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What Did TJ Mean By “Pursuit of Happiness,” Anyway?

Meditations on the pursuit of happiness while cleaning the chicken coop.

P.J. O’RourkeI was pursuing happiness the other day. Or I think so. I was shoveling shit. We keep chickens. Every spring and fall, the chicken coop in the barn must be cleaned.

Since we live in New Hampshire, where the temperate seasons last about eight weeks, the chickens spend a long and unhygienic winter. But please know that it is accepted chicken-keeping practice to let the chicken excrement accumulate during frigid weather, occasionally sprinkling it with cedar shavings. This renewable (I mean renewed every single damn day) bio-energy (otherwise known as fetid rot) helps keep the coop warm. If the chickens would prefer solar panels or wind-generated electricity, they haven’t said so.

We have only six chickens. I know you’re not wondering how much six chickens poop over the course of ten months. They poop an entire heaping, steaming tractor bucket’s worth. And this is not one of those toy lawn tractors. This is a big diesel farm tractor with a bucket large enough to fill with hard cider (after it’s been hosed out) and let a hundred farm hands pursue happiness by the Mason jarful until they pass out.

Alas I have just one farm hand, me. The missus and the kids pay intermittent lip service to living on a farm. (“The chicken coop stinks!”) But I’m the one who does the farming.

I purchased the farm 25 years ago, in pursuit of happiness. I’d give you a better reason if I could. But I’m an American. And we are, to my knowledge, the only nation that has hounding down joy written into our foundational documents. Declaration of Independence, second paragraph, first sentence —- we’re “endowed… with certain unalienable Rights… among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

I thought I’d be happy to have a farm. Wholesome outdoor living, fresh eggs, etc. Leaning on the shovel in the pen outside the chