Life Liberty and Property
The classical liberal John Locke wrote of the sacredness of life, liberty and property. Jefferson changed the American version of the formula to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, which seems to imply that happiness can come either with or without property and the “pursuit” is left to the discretion of the individual.
I am, like most Americans, schizophrenic on the subject, which is to say that I am like Ebenezer Scrooge (who was not an American, or even real for that matter) who pointed out that nothing in the world is so criticized as the pursuit of property and yet there is nothing that the world is harder on than the lack thereof.
I entered this week expecting one of the great economic storms of the last 100 years. I just had a feeling that this was the week of the stock market meltdown, which, combined with the dive in the value of housing would create the devastating “one two” punch which would go far to limiting the “happiness” of those Americans who chose to rely on the pursuit of property as a means of obtaining same. It has not happened yet, but it is only Tuesday. Never the less, it shows that those of us who pursue happiness through the pursuit of property are never really relieved from the fear that someone is going to take our property away from us. One of the things Jesus understood best was that no one who pursues property for happiness ever really rests easy. There is always something to fear as you attempt to build up your earthly treasures, or just hold onto them.
The idiocy of all of this is that any American who reads this is rich by the historical standards of our country and by present world standards. Most Americans suffer from the same malady, we think more of the luck of the 1% of the people better off than ourselves and assume that it is natural that 99% of the people who have ever lived on earth were (and are) worse off. Suppose the market crumbles. Suppose all that I hoped to retire on is wiped out in a week. It has happened to many before me. I guess that will mean that I will find a smaller place to live and work for the rest of my life. Guess what ? I am still better off than 98.7% of the people who have ever lived on earth . By the way, these percentages are estimates only and were completely made up by the writer, who heartily believes them to be true. But suppose they are not, suppose I am left better off than only 95% of the people, or 80% or 60%. That still should make my pursuit of happiness successful (as long as I have air conditioning).
In the great scheme of things, it does not matter that the Canadian “loony”( or is it “loonie”? ) has reached par with the American dollar, or that the value of the equity in the average house declines 30% or that haughty western Europeans are laughing at our comeuppance. What matters, as Mr. Jefferson told us, is the “pursuit of happiness”. Maybe the means of attaining that goal will shift a little bit. Maybe it’s time.