In which countries is it easiest to form a new business? You’d think that with more than two-hundred years of entrepreneurial culture, the United States would rank fairly high. And we did. Until about 1962, starting a new business in the United States was quicker, cheaper, and easier than anywhere else. Not surprisingly, the country enjoyed the highest rate of new business startups of anywhere in the world.
However, since then, America has been steadily slipping and sliding down the rankings until today the country ranks behind Poland, Lithuania, New Zealand, Singapore and about ten others. Concurrently however, over the same fifty years, the number of U.S. government programs taxing money away from those who work for it and offering it to others has skyrocketed. It is made available almost on request in the form of cash, free food, free cell phones, free housing certificates, and so on to almost everyone who applies.
Not only has the number of give-away programs soared, but it has become ever easier to join the ranks of the receivers. Why would a society of rational people make it harder for folks to start businesses and easier to become dependent upon one’s fellow citizens?
There’s another number that in the last 50 years has also climbed faster than a Blue Angel F-18 jet at a summer airshow. That is the proportion of American children born to unmarried mothers. We all know the basic rule that the more money you give for certain behavior, the more of that behavior you’re going to get. Again the same question: why would rational people subsidize behavior that produces babies more likely to grow up in dire circumstances?
The only possible answer is that it is not rational citizens making these tragic decisions but rather rational politicians who want votes and rational bureaucrats devoted to permanent tenure. The only way for them to achieve these ends is to destroy families and limit financial independence. Only a small minority of welfare recipients are people who live in intact families, using the word ‘family’ in its traditionally understood meaning. Harming both the finances and families of citizens is precisely what you do if you want to increase the size and power of government.
As Chanukah recedes into the background for another year, let’s recall that nearly 2,200 years ago, in addition to outlawing certain religious practices, the Greeks attempted to destroy Israel’s families and their finances. (Maimonides, Laws of Chanukah) To be independent means having family and finances so the Maccabees went to war against the Greeks to defend both.
Before banishing Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden late in the third chapter of Genesis, God made sure that they had each other along with the ability to make bread. (Genesis 3:19) In Torah nomenclature, the word bread can also mean money. Still today, many people refer to money as ‘bread’ or ‘dough’. Directly after leaving Eden, Adam and Eve started their family. If you’re going to be independent and free, you need your family and your finances.
Uniquely among Jewish holy days, on Chanukah we continue making money by going to work while at the same time gathering each evening with family to light the menorah and share traditional songs and stories. It is the festival that more than any other blends together money and family. The candles we lit for the past eight nights were timed so that they would shine, in the words of ancient Jewish wisdom, “while people were coming home from work,” while the obligation to light falls not on each individual but on, “a man and his family.” It is the only holyday on which there is a tradition to give children gifts of money.
All Greeks, whether those from thousands of years ago or their secular-fundamentalist counterparts of today, know that if they can break the ties that bound parents and children together as well as the ties between productivity and reward, they can destroy a culture. Our response must be to double down, forming families and celebrating family togetherness while also working hard for economic gain.