What Makes a Nation Great?

My last post was about symbols of American greatness and thoughts about what made us the great society which we say we want to get back to. I’m going to dig into that more here. I’ll issue a disclaimer that I went to school to be an engineer and don’t have a long education in the humanities. What I am good at is laying out issues and breaking them down. Where my mind went was Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It outlines what humans need to become successful and each layer is additive to the one below it. I’ve sketched it out here. The idea begins at the bottom with basic needs for food and shelter and adds security to it. Then come social concerns such as the ability to have friends and senses of esteem and belonging. At the top, we’ve got full contribution to society where people can meet their full potential and we have a rich society which doesn’t rely on feeding people to the lions for fun.

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Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

It’s tough to feel safe without food and warmth. How can you build strong relationships without a sense of security? Without people close to you, it’s impossible to have a sense of esteem. And without esteem, how can you achieve what you most desire and do your best work? Again, I didn’t study this deeply and get a PhD in sociology, but it rings true. Apply it to your own situation and you realize that you can only climb so high if the foundation is weak. Even so, this is a your-mileage-may-vary thing. Simply because you’ve got a great group of friends which treats you well, that doesn’t translate directly to you being a great artist or the CEO of a world-changing company. It means you’ve got the ability to apply yourself more to higher-level pursuits than hunting and gathering while defending your cave. It makes some sense.

Let’s take this to a national level. If I take a stab at what makes a nation great, I’m going to say it’s one which does a strong job of ensuring its inhabitants are as high on Maslow’s pyramid as possible. Taking the negative perspective, if the population’s having to fight for food and water, then we’re not safe. If we’re not safe, we can’t trust each other. If we can’t trust each other, we’re not going to base our sense of worth on accomplishments others will break down. That surely doesn’t lead us to our best work as a society. The more people we have doing well, the better we all do because we’re not getting pulled back down. Again, this makes some sense. It also means that we want more people higher in the hierarchy because otherwise they won’t contribute what they’re capable of. Forcing them down is counterproductive.

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Let’s think about Maslow on a national level.

The next place that takes me is at a national level. What’s a country need in order to be successful? To be great? I gave it a shot in the sketch above. When you put it next to Maslow’s work, this also makes some sense. I tried to step away from politics when I looked at it. Of course, it should lead us right back to the purpose of government and what we want it to do. Governments naturally consume resources and spend them in different ways. There are tradeoffs involved. How these questions are answered tells us a lot about what kind of society we want. Our elections skew those answers in different directions. How our officials direct discretionary spending towards programs tells us what the government thinks of what we tell it. When things get of balance, we have power shifts.

I think we’re at a spot now, however, where we’re not asking ourselves the right questions at all and we’re not considering the right outcomes. As a result, we’re seeing rhetoric and actions which skew our responses away from what benefits the country. Last week, one of my friends who’d just vacationed in Holland posted an article called Going Dutch. The story is about the author’s move to Holland and his experiences. His initial struggle was over the number 52 which is the tax rate. It’s certainly steep and he found it affecting his life in different ways than the American approach. He found the money coming back to him in unexpected ways which really changed his thinking It’s well worth a read to frame your own thoughts around what a government can do.

In case you haven’t gathered it by now, I’m trying to shift your thoughts away from what “side” you’re on. I don’t think this is fundamentally a stance between socialism and a vibrant capitalistic economy. What I do believe is that making the quest purely about justice, the pursuit of wealth, projecting power, and the like ignore major problems we need to solve. It’s resulted in the highest incarceration rate in the world by far (about seven times that of European nations), the richest 1% own more wealth than the bottom 90% (who hold 73% of the debt), and our healthcare costs are out of control compared with other first-world nations. Regulations have loosened controls on how much the wealthy and corporations can spend to influence politics. We’re also experiencing a lot of national identity politics which leaves groups out of representation – you can argue the cause, but the reality is tough to debate. Plus, we’re the lone nation not in the Paris Climate Agreement.

The problem is that our current path is only making those issues worse. We’ve damaged healthcare improvements without better answers. When it’s entirely normal to see GoFundMe pleas or stories about hurt people begging others not to call an ambulance for them due to the costs, it’s a fundamental problem. There are real stories of diabetics rationing their insulin until they die because they’ve lost insurance. The promise of trickle down economics led to a massive tax cut. That was taken largely by the wealthy 1% and corporations who used the money not to raise wages, but to buy back stock. This didn’t do anything for that bottom 90% who are debt-ridden and don’t own stock. We also have the president choosing SCOTUS nominees from a list provided by billionaire-funded think tanks. We know that teachers are getting driven out of the profession due to low wages while having to pay their own expenses and are striking across the nation.  Heck, the Secretary of Education who wants to cut spending in her department just had a $40,000,000 yacht vandalized and it’s only one of ten her family owns. Does this help us or accentuate the problems?

What I’m arguing for is a more progressive look at what this country is about, because its success and greatness have to be addressed more broadly. Owning guns, legislating religion, rounding up Hispanics, and concentrating wealth do nothing for the vast majority of us. Nothing at all. When you look at the news (and hopefully it’s a broad list of sources) or watch politicians, pay attention to what they advocate for. Ask yourself if it really helps your needs and the nation’s. Don’t let them dictate things which won’t. Listen for something positive and what they’ll do for you which meets your hierarchy of needs. Run from those who go on about what they’ll do to others, because that won’t get you or us anywhere.

Yes, this affects me directly. Here are my choices for governor. Let me know who you think I’m for because they just might be for me and the state I live in.

2 thoughts on “What Makes a Nation Great?

  1. Very telling the stark contrast between our two options in GA this November when you watch those videos back to back. Agree with you that Kemp’s message isn’t exactly inclusive. Especially compared to Abrams.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There’s an undertone to them which isn’t all that hard to find if you look. They’re talking to two entirely different sets of people. As I write something like this, I realize it’s not going to resonate with some folks. That’s why I’ll try to start in one place and end somewhere different with planned steps along the way.


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