up in a period of immense American power, economic power, political power, military power, unparalleled, really unparalleled in many respects that put America as the number one country in the world that had slammed the national socialist and fascist colossuses. It had paid for effectively the allied victory in World War II. At the Second World War, the United States accounted to something like 50% of the world’s GDP. The United States essentially saved Western Europe from becoming engulfed by Soviet communism, established bastions of freedom around the world. And I mean, literally bastions. You had American military bases all around the world and America was seen as a citadel, not just of democracy, but also of liberty.
So the children, and remember the people who did that, these were the people who had gone through the depression, they had been gone to war, they’d sacrificed immensely. We all know the story and their children of born into this world of immense affluence of security, et cetera. And they reject it, they reject so much of it. And it’s partly, because they were reacting to things like, things they should have been reacting to like the ongoing presence of segregation in the south. They were disturbed and in retrospect, we can say rightly so by the prospect of endless war in Southeast Asia being carried out by the United States. So there were things to critique about the United States, but it’s also very clear that this is a generation that abide ideas and even models of thinking that reflected a lot of what’s often called the hermeneutics of suspicion.
So you look around the world and you think behind everything that seemed real and good, not everything is so good. And this is of course, when universities very quickly started the March towards the left. American universities had obviously been mostly progressive up to this point, but that goes in a very radical direction, the radicalization of so much of American higher education and culture. People like Michael Novak, the late Michael Novak used to talk about this, because he was one of them. He was one of the people that were part of this whole generation. And that I think to talk about the boomers in that way, Michael Novak himself wasn’t a boomer, but he was very good at discerning what was going on among that generation of people that he was very much part of.
I think there’s a fair amount that we can say yes, that the boomer generation with the skepticism, the hermeneutics of suspicion, and to a certain extent, the hostility that they brought to the public square about certain things that have been seen as always true, whether it’s, America’s understanding of itself, whether it’s things like the place of traditional religion, place of business, the type of economic life that existed in the United States, despite the New Deal, despite The Great Society and all these things. So I think there’s some truth to that, but I think we also need to think about some of the very grave errors, political errors that we were made in this same period, which I’m not sure you can put on the backs of the boomer generation.
So we see the Supreme Court, for example, in the 1950s, and this is not populated with boomers adopting a pretty progressive agenda quite deliberately. So you see that is happening. You see the Johnson administration embarking upon what was one of the biggest expansions of government into society and the economy in the 1960s. Again, the people who were in charge were not part of the boomer generation. These are sort of holdovers in the respects from the New Deal and that whole way of thinking about things. So on one level, I think the critique of the boomers is in many respects accurate, but I’m not sure it explains everything. Now, I don’t think that people like Helen Andrews or Mary Eberstadt are claiming that either, all I would suggest is that if we’re going to identify the boomer generation as being part of the problem in the sense that the legacy that they have bequeathed to the United States is at best a mixed one, there were other things going on, which reflected older forms of what you might call skepticism about the American experiment and ordered liberty.
Richard Reinsch (14:58):
Question that comes to mind and one responsibility. This is what democracies do, but does seem in the last 10 years, maybe even beyond that, we’ve lost any sense of fiscal responsibility. And thinking about, obviously this is a very, in the headlines right now, in terms of the amount of money that we’re spending, it does seem there’s something in the American psyche right now of they belief that this won’t really hurt us, or that we can just continue to get away with this. Certainly, if you listen to Jay Powell, this is going on this sort of justification, legitimation of a lot of spending. And I just sort of throw that to you, is that also an indication of something profoundly wrong with this country?
Sam Gregg (15:43):
Well, it’s not the first time the United States has experienced-
Richard Reinsch (15:47):
Outside of a major war though. I mean, it is quite amazing.
Sam Gregg (15:51):
Yes. Now I think that’s true that what’s different now compared to say the levels of indebtedness that the United States incurred during the Second World War in particular, we are obviously going heavier and heavier into debt. And as last time I checked, we weren’t in involved in a major war against a major European power, and that hasn’t been the case for a while. So there to be a loss of sense, not just on the left, but among considerable portions of at least the political right, of a sense of fiscal responsibility. Now, so what’s driving this.
