Making The Best Use Of American Resources
An economic system is only as strong as its resources. A business without raw materials cannot create a product to ship, just as a business without skilled workers cannot craft the materials into goods. Resources are a potential, and the entrepreneur is the individual who is able to see this potential and turn it into reality.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his essay “Resources,” explored the nature of potential and success. Originally part of a series of lectures given towards the end of the Civil War, he sought to encourage the American people that, because of American ingenuity, there is always hope that they can overcome any difficulty
Emerson begins with a declaration that we all have the potential for success: “Men are made up of potencies. We are magnets in and iron globe. We have keys to all doors. We are all inventors, each sailing out on a voyage of discovery, guided each by a private chart, of which there is no duplicate. The world is all gates, all opportunities, strings of tension waiting to be struck; the earth sensitive as iodine to light; the most plastic and impressionable medium, alive to every touch, and, whether searched by the plough of Adam, the sword of Cæsar, the boat of Columbus, the telescope of Galileo, or the surveyor’s chain of Picard, or the submarine telegraph,—to every one of these experiments it makes a gracious response.”
Naturally, man is inclined to invent and to use the resources of the world to better our condition: “I am benefited by every observation of a victory of man over Nature; by seeing that wisdom is better than strength; by seeing that every healthy and resolute man is an organiser, a method coming into a confusion and drawing order out of it. We are touched and cheered by every such example. We like to see the inexhaustible riches of Nature, and the access of every soul to her magazines. These examples wake an infinite hope, and call every man to emulation.”
The human spirit longs for greatness. Men seek to be free to use their potential to its fullest. They do not want to be dragged down by the pessimists who spread tales of fear and horror about the human condition: “But if instead of these negatives you give me affirmatives; if you tell me that there is always life for the living; that what man has done man can do; that this world belongs to the energetic; that there is always a way to everything desirable; that every man is provided, in the new bias of his faculty, with a key to Nature, and that man only rightly knows himself as far as he as experimented on things,—I am invigorated, put into genial and working temper; the horizon opens, and we are full of good will and gratitude to the Cause of Causes.”
Because of this potential, every man is capable of joining together for human advancement. Even the smallest of contributions is still a contribution to the success of all: “What spaces! what durations! dealing with races as merely preparations of somewhat to follow; or, in humanity, millions of lives of men to collect the first observations on which our astronomy is built; millions of lives to add only sentiments and guesses, which at last, gathered in by an ear of sensibility, make the furniture of the poet. See how children build up a language; how every traveller, every laborer, every impatient boss who sharply shortens the phrase or the word to give his order quicker, reducing it to the lowest possible terms, and there it must stay,—improves the national tongue. What power does Nature not owe to her duration, of amassing infinitesimals into cosmical forces!”
Americans, especially, are able to join together for great success. Even during the strife of the Civil War, great advances could be made: “Here in America are all the wealth of soil, of timber, of mines and of the sea, put into the possession of a people who wield all these wonderful machines, have the secret of steam, of electricity; and have the power and habit of invention in their brain. We Americans have got suppled into the state of melioration. Life is always rapid here, but what acceleration to its pulse in ten years,—what in the four years of the war! We have seen the railroad and telegraph subdue our enormous geography; we have seen the snowy deserts on the northwest, seats of Esquimaux, become lands of promise. When our population, swarming west, had reached the boundary of arable land,—as if to stimulate our energy, on the face of the sterile waste beyond, the land was suddenly in parts found covered with gold and silver, floored with coal.”
Emerson reminds his audience of the changes that took place and how great they were: “We have seen slavery disappear like a painted scene in a theatre; we have seen the most healthful revolution in the politics of the nation,—the Constitution not only amended, but construed in a new spirit. We have seen China opened to European and American ambassadors and commerce; the like in Japan: our arts and productions begin to penetrate both. As the walls of a modern house are perforated with water-pipes, sound-pipes, gas-pipes, heat-pipes,—so geography and geology are yielding to man’s convenience, and we begin to perforate and mould the old ball, as a carpenter does with wood. All is ductile and plastic.”
