IN THE HISTORY of mankind, freedom has been the exception. Governed by kings and queens, human beings were told that power starts at the top and flows down, that their rights emanate from a monarch and may be taken away at the monarch's whim. The British began a revolution against this way of thinking in a meadow called Runnymede in 1215. It was embodied in the Magna Carta, which reads: 'To all free men of our kingdom we have also granted, for us and our heirs for ever, all the liberties written out below, to have and to keep for them and their heirs.... "That revolution reached full flower in Philadelphia in 1787, in a Constitution that began from two radical premises.
The first is that our rights come not from kings or queens--or even from presidents--but from God. As the Declaration of Independence put it, "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
Second, in the Constitution, America's Founders inverted the understanding of sovereignty. Power comes not from the top down, but up, from "We the People," and governing authority for those in political office is limited to set periods subject to elections. As James Madison explained in Federalist 51: "If men were angels, no government would be necessary.... In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself."
Even from my short time in elected orifice, I can assure you there are no angels in Washington, D.C., and that is why Thomas Jefferson said the "chains of the Constitution" should bind the mischief of government. Only when government is limited are rights protected, the rule of law honored, and freedom allowed to flourish.
The American free market system is the greatest engine for prosperity and opportunity that the world ever has seen. Freedom works. No other nation on Earth has allowed so many millions to come with nothing and achieve so much. In the centuries before the American Revolution, the average human lived on between one and three dollars a day, no matter whether one lived in Europe, Asia, Africa, or North or South America. However, from that point on--from the beginning of the American experiment--for the first lime in human history, per capita income in a few countries began to grow rapidly, and nowhere more so than in the U.S.
Over the last two centuries, U.S. growth rates have far outpaced growth rates throughout the world, producing per capita incomes about six times greater than the world average and 50% higher than those in Europe. Put another way, the U.S. holds 4.5% of the world's population, and produces 22% of its output--a fraction that has remained stable for two decades, despite growing competition from around the globe.
This predominance is not new. The late British economist Angus Maddison observed that American per capita income already was the highest in the world in the 1830s. This is a result of America's economic freedom, which enables entrepreneurs and small businesses to flourish.
Today, the U.S. dollar is the international reserve currency. English is the world's standard language for commerce. The strength of our economy allows us to maintain the mightiest military in the world. U.S. culture--film, TV, the Internet--is preeminent in the world (although for many of our TV shows and movies, perhaps we owe the world an apology). A disproportionate number of the great inventions in medicine, pharmaceuticals, electronics, the Internet, and other technology comes from America--improving, expanding, and saving lives. The U.S. is where the telephone, automobile, airplane, and iPhone were invented. Americans were the first to walk on the moon. …