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Why Is the American Dream in Jeopardy and How Can We Save It?

Companies like General Electric and Caterpillar might sound as American as apple pie, but like many other multinational firms, which employ a fifth of all American workers, they’re cutting back on their domestic workforces and increasing hiring overseas. That disturbing trend points to a serious problem in the United States: the Land of the Free is not the attractive place to do business that it once was.

Big government policies are setting us on a path away from a fundamental freedom we cherish—one the Founders strove to preserve. It’s the freedom to pursue the American dream—economic freedom—that, tragically, is in jeopardy.

When many folks think about freedom, the first thing that comes to mind is the freedom of speech and religion, the right to bear arms, to vote, or to have a trial by a jury of their peers. Though it isn’t enumerated in the Bill of Rights, economic freedom is just as important. In The Heritage Foundation’s “Understanding America” series, Kim R. Holmes, Ph.D. and Matthew Spalding, Ph.D. explain why it is so important:

America’s founders knew that liberty is about more than just securing political freedoms. True liberty requires economic freedom—the ability to profit from our own ideas and labor, to work, produce, consume, own, trade, and invest according to our own choices. Thomas Jefferson underscored that point when he observed that “a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement.”

The desire to control one’s freedom to pursue happiness was at the heart of the American Revolution. That freedom was in short supply as the colonies suffered under economic policies over which they had no say. That sentiment sounds familiar to many Americans today as they watch our government grow unchecked with trillion-dollar deficits and an entitlement crisis waiting to smother future generations. That frustration gave birth to the Tea Party movement and the conservative tidal wave in the November 2010 elections. Americans were right to be concerned.

Sadly, the United States is no longer economically “the Land of the Free.” According to The Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom, the United States ranks ninth internationally, behind such countries as Denmark, Canada, and first-place Hong Kong. And that’s all due to huge increases in government spending, which was supposed to combat unemployment and spur economic growth. But that growth hasn’t happened, and instead the American economy is handcuffed by taxes and regulations that have strangled creativity, productivity, and competition, all of which are at the core of economic freedom.

And now we’re seeing the results. As The Wall Street Journal reports, “companies cut their work forces in the U.S. by 2.9 million during the 2000s while increasing employment overseas by 2.4 million.” That’s in stark contrast from a decade ago, when for every job U.S. multinational companies created abroad, they created nearly two jobs here in America, according to economist Matthew Slaughter.

Though President Obama might pay lip service to Americans’ desire to rein in government, he’s late to the party. From Obamacare to a nearly trillion dollar stimulus bill, trillions in new debt, a $26.1 billion government union bailout, and more, President Obama and the previous Congress have given us plenty of reasons to question their commitment to reform government and restore economic freedom.

With the arrival of the Tea Party movement, the culture of Washington began to change, and the trending topic in D.C. became fiscal restraint, not government largesse. That’s good news for those who want to ensure that America remains the Land of the Free.

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