The following is adapted from a lecture delivered on February 27, 2012, aboard the Crystal Symphony during a Hillsdale College
cruise from Rio de Janeiro to Buenos Aires.
AMERICA is still a young country. Only 405 years separate us from our
ultimate origins at Jamestown, Virginia, while France and Britain are 1,000 years old, China 3,000, and Egypt 5,000. But what a 400 years it has been
in the economic history of humankind!
Susan Constant, Discovery, and Godspeed dropped anchor in the James River in the spring of 1607, most human beings made
their livings in agriculture and with the power of their own muscles. Life expectancy at birth was perhaps 30 years. Epidemics routinely swept through
cities, carrying off old and young alike by the thousands. History tends to dwell on a small percent of the population at the top of the heap, but the
vast mass of humanity lived lives that were, in the words of Thomas Hobbes, “nasty, brutish, and short.”
Today we live in a world far beyond the imagination of those who were alive in
1607. The poorest family in America today enjoys a standard of living that would have been considered opulent 400 years ago. And for most of this time
it was the United States that was leading the world into the future, politically and economically.