March 19, 2023


The Seven Attributes: The greatness of the United States has always depended on our determination to drive forward -- and strive upward. (The Modern Whig Institute, Mar 13, 2023)

In a study released last year by the Rand Corporation, political scientist Michael J. Mazarr outlined seven key social attributes which serve as the foundations of national competitive success. While the focus of the study was on American standing on the global stage, it's useful to think of these same seven attributes simply in terms of a healthy, functioning society. They are:

national ambition and will

unified national identity

shared opportunity

an active state

effective institutions

a learning and adapting society

competitive diversity and pluralism 

Whigs have much to say about each of these areas. And over time, we've developed many analyses, frameworks and proposals which line up with each of them, and all of them as a whole. But for now, let's look at them -- let's call them the Seven Attributes -- mostly in general terms. [...]

Unified National Identity

America is, and always has been, a nation of immigrants. Everyone in the country, other than Indigenous Americans, can trace their ancestry to somewhere else. Even those whose family line goes back to the landing of the Mayflower and the Colonial Era which followed it must acknowledge their roots lie across the sea, or somewhere in the Western Hemisphere outside the borders of the United States.

But that doesn't mean there isn't a distinctive American identity; far from it. Even at the time of the War for Independence, when virtually all of the Colonists considered themselves British subjects (including many on Washington's own staff, who would toast the King at dinner even as the Revolution raged), the people of the Colonies also thought of themselves as uniquely American. They were self-governing, despising of oppression, insistent on their rights and devoted to their communities long before the ratification of the Constitution would make them actual citizens of a new country.

Since then, the definition of Americanism has often been the subject of heated debate. In our current age, many seek to make it contingent on a particular racial, ethnic or religious background, while others disparage it as nothing more than the cultural institutionalization of our national original sin, slavery. Neither seems willing to accept the American identity for what it truly is: a dedication to shared ideals and the principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence, as expressed in a common language, and reinforced throughout our history by law and custom. 

None of which is to dismiss our highly diverse cultural heritage, each strand of which contributes to the whole. Nor is it to assert those who come to this country unable to speak English cannot be true Americans; our fundamental principles can be conveyed in almost any language. But as Teddy Roosevelt once famously said, "In this country we have no place for hyphenated Americans." To be one nation means to have one nationality.

For those of us born here and those of us who have emigrated from another land, our Pledge of Allegiance is the same. Each and every citizen -- naturalized, native-born or aspiring -- is a member of "one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." We all share a common civic creed. And the individual commitment the Pledge expresses continues for a lifetime; we are eternally part of one People under one Constitution, loyal to just one country, even as we celebrate the heritage of others. 

Shared Opportunity

Whigs are devoted capitalists. We believe in free enterprise, the profit motive, well-functioning markets and our natural right to the pursuit of happiness. But we also understand capitalism can have many variations, and no single iteration may be the correct one in all respects for all places at all times.

In our view, a good starting point in developing sensible economic theory is ordoliberalism, which holds the primary goal of government policy should be the creation of the general conditions necessary for broad-based prosperity: a healthy and consistent legal environment supporting fair competition, sound fiscal and monetary policy to keep the currency stable and inflation low, and an adequate social safety net to promote small business and entrepreneurship. What government should not do is guarantee outcomes. [...]

An Active State

Before the seemingly endless Culture War came to dominate our public discourse, political debate mostly focused on the legitimate differences between the Left and the Right on the proper size of government. "Big government" liberals would square off against "small government" conservatives, the Right accusing the Left of wanting government to do almost everything (which, for some on the Left, was undoubtedly true), and the Left accusing the Right of wanting the government to do almost nothing (to which many on the Right would gladly and enthusiastically agree).

Whigs reject this paradigm. For one thing, there's no tried-and-true way of measuring the size of government. For example, in terms of the number of people working for the federal government, the level has remained fairly constant: in 1982 there were roughly 2.89 million civilian federal employees; in 2021 there were about 2.85 million. Since 1962 the same measure as a percentage of the population has actually dropped by more than half, from just under 3 percent to about 1. 4 percent today (the drop actually exceeds the increase in population). And despite spikes here and there, the story basically stays the same when we look at the total workforce, including contractors.


In terms of taxes and spending, the numbers also have remained fairly constant. In 1982, federal tax revenue amounted to about 18.475 percent of GDP; in 2021 it was 17.599 percent; in 1962 it was 16.505 percent. And it's a similar story for federal spending: in 1982, federal budget outlays were about 22.3 percent of GDP; in 2019, just before the Covid-19 pandemic hit and sent the number through the roof, they were 20.8 percent. In 1962, the number was just under 17.7 percent.

Posted by at March 19, 2023 12:00 AM