Well, one, I think is obviously the gap between income and expenditure. And it’s very important to understand that most expenditures, for example, in the federal budget are pretty much fixed. Most of it’s on what are basically, we would call welfare programs and that’s been the case for a while. So the degree of what’s called discretionary spending that Congress authorizes or it’s supposed to authorize every year has actually shrunk significantly in terms of their wiggle room. So one of the ways they deal with that is by going further and further into debt. Now America’s lucky in the sense that it’s the world’s reserve currency, that it’s in a position whereby it can print more dollars, but this catches up. And it’s clearly something that is driving a lot of irresponsible behavior on the part of a lot of the left and much of the right. So there’s a certain detachment from fiscal reality that’s going on. So you even see this, when you hear politicians talk about things like, “Well, we are going to reduce the rate of growth in federal spending.” So they’re not talking about reducing the actual real expenditure, they’re talking about reducing the rate of increases in expenditure. It’s really interesting to listen to that type of language, the notion that you might be actually reducing expenditures in real terms seems very foreign.
We spend as much and we borrow as much, but we never actually get back to paying for what we need to pay for. So that does seem to me, interestingly enough, to be somewhat of a departure from the emphasis upon fiscal responsibility, and a certain degree of frugality, that was certainly present in the rhetoric of the founding, even if it wasn’t necessarily lived out in practice.
But I think it’s also because a lot of Americans they’ll say things like, “Well, I believe in limited government, but I also want a welfare state. I think we should be doing X, but I also think we should be doing Y.” So the notion of fiscal responsibility, imposing choices that when you choose X, you therefore do not choose Y, that seems to have been dispensed with. And what’s interesting, I find about this is that in many respects, this is somewhat new in American political culture. If you go back to the 19th century or even a lot of the 20th century, especially the early part of the 20th century, American political culture was very hostile to the idea of the federal government spending lots of money and even very hostile to the notion of heavy levels of debt, very hostile to this. And presidential administrations would brag about how much they had reduced the debt by in the 19th century and even in the early parts of the 20th century. So I’m not sure what’s changed, but it’s clearly a problem.
Richard Reinsch (19:23):
It is interesting. Just speaking impressionistically, Americans are very comfortable with carrying huge levels of private debt in their own personal lives in their consumer lives and not balancing ends and means, and the money they make and the money they spend. And you just look at the credit card advertisements, they appeal to that. And I just, I’ve always kind of, I mean, I’ve started to think, well, there’s a line there between this personal behavior and the way you view the federal government and the way you view spending and the way you view things that you’re entitled to. What do you think of that?
Sam Gregg (19:56):
Well, I have to say that when I first came to live in the United States in 2001, I was shocked by the attitudes of a lot of Americans towards things like credit. I was shocked that Americans so quickly resorted to credit to basically, overcome the problem of distance in time between my means and what I can buy now, as opposed to waiting to buy something in the future when I have a bigger income and I can probably afford it.
So credit is one of the magical things of any economy, which allows us to basically pay for things now and build businesses now and do good things now, and then pay back with interest, the capital that we borrowed to do those good things now. I mean, credit is a very important, very useful, very productive financial instrument, not just on a private level, but also in many cases, especially in times of crisis, this is what governments do. And so, a very important role that credit and sensible credit policies play in the role of people’s personal lives and at the level of government. But it does seem to me that the sense of restraint that at some point you borrow now, but you know you’re going to pay it back in the future and you undertake the responsibility to do so, and you use credit for things that are really important rather than things that just satisfy immediate desires and wants.
Richard Reinsch (21:39):
That’s sort of like, Chris DeMuth has made this argument, the federal government increases its debt every year, but it doesn’t really do it for things that might, we might think of as investments or things that actually build the strength of the country, various things of federal government might spend money for on. But we’re a debtor nation to fund consumption in the form of entitlements.
Sam Gregg (22:05):
We’re also a destination at the moment to fund social security programs, because the social security programs, as we all know, we’re all told every time we get these social security statements, that the fund will be exhausted by such and such a date. That date doesn’t seem to be going away, doesn’t seem to be extending into the future very much.
And if you look again, if you look at American history, there have been times when the federal government has embarked upon extensive borrowing in order to fund very important things like winning the Second World War or paying for parts of the rebuilding of Europe after the Second World War, or even further back buying Louisiana, that was a very worthwhile set of borrowings that the federal government undertook under President Jefferson to expand the United States, that was all really very important stuff. Now we are borrowing to basically pay for existing programs. And it seems to me that that is problematic on so many levels, because governments really shouldn’t be doing that. You would think that they would stay within the limits imposed by revenue.
