There is a very interesting article, published on Linkedin, by Ram Fish, Founder and CEO at 19Labs, who may not, at first glance, seem the sort of guy who might be a national strategic thinker, in which he suggests that “the biggest threat to the U.S. is actually from within. No, it’s not Trump. And it’s not a possible revolt after the elections (the anger is still not strong enough). It’s the underlying rift in the U.S. population. “We have underestimated the impact of globalization, underestimated how people adjust to transition in the economy, and if this is not addressed by the next administration, we will have people in the streets.” I have written about this in the past. I strongly believe that delivering on the Bill of Rights’ “inalienable right to pursue happiness” for all the population – not just some of it – is the biggest challenge of our generation. It was refreshing to hear it coming from the two experts in national security. It was interesting to hear them pointing out important structural challenges: unlike foreign policy and national security, domestic policy institutions are weaker and not as well coordinated, and the President is more dependent on Congress in his or her ability to act.“
He also notes that, “Technology Innovation as the U.S.’ biggest strategic asset. While our political system handicaps our ability to act globally or domestically, the reasons for this handicap are exactly why innovators are attracted to the U.S. At some point, if you “think differently” in business or technology, you are likely to do so politically, as well. And therefore a country that protects your right to do so becomes essential. For the U.S., embracing technology innovation as THE strategic asset means everything from immigration (welcoming entrepreneurs and talent) to lowering the costs of innovation (tax incentives a la Canada), spreading it around geographically, and challenging government agencies (FDA, DOT, FCC) to adopt, embrace and encourage technological innovation.“
Mr Fish concludes that: “Psychologists and social scientists will point out how much harder it is to let go of something once you acquire it, even if you don’t really need it. In the business world, we have seen many times how companies that rise to be leaders in an industry failed to realize that they became number one partially due to being in the right place at the right time, with their opponents making mistakes and squandering opportunities (Nokia, RIM are just a few names that come to mind). Rather than sticking to their core strength and DNA, these companies took desperate measures to maintain their leadership positions – and lost everything. We have also seen how Apple took a different route – and in 2012 decided to stick to its DNA as a premium, thought leader brand rather than try to maintain its smart-phone global market share dominance. There is a lot to be said for knowing what you are – and sticking to it … [and] … In the last hundred years, the “Land of the Free” DNA – combined with some luck and the unfortunate tragedies of other nations, led the U.S. to become the world’s leading superpower. But looking forward, our goal shouldn’t be to maintain dominance as the biggest or strongest – but rather to stay strong enough to keep on being the “shining city on a hill,” the one place on earth that delivers freedom and the opportunity to pursue happiness for all.“
So, the question is: is Apple the right model for US grand strategy? Should it stick to its core strengths, through thick and thin? Ram Fish defines those core strengths as its freedom. “The U.S. was formed,” he says, ““For the people. By the People. [With] the inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness.” – not established to be the top global superpower.“
He talks, a couple of times, about the “inalienable right” to the “pursuit of happiness.” It is important to understand that word, “happiness,” in the context in which it was written in the 1770s. Happiness did not, back then, mean having a date with Kim Kardashian, Gong Li or Scarlett Johansson; rather it meant being free to use your own skills and talents, as you saw fit, for your own best advantage .. without regard to your race, creed or station in life. The story of Dick Whittington and His Cat (he was Lord Mayor of London in the 14th century) did not appear until the 17th century and by the 18th century, in England, the notion that any man could be whatever his ability, brains and work ethic allowed was pretty well established and it travelled and grew in America. Perhaps the best example of what the pursuit of happiness really meant in the 1770s could be seen in a AUS Army recruiting slogan from the 1980s and ’90s: Be All That You Can Be …
… that’s what the enlightened rebels in America meant when they said “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” were inalienable rights. And that, I agree, is one of America’s core strengths. It, “the pursuit of happiness,” is first cousin to liberty, which is, in turn, a subset of English liberalism, which has its origins in the mists of time but became a force circa 1640 when the English parliament began to take direct action against a deeply conservative English king, thus paving the way for the notion that the people ruled while the sovereign reigns. It was during this tumultuous period that John Locke (1632 – 1704) lived and wrote and became the “father of liberalism.” The key events, of course, was in 1688: the Glorious Revolution, sometimes called the first American revolution because, in many respects, all the American colonists wanted was the same rights that Englishmen in England had enjoyed for nearly 100 years.
It was, and still is, the liberalism that John Locke pioneered and that John Stuart Mill solidified, 180 years later, that is America’s greatest strength ~ Canada’s, too, for that matter ~ and I agree with Ram Fish that it, a firm adherence to proper, classical, English liberal values (which, I hasted to point out are not the values of the Liberal Party of Canada) and institutions, is the core value of America, its greatest strength and should be the foundation of its grand strategy. Neither 19th century Britain nor 20th/21st century America were destined to become global superpowers. Each parlayed liberal values and institutions into global power: especially that notion that anyone can achieve anything, success is not foreordained by birth; that capitalism works and that money can be productive; and that free(er) trade brings peace and prosperity to many more people than it harms.
So, is Apple the right model?
I am not one of those who says that “government should be run like a business,” or that managing the nation is akin to managing one’s own home and family. The analogies are tempting but, ultimately, wrong. Politics and public policy are not the things that entrepreneurs and accountants do best, running a country is harder than running even the biggest business; nor are the principles and practices used by mom and dad, who manage a good, productive, financially sound home and family, necessarily well suited to running a country, or a province or even a town.
We Conservatives, need to stop worrying about what radicals and conservatives and other assorted absurdities in the Great Republic to the South are doing in 2016 … they will, either, pass through America’s political digestive track, bringing great relief in their wake, or they will bring America to a sad, sorry end. The former is something for which all, all over the world, must fervently hope; the latter something to be feared. We need to focus on finding and rebuilding the liberal road in Canada which, through some Conservative and some Liberal governments, brought Canada from a handful of fairly backward colonies to a strong, prosperous, respected nation …
… the best (and most liberal) prime ministers are few in number (and Borden, while a social liberal and a vigorous proponent of greater democracy was wrong on trade and reciprocity, as was Macdonald) but their impact was huge and enduring. Some were not popular, neither in their own time nor in the historical record, but popularity is a small thing when measured against national achievement and Macdonald, Laurier, Borden, St Laurent and Harper all took a country that was in some sort of social, economic or political trouble and left it a better, more united and stronger place.
Apple, with its focus on its own core strengths and values, is a good but only partial model. The best model for Canada, in the 21st century, was given to us 60 years ago when then External Affairs Minister Louis St Laurent enunciated a grand strategy that embraced national unity, economic growth and prosperity, innovation, research, free(er) trade and leadership amongst the middle powers in a dangerous, even deadly world. In order to provide good leadership to Canada and to allow Canada to help lead the world, Conservative leaders must, first, be good liberals, in the best and proper sense of that word, and that means always maintaining the quality of classical English liberalism, even against the quantitative appeal of every passing political fad. We must allow Canada and Canadians to “be all they can be,” to pursue “happiness” and success and prosperity for themselves, their families, their neighbours, their communities and their country.