So, too, must we be reminded of our changes and advances. Televisions and computers in every home connect the individual with the world, refrigeration keeps exotic produce fresh while air conditioning protects the body from excessive heat, and cars allow the individual to travel everywhere. We forget our advances because various political factions want to further their own agenda. We are indoctrinated by a sense of pessimism to further fringe goals. All we are told is of “poverty,” with no context that the poor of today would be the rich of yesteryear.
America is a land of great natural resources: “America is such a garden of plenty, such a magazine of power, that at her shores all the common rules of political economy utterly fail. Here is bread, and wealth, and power, and education for every man who has the heart to use his opportunity. The creation of power had never any parallel. It was thought that the immense production of gold would make gold cheap as pewter. But the immense expansion of trade has wanted every ounce of gold, and it has not lost its value.”
But America is also a land of great human resources: “The whole history of our civil war is rich in a thousand anecdotes attesting the fertility of resource, the presence of mind, the skilled labor of our people. At Annapolis a regiment, hastening to join the army, found the locomotives broken, the railroad destroyed, and no rails. The commander called for men in the stepped forward, searched in the water, found the hidden rails, laid the track, put the disabled engine together and continued their journey.”
Emerson continues by expanding on the entrepreneurial spirit of the American: “The world belongs to the energetic man. His will gives him new eyes. He sees expedients and means where we saw none. The invalid sits shivering in lamb’s-wool and furs; the woodsman knows how to make warm garments out of cold and wet themselves... What a new face courage puts on everything! A determined man, by his very attitude and the tone of his voice, puts a stop to defeat, and begins to conquer.”
However, there are many who want to crush the American spirit. The pessimists with their political agenda work their means for their own gain. Often, they stir up the people into frenzy, sending them out to protest and spread more fear.
Emerson explains that such groups are easy to overcome: “Against the terrors of the mob, which, intoxicated with passion, and once suffered to gain the ascendant, is diabolic and chaos come again, good sense has many arts of prevention and of relief. Disorganization it confronts with organization, with police, with military force. But in earlier stages of the disorder it applies milder and nobler remedies. The natural offset of terror is ridicule. And we have noted examples among our orators, who have on conspicuous occasions handled and controlled, and, best of all, converted a malignant mob, by superior manhood, and by a wit which disconcerted and at last delighted the ringleaders.”
In his conclusion, Emerson expresses his belief in the American spirit to overcome, but he also warns that only those who are worthy deserve success: “But the one fact that shines through all this plenitude of powers is, that as is the receiver, so is the gift; that all these acquisitions are victories of the good brain and brave heart; that the world belongs to the energetic, belongs to the wise. It is in vain to make a paradise but for good men. The tropics are one vast garden; yet man is more miserably fed and conditioned there than in the cold and stingy zones. The healthy, the civil, the industrious, the learned, the moral race,—Nature herself only yields her secret to these. And the resources of America and its future will be immense only to wise and virtuous men.”
America has great resources, which means it has great potential. These resources, both natural and human, must be allowed to be harnessed so that all can benefit from advances in every sphere. The fear-mongers must be ignored, and the entrepreneurs must be promoted. Those who are knowledgeable or talented must be freed from the constraints put in place by those who are jealous and petty.
Allowing restrictions that hold anyone back is to hold back everyone. To limit the successful to benefit the unsuccessful is to make everyone unsuccessful. To demand equality of results is to prevent results as a whole.
Economic success is success for all people, and economic success is only capable with a free culture. To belittle the entrepreneurs and to interfere with their trade is to attack society as a whole. Such is not the American way, and America cannot continue to thrive as long as those pessimists are given any sway.
Jeffrey Peters is an Annapolis, Md.-based writer and political consultant.