And this is, I mean, it also points to this dysfunctionality in the politics of some of these things, because Americans generally are quite hostile to high levels of taxation, it’s a longstanding tradition in United States. And even a lot of people on the left are somewhat perturbed by high levels of taxation, but they also want the federal government to be spending on any number of programs, not just welfare programs, but also things like subsidies, subsidies to entire sectors of the economy. So it’s not just the left who are guilty of this, there are sections of the right are also guilty of this.
We spend as much and we borrow as much, but we never actually get back to paying for what we need to pay for. So that does seem to me, interestingly enough, to be somewhat of a departure from the emphasis upon fiscal responsibility, and a certain degree of frugality, that was certainly present in the rhetoric of the founding, even if it wasn’t necessarily lived out in practice by say, people like Jefferson himself, but even through the 19th century, in parts of the 20th century, the emphasis upon the federal government, staying within budgets, only spending what they can, that has gone. If you go back in the debate that they were having in the 19th century, presidential candidates would be bragging about how much money they’d saved, if they’d been in public office.
Richard Reinsch (24:58):
And better than Calvin Coolidge.
Sam Gregg (25:01):
Yeah, agreed, this is just Calvin Coolidge. If you go back to the 19th century, one of the reasons why after the Civil War, the American military was shrunk so quickly was because American legislators were so anxious to reduce public spending as much and as quickly as possible and to reduce debt as much as possible, that is a very different political world from the one we’re in now.
Richard Reinsch (25:26):
Yeah. This is something that, struggle to formulate it, but John Courtney Murray in We Hold These Truths, makes an argument that if a people start to disagree about the ends of their political association, they should actually, they should agree on the end, they should have a consensus about the ends and extent they have public debates over things. It’s really about the means. And it seems in my mind that we are at odds at the level of ends, do we want to be a constitutional people with what that implies in terms of accepting, fixed limits on government power, accepting that those who are in the government are actually accountable to people and we want to strive to work that way as a people?
We want to have a rich, simple society. That’s actually the purpose of government. We want to have a lot of market activity. I mean, am I being too critical or negative to think, I’m not sure everyone’s onboard with that anymore. And we’re actually at odds over those ends. And that of course, makes a lot of other things really difficult to have a conversation about, because we’re not even really locked into a consensus framework to begin with.
Sam Gregg (26:35):
Well, I think that’s right. If you go back to the founding and you had disagreements between the Jeffersonians and the Hamiltonians, they had different visions of foreign policy, they had different visions of what they thought economic life would be like. They even had somewhat different visions of the relationship between the federal government and the states. They had different visions of what they thought, the role of what we would call monetary policy should be et cetera.
But no one was really disputing that the end was life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And very few people were disputing the idea that by life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, that there was a lot of normative context, which gave form to what that content of that life was, the way that liberty was lived, and the substance of what happiness consisted of. And that broad consensus was informed by a variety of sources ranging from let’s call it a type of Protestant, Judeo-Christian conception of the world, what you might call also the moderate enlightenment associated with Scottish enlightenment in particular, French enlightenment thinkers, and a certain commitment to much of the heritage of limited government and constitutionalism, and even I would argue, natural law and natural rights discourse as developed in 18th century Britain and Scotland. And that persisted, I think, for quite a long time.
And even up until I would say maybe the 1980s, you would still find a fair amount agreement about what the ends were, even though you have two very different political parties articulating often quite different visions of what that should be like. So if you look at a president like Jimmy Carter or a president like Lyndon Johnson, not clear to me that they were aiming for anything else beyond this broad life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, that just agreed with Republicans and people on the right about how to get there. So there wasn’t really an argument about at least a deep substantive argument about the ends in the way that you clearly have today, because there are many people I think in among many educated Americans who have essentially rejected the founding, rejected the experiment and ordered liberty, and they’re reflecting ideas that are coming out of many of the universities now.
