Sustainable economy is the core of freedom

Date: 3 Jul 2008 | posted in: From the Desk of David Morris, The Public Good | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Sustainable economy is the core of freedom

By David Morris, originally published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, July 3, 2008

This July 4th, as with all July 4ths, our political leaders will retell the inspiring story of how a brave band of colonies declared their independence from the mightiest empire on earth. And, as usual, they will leave out one crucial aspect of that story: We declared our economic independence before we declared our political independence.

Many events led up to July 4, 1776. But the pace quickened when, on a cold December night in 1773, a band of colonists forced their way onto three ships docked in Boston Harbor and dumped more than 90,000 pounds of tea into the sea.

Britain retaliated by closing the harbor until the city paid for the lost tea. Which inspired the 13 colonies, for the first time, to work together. When the first Continental Congress met in New York City in 1774, it called for an organized boycott of all British goods.

The colonists understood they could claim political authority only if they could demonstrate the productive capacity to stand on their own two feet.

All things English were placed on the blacklist. Students at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton voted to forgo wearing imported gowns to their graduations. Frugality came into fashion. The embryonic nation’s first Chamber of Commerce declared, “Save your money and you can save your country.”

Bostonian Sam Adams, the fiery leader of the movement, knew frugality was not enough. To become truly independent, America had to produce at home what previously had been imported from England. Adams, a strict and devout Puritan, urged the clergy “to preach up Manufactures instead of Gospel.”

New England farmers were exhorted to convert their oak plains into sheep pastures and produce enough wool to clothe every American. And colonists were urged to abstain from eating lamb or mutton to encourage American woolen manufactures.

Two years after the colonies declared economic independence, they declared political independence. This July 4th we will celebrate their success while ignoring our failure to sustain the economic foundation of that independence.

The United States is by far the world’s largest debtor. Two-thirds of our oil is imported, up from a third when OPEC first sent a shot across our bow in 1973. Our corporations continue to flee our soils to supply us from foreign shores, resulting in an unprecedented trade deficit. China and the oil-producing nations have begun to use their enormous reserves of American dollars to buy key U.S. productive assets. Indeed, the very value of our currency is dependent on foreigners’ lending us massive amounts of money.

On July 4th, amid awe-inspiring fireworks displays, our corporate and political leaders will celebrate Independence Day. Let us hope that on July 7, when they return to work, they will stop designing and implementing policies that make us ever more dependent. And remember the crucial lesson those brave colonists taught us: Economic independence is the foundation of political independence.

David Morris is vice president of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, based in Minneapolis and Washington, D.C.

About ILSR: The Institute for Local Self-Reliance is a nonprofit organization founded in 1974 to advance sustainable, equitable, and community-centered economic development through research and educational activities and technical assistance. More at

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David Morris is co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and currently ILSR's distinguished fellow. His five non-fiction books range from an analysis of Chilean development to the future of electric power to the transformation of cities and neighborhoods.  For 14 years he was a regular columnist for the Saint Paul Pioneer Press. His essays on public policy have appeared in the New York TimesWall Street Journal, Washington PostSalonAlternetCommon Dreams, and the Huffington Post.

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