American Elephants

Are You Sleepwalking Through History or Fully Alive and Conscious? by The Elephant's Child

I have been reading An Empire of Wealth by John Steele Gordon, which has been the most exciting book I have read in a long time. It is a history of American power and how it arose. America has dominated the world, not through force of arms and political power, but through the continuing creation of staggering wealth.  It is history with the thrill of free market invention and creation of things absolutely new to the world.  The economics and the pursuit of profit have changed the nation and changed us in ways once unimaginable.

I finished the final chapters last night — the book ends with 9/11— which led me to realize that I am less familiar with the history of my own time than I am of history that I had to learn about from books.  Reading about what past presidents accomplished and where they blundered, the bills Congresses passed for good or ill— a lot of blunders there—has made me feel as if I’ve been sleepwalking through history.

We need historians to point out to us the motives behind the regulations and the trends that led us astray. Some policies that seemed so important at the time really weren’t, and some bills that passed quietly have made a huge difference.  There are times in your life when you were busy with daily personal problems and  just didn’t know what was going on. The sense of not knowing or understanding the time through which you lived is disturbing.

It also made me stop and think about the inventions and new products that we take for granted, without realizing how lucky we are to have them.  If you lived in the late 1800s, and suffered from headaches, a cup of really strong coffee was the best relief you could find, or cool cloths or ice— if you had it. Aspirin didn’t appear until around 1899.  If you got a bad infection, good luck! Penicillin didn’t become available until the middle of World War II.

It wasn’t until 1992 that Tim Berniers-Lee of Cern came up with the web browser that made the world-wide web (www) possible, yet it’s hard to remember the time before we had all the electronic stuff we so depend on today. But imagine life without the telegraph or the telephone. (Did you know that Thomas Edison coined the word “hello?”) — me neither.

My grandfather was a pioneer horse-and-buggy doctor, and he was also a pharmacist, which amazed the writer of a local history. But in granddad’s day there weren’t many pharmaceuticals to dispense.  He simply had to pass a written test with the state, but it wouldn’t have included very much. Fortunately they had stopped bleeding people to help make them well, and ether was available for operations. And many of the remedies of the past had vanished, for which we can be grateful. At one point it seemed like anything that tasted bad enough was used as a medicine.  Before they invented internal combustion engines to put oil and gas into, crude oil was used in small amounts as a medicine— though I’m not sure for what.

So when I observe the pathetic “Occupy” crowd whining about the rich and their own student loans, and what they want —as I observe their expensive tents, sleeping bags and all the electronics, laptops, cell phone, tablets they have, it’s hard to feel much sympathy. The nylon for those lightweight tents and sleeping bags didn’t appear until after World War II, and began with surplus parachutes. Before that it was canvas— heavy and wet.

The Tax Reform Act of 1978 lowered the Capital Gains tax, (The New York Times argued for raising the tax to 77%— the Left has always wanted higher taxes).The bill passed.  The immediate effect: in 1977 the venture capital industry raised $39 million to invest— in 1981 the venture capital industry raised $1.3 billion.  Money, freed up with lower taxes, went to work creating economic growth and millions of jobs.

The sweep of history is not just enlightening, but encouraging.  We have muddled through some dreadful times. A good sense of history gives you armor against the bad times and a common sense appreciation of the good.

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