I think of someone like John Rawls, for example, it’s very clear that his vision of the United States is one of more or less Western European egalitarian social democracy. Now there’s a big gap between that on the one hand and the type of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and all the emphasis, as you said, being a constitutional people and what that means. There’s a big gap between all that and what you hear coming out of what you might describe as modern liberalism. And even modern liberalism looks moderate now, compared to some of the ideas that are being articulated about what America should be, that are coming from much of the left these days, but also on the right, because we have people on the right today who explicitly reject the American founding, who say that it was flawed from the very beginning. And so, I’m not sure they have a very different vision of, to the left in many respects of what they want. But I do know that what they want is inconsistent with the type of constitutional Republic and the normative foundations underlying that Republic that I think formed a reasonable consensus among a critical mass of the American population.
Richard Reinsch (30:48):
Yeah. Okay. They’re going to call us “the grumps,” Sam. Maybe we should change focus. Let me ask you this question. What do you think is right about America right now?
Sam Gregg (30:58):
Well, I think there are many things that are right about America. America remains, for example, for many people, the most desired country that they would want to move to, if they ever felt that they needed to do that. I’ll never forget. I think it was Tony Blair. So this is in the middle of the 2000, when many people around the world are becoming disillusioned with the United States, primarily because of the war in Iraq and all the things that were entailed with that. And Tony Blair said something like, “Lots of people are very critical of America, but it’s still the place that people want to migrate to. People don’t want to migrate to China.”
Richard Reinsch (31:40):
Julius Krein does.
Sam Gregg (31:42):
When people want to migrate to a place like Western Europe, why do they want to migrate there? Because they’re interested in getting access to very generous welfare states. They not going to Europe, because they want the opportunity to flourish economically under their own volition. Many of them are going there because there’s generous welfare programs. So the fact that I think America is a place that people want to move to, because they believe it is a place of opportunity, a place where they can exercise their freedoms and they can realize a degree of personal responsibility for themselves and their families, that’s something that’s really powerful about America, that doesn’t seem to be diminished.
Another thing I find optimistic about, to be reason to be optimistic about America, is it still remains despite the fact that we have the legacies of the New Deal and The Great Society and things like Obamacare and all these regulations and government programs, America still remains by most indices of maybe even all indices of economic freedom, the number one country in the world for entrepreneurship, that’s telling you something. That’s a very powerful thing.
The third thing, which I think is a very good reason to be optimistic about America, is that Americans, a critical mass of Americans still are very uncomfortable with the idea of arbitrary power. They don’t like the government telling them what to do. They don’t like the idea of politicians behaving badly. Now lots of politicians on both sides do behave badly, but at least in America, there’s still a critical mass of people who are disturbed when they see this type of thing happening. Whereas in many European countries, I think there’s a certain degree of cynicism about all this. It’s just part of the way things are. I think Americans still not all, but still Americans are still somewhat perturbed by that.
It’s a sign of hope, it’s a sign of freedom, it’s a sign that things can be done in a country that takes constitutional liberty seriously. But what you also said about rule of law is extremely important, because one of the reasons there are good numbers of people coming to the United States is because they’re trying to get away from situations where they have constitutional anarchy, where they have rule of men, rather than rule of law.
The fourth thing I would say America has going for it is I do think that the particular constellation of ideas of principles and institutions that came into critical formation in the 1780s is still a major reference point for Americans as we talked about before, but it has immense potential for America to renew itself, because whenever we go off-track, we can look back. We have this set of principles and ideas we can look back to and say, “Okay, we are departing from what we’re supposed to be. We need to correct that.”
And many of the best movements in America that I think have helped to shape the country in positive ways, generally speaking, that is where they’re getting their inspiration from. And lastly, I’ll say, I have a fair amount of faith in ordinary Americans. I have less faith in elites. I think in many respects, we have a problem of elites in America on many levels, but I’m astounded every day by just the common sense observations of ordinary American people who recognize silliness and nonsense when they see it and are willing to try and do something about it. And we see this today, for example, with the pushback against some of the things that are going on in schools. It’s as if a light has been turned on in many people’s minds, and they’re saying, “This is bad, this is wrong that our children are being taught these things,” but rather than just sort of accepting it and just saying, “Well, this is just the way things are,” what do Americans do? They go in and they vote out the school board and they put new crew of people into the same positions. I can assure you that in lots of other countries, most other countries that initiative coming from below is far less evident.
