Tonight (October 24) during halftime of the Albemarle County High School football game, the Free Enterprise Forum will be presenting first prize for our second annual Economic Freedom Essay Contest.
Albemarle County High School Senior John Russell won the contest. His essay appears below.
By. John Russell
Economic freedom will never have a static definition throughout history. It is government and society that defines this freedom, and thus, it is ever changing, for government and society is ever changing. Economic freedom must also be analyzed from the perspective of the individual, of which there are many types. Race, creed, gender and religion are all defining factors in the hierarchy of society and play a crucial role in an individual’s framework in society and government. A progression of economic opportunity can be found in this country.
It tends that the nature of an economy and democratic society is derived from the majority voting class, and until the 1810’s and 20’s, the only registered voting class in America consisted of white, male landowners. So, until nearly the mid-19th century, financial opportunity or independence was nearly inaccessible for single women, blacks and immigrants. By the 1830’s due to an expanding electorate and the growth of cities, America’s economy in the north turned to an industrial one. Immigrants, free blacks, and for the first time, women, were all common in the workforce. Gradually, as voting rights expanded to include all men, black men, and finally women, the American economy began to consist of unskilled or semiskilled workers outside the home. The means by which to earn a living became available to nearly everyone in the north (at least theoretically). Not until the end of the Civil War and era of reconstruction did economic opportunity find as broad a platform in the American South as it had in the North. As Booker T. Washington stated, in order for a prosperous economy to develop in the South, blacks, must have economic opportunity to avoid the creation of an immobile, lower class draining on the economy as a whole.
Society, plays an important role in the economic freedom of individuals. In the 18th and early 19th centuries it was socially unacceptable. Women’s initial role in American society was a purely domestic one and until the introduction of the Lowell Mills system, the idea of a workforce including women was absent. Immigrants such as the Chinese and Irish were known to be unwilling to acculturate, and despite their obvious contributions to economy, were thus seen as parasitic to the public. Perhaps the most notable of society’s influence on economic opportunity is the role played against Blacks and Native Americans. Native Americans were not even considered citizens and were continually shunned and relocated until the early part of the 20th century where strides toward reconciliation and acceptance were made. Slavery allowed for no economic opportunity for blacks and until the latter part of the 20th century (as for most other groups) their economic rights were repressed.
Many argue that economic opportunity for all has yet to be achieved in this country. However, from a quantitative view, national legislation provides the best possible framework for opportunity and equality to occur. It is society and intangible power of the wealthy that determine the rest.