Ideas: The Secret to a Thriving Nation

November 21, 2018 Updated: December 5, 2018


There is a simple three-word phrase used by aviators when handing over control of the aircraft to a fellow aviator: “You have it.” The pilot relinquishing control to the new pilot in command may accentuate the brief ceremony by symbolically taking his or her hands off the yoke and raising them in the air. The message is plain: “I’m no longer in charge—you are.”

As U.S. demographics shift, we seem to be heading toward a national “you have it” sort of moment, at least in terms of appearances. But does it matter? I wonder …

If we’re sure that identity matters most of all, then radical change is coming to our shores as the white, male middle class—of which I am a part—slides into minority status. Many Americans, of differing political persuasions, believe that white males have effectively formed a ruling class from the inception of our nation to the present. Some believe this ruling class has consistently and purposely exploited their fellow citizens. For these people, change is long overdue and there will be a reckoning when the country says hello to the new boss.

Others believe that this so-called ruling class has done the nation, and the world, far more good than it has caused harm. Some who hold this position tremble in fear of what might happen when the next wave of leaders take control.

There is an alternative to these two extremes, one that often gets lost among the political sniping and bickering that dominates so much of the news cycle. That alternative position is simply this: America isn’t and hasn’t been defined by white, male leadership. America is, has been, and hopefully always will be, defined by ideas.

America isn’t about a patriarchy, Caucasian or otherwise. It’s about the strength of ideas and how ideas flourish in a free society to everyone’s benefit. Not just in America, but everywhere.

Consider the following comparisons. The GDP per capita in South Korea is $39,500, according to the CIA World Factbook, while the GDP per capita in North Korea is $1,700. The GDP per capita in Taiwan is $50,500, while the GDP per capita in the People’s Republic of China is $16,700. The GDP per capita in Venezuela is $12,500 (and dropping rapidly) while it’s $31,300 in Trinidad and Tobago.

Why should these comparisons be so stark? Why does half of the Korean Peninsula function like a well-oiled machine and the other half is the poster child for dysfunction? Why do the Chinese in exile on the island of Formosa thrive, while Chinese on the mainland struggle? Venezuela and Trinidad have access to the same kind of energy riches in the same part of the world, but one squanders that wealth while the other reaps its rewards.

The difference, in these examples and so many others like it, is that the nations that thrive are the nations where ideas—even ideas that threaten to shake up the status quo—are welcome. The nations that struggle are those nations where ideas are considered dangerous. That is a central, unalterable theme of history.


Personally, I don’t think we have anything to fear from neo-socialists such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. They are devoid of ideas. When you confront a modern true believer like Ocasio-Cortez with the sort of examples listed above, they inevitably respond with some version of “well, they don’t do it right.” That’s just wrong.

The problem with socialism isn’t that people don’t do it right, it’s that you can’t do it right. It’s an ideology that saps the soul and, more importantly, suppresses ideas and the risk-taking that is necessary to get the most out of ideas. It’s ironic that many socialists also use the term “progressive” to describe an ideology that does everything in its power to hamstring actual progress.

Many Americans, and young, starry-eyed progressive Americans in particular, are much too far removed from the reality of socialism to understand how much harm that system causes.

I can clearly recall visiting the shabby, dreary Poland—the land of my heritage—that existed before the communists were sent packing. The contrast between the vibrant Poland of today, with its booming economy, and the Poland of 30 years ago is striking. That change wasn’t about gender. It was not about skin color. It was about ordinary people free to exercise their talents and to innovate in a free market where the best ideas win.

So, as an old white man, born at the tail end of the baby-boom years, I’m more than comfortable taking my hands from the yoke and saying “you have it” to whomever next takes command. Sure, we might be in for a little turbulence, but the next generation of pilots will eventually figure it out and the colossal jetliner America will continue to soar.

There can be no other result, because, in the end, ideas always win.

Richard Trzupek is a chemist and environmental consultant as well as an analyst at The Heartland Institute. He is also the author of “Regulators Gone Wild: How the EPA Is Ruining American Industry.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.