Richard Reinsch (35:35):
And it’s been interesting watching, and then the attempt to thwart this parental opposition, which has been very heavy-handed, which indicates to me a certain mindset of we really have to cram this down people’s throats. This really may not have a lot of belief and a lot of support amongst parents, if you keep in track of even the federal government getting involved. And I thought that’s been interesting. Something that also seems right with America is we talk a lot about immigration. Everybody talks a lot about immigration. It seems that apart from the federal government and what the federal government wants to do, particularly to the civil rights state to do to immigrants, that immigration is actually, when we look at what immigrants do, when they come here, it’s actually pretty good.
Sam Gregg (36:35):
It is in fact amazing.
Richard Reinsch (36:35):
It’s still a very positive story to tell. And that seems to be forgotten that we can talk, I mean, certain people will talk about, well, the rates of welfare dependence and expense and all that, but that’s a function of the federal government programs that have been put in place. That’s not necessarily the case that they are coming for that, I don’t think that’s true at all. And so, there’s still something very good there to be told, but you’ve also got to have a rule of law system in place and that to be widely perceived in order for immigration to work also.
Sam Gregg (37:05):
Yes. So if you look at the rate at which businesses are created in the United States, or if you look at who is creating new businesses in the United States, immigrants are disproportionately represented in the number of new entrepreneurs, the number of people that are creating new businesses. So they punch above their weight, way above their weight, when it comes to creating new businesses, generating wealth, providing jobs for other people. And many of people come here precisely because they have an opportunity to do that in a way that’s a lot less evident in Central America or Latin America or Africa, or in the case of Europe, it’s less about the chaos, it’s much more about the bureaucracy they’re trying to escape. That makes it much harder to start and create businesses.
So immigration, in that sense, provides a way for people who are optimistic in many respects, people who are looking for opportunity, who are not looking for a handout, they just want to be able to exercise the freedoms in a way that they can’t in their own country, that’s something that’s very, very unique in many respects and I think it helps the economy to keep ticking over, it means as if you like fresh ideas, fresh people coming into the country.
And remember, if America wants to continue to grow, it’s going to need immigrants unless Americans start having more children again. So demographically, we are very dependent on that. And the other thing is that we often think of many immigrants as refusing to assimilate, of not wanted to be part of the American body politic. Most immigrants do want to be part of the body politic, they do want to become citizens, they do want to get involved, they do want to become American, they do want this. And that’s a very powerful thing in the sense that it tells you that the idea of America is still extremely attractive to people all over the world.
It’s a sign of hope, it’s a sign of freedom, it’s a sign that things can be done in a country that takes constitutional liberty seriously. But what you also said about rule of law is extremely important, because one of the reasons there are good numbers of people coming to the United States is because they’re trying to get away from situations where they have constitutional anarchy, where they have rule of men, rather than rule of law. And I do worry, I do worry to a certain extent about how strong rule of law is in certain parts of the United States. I do worry about that, because I do know, I think we all know that a society that abandons a commitment to rule of law is a society that’s inevitably at some level, going to undergo some degree of deep degeneration.
Sam Gregg (40:02):
And remember that that’s why a lot of immigrants come trying to escape chaos in their own countries where you can’t rely upon the court system, you can’t rely upon judges doing what they’re supposed to do, you can’t upon the different branches of government, doing things in particular ways, rather than other ways. They’re coming here to escape all those sorts of things and that’s precisely why immigration needs to be structured under a rule of law framework, because we have in some respects, the worst possible immigration system you can have, because it’s very easy to migrate here illegally, but it’s very hard to migrate here legally, believe me, I know, I migrated here legally. It’s really complicated. It’s very hard. Whereas if you just swim across the Rio Grande, it’s easy to get in, at least now it is.
Sam Gregg (40:57):
So if you’re going to have immigration and I think America generally benefits from immigration at some level, all of us are associated with the immigration experiment. It has to be built within a strong structure of rule of law. And that I think is absolutely key, if you want to keep immigration as something that’s a positive force in American society rather than what it is today, which is a source of division.
Richard Reinsch (41:24):
No, that’s exactly right. And also gets turned into a way to drive Americans farther apart from one another. Sam, maybe we should end there. We’ve covered a lot of ground here. Thank you for joining us and sharing your immense knowledge on this general question that a lot of people are thinking about. And I think you’ve broken it out in several parts to help us understand it better. I appreciate it so much, Sam Gregg, thank you.
Sam Gregg (41:47):
Thanks Richard. And thanks to all the crew at Law & Liberty and Liberty Fund for having me on.
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