In Oklahoma, we’re an odd bunch. We’re known throughout the world as being the capital of Tornado Alley, we’re buckle of the Bible Belt, and we’re known as the home of many Native American tribes. Our state began with a land run, literally giving many people a shot at freedom of the type only the pilgrims got to experience, while still living in a thriving country with a growing infrastructure.
The dream of Oklahoma for the earliest settlers was one of life, liberty, and property. Coming to Oklahoma meant having a place to call your own, a place to grow and build a life on. But this bounty of land and opportunity brought with it responsibility and hardship. Oklahoma wasn’t just a vast thriving wilderness. Many areas were dry and barren, some were an outright wasteland. Everyone came here with a promise of a free frontier, but they all knew it came at a price.
From statehood, through the dust bowl, and up to WWII, the term “Okie” had perplexing place in the psyche of pop culture outside of Oklahoma. “Okies” were thought of as wanderers, poor, and perhaps gluttons for punishment. Oklahoman’s however, wore the term with pride, a term they came to associate with endurance, patience, and perseverance. During WWII, these “Okies” showed their patriotism, faithfully being one of the largest contributors to war bonds, year after year. Be it war, famine, drought, tornadoes, or any other challenge, they pulled together and survived.
In more recent years, however, our identity within the state has wavered. Our economy and government, though not small, is not as diverse as it could be. Unstable gas, oil, and agriculture markets have resulted in budget shortfalls within the government and have shaken the confidence of many Oklahoman’s.
Oklahoma’s economy is a strange one. In these times of political unrest and waning support of Oklahoma’s government, Oklahoma is, perplexingly, increasing taxes and government size. In a state known for gas, oil, farming, and other natural resources, government has become the single largest industry. According to the US Department of Commerce, Government currently contributes 15.9% to Oklahoma’s GDP, with Finance coming in 2nd at 13.8%, and Trade (3rd) at 11.7%. Although mining comes in 4th at 10.9%, agriculture comes in dead last at only 1.2%.
What does any of this have to do with freedom? Everything.
Government and finance, by their very nature both drain and contribute society. They are necessary, yet dangerous. Although the finance industry represents investment, it also represents risk: risk that the past decade has proven to often be underestimated. The debt and risk of the finance industry serves as a ball-and-chain, dragging our economy down when it can least afford it. Government, while ensuring and fostering opportunity, comes with a tax burden, waste, and the propensity for inefficiency. To put it simply, top-heavy government and high debt cause us to zig when we should be zagging.
Government often sets tax rates when industries can support them, but when times get rough, those same rates drive those industries out of the state. When government finally reacts, it often does so by subsidizing industries. These industries suddenly return to the state, taking full advantage of these subsidies, costing us even more. Consider the fact that high-level government is guided by politicians and lobbyists. The world is full of billionaires in their 20’s and we’re managing it with a room full of senior citizens using statistics gathered since the great depression. We work to turn our free time (freedom) into dollars, and give many of those dollars to a government that simply cannot respond efficiently to rapidly changing conditions. We’re using our freedom to protect government rather than the other way around.
Finance is a marketplace where people borrow from their future to fund speculations. When those speculations succeed, the market grows faster– but when the speculations fail (the housing crash of 2007), many industries can fail in a domino like effect. Worse still, the government often steps in to “help”, which, encourage further wild speculation in the future, and increase government debt. High debt loads limit freedoms that would otherwise exist. If you’re in debt up to your eyeballs in student loans, you may not be able to invest in a retirement fund. If while working on paying off one debt, you experience a health issue, you’ve reset your debt clock. Keep in mind, that all the while, the finance industry is chugging along, adding more and more to our economy every year, while Oklahoman’s sink further into debt.
Government and Finance are two enticing industries who wield massive power. They currently are in control of billions of dollars, and offer the allure of stability and prosperity. These dollars however, come on the backs of other Oklahoman’s. The average Oklahoma household brings in only $49,000 per year and must support 3 people. Imagine 1/3 to 1/2 of that going to fund government (at all levels). Now tack on debt. If you look at many households (and nearly all family farms) in Oklahoma, you’ll find that they’re trapped in paycheck-to-paycheck living, which is nothing more than living as an indentured servant to the banks and the government. To add insult to injury, this paycheck-to-paycheck mentality has become a recent trend in our own government, giving little comfort to those depending on government spending. As individuals and as a state, we’re one tragedy away from ruin.
Oklahoma has gone full circle. People came to this land exercise freedom with their own property and their own resources, but we’re gradually becoming a place where banks and governments circumvent much of that freedom. As conditions deteriorate, Oklahoman’s are stricken with Stockholm-syndrome: running to governments and banks for help instead of running from them. If you study the founders of this nation, they feared a few things: 1. a overpowering government, 2. large banks, and 3. standing armies in peacetime. You’ll notice that the numbers show that Oklahoma is driven by all 3 of these dangerous things, and they’re all growing every year. The founders valued Life, Liberty and Property (eventually renamed to “the pursuit of happiness”, but that’s another discussion). Oklahoma’s incarceration rates and civil asset forfeiture laws show how far these 3 value values have been debased.
Some of these things are a sign of the times. They’re national and international blights on freedom. Many of Oklahoma’s problems, however, are being exacerbated by our own state. For one reason or another, we’re growing government and viewing high debt as a necessity. We’re financing parks that sit empty. We’re voting in taxes to subsidize waste. We’re trading the invaluable blessings of freedom just to make our rent. We’ve become serfs. That’s simply not who we are.
We must return to our roots of the righteous struggle. We must work hard and sacrifice to buy back the freedom we’ve sold. Government size must be limited, taxes must be limited, and debt must be reduced. There is no shortcut, and there is no quick fix. Freedom, however, comes with blessings. These blessings are economical, personal, and even spiritual. Okies persevere when tornadoes, fires, and droughts ravage our land, and that Okie spirit can get us through these tough times, if we can again realize the value of freedom.