The Price of Prosperity

Todd G. Buchholz is a former White House Director of economic policy and winner of Harvard’s annual teaching prize in economics. He has authored several books and written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Time, and Forbes. He regularly appears on PBS, NPR, Fox Business, and CNBC, and is a co-producer of the Broadway hit Jersey Boys. His latest book, The Price of Prosperity: Why Rich Nations Fail and How to Renew Them (Harper  2016), identifies five potent and paradoxical forces that undermine nations after they achieve economic success. These include falling birthrates, globalized trade, rising debt loads, and eroding work ethic, and waning patriotism. He presents inspiring stories of historical leaders who overcame national malaise and challenges us to face the future with the courage we need to flourish. He concludes with his Patriotist Manifesto that I commend to you.

History warns us that almost every nation eventually grows too tired, too timid, or too splintered to hold together. But it’s not an utterly impossible task. The Patriotist Manifesto is both a call and a code to guide people who believe that their nation’s very existence brings about more liberty and justice in the world.

The Patriotist Manifesto

A specter is haunting free states, but this shapeless ghost is not fed by disease, bloodshed, or poverty. Instead, it is nourished by the very prosperity of the modern age and the drive for educated men and women to abandon, excuse, or disdain the myths, magic, awe, and enchantment that held nations together. Though human beings may lack the powers to rekindle such ephemeral yet once powerful forces, we should seek to establish principles that may bind us in liberty, justice, and mutual defense. Therefore, we declare that

  1. To be patriotic about one’s nation—to feel profound affection, to experience joy in its successes and sorrow in its failures—is a good thing, provided that nation defends liberty and justice.
  2. A nation’s character virtues do not stem from the rocks and soil of its land or the genetic stock of the people, but from their character and the precepts they will fight for.
  3. The people have a moral and legal right to protect against attacks, invasions, or overwhelming cultural incursions that would destroy the character of the nation.
  4. The doors of the nation must be open for “exit” and for “voice”—to allow citizens to emigrate freely from the country and to voice discontent within its borders.
  5. Immigrants have an obligation to understand and embrace the national history of their new home. Native-born citizens should encourage immigrants to feel that they have as much moral right to celebrate national holidays and traditions as those families who trace their ancestors back to the first ships to land or the first wagons to unload.
  6. Culture should not be frozen in time but should invite new stories and heroes who enhance the people’s appreciation for and attachment to the nation’s principles.
  7. The nation should establish institutions and voices that speak for future generations on matters of debt and other burdens that they will inherit.
  8. While the nation may seek defense alliances and trade with others that do not share its values and principles, it should not share its friendship or its bounties with those who stand opposed.

With these beliefs in our grasp, we may walk toward the future, preserving and renewing a nation so that it will grow, not just more prosperous, but stronger, sturdier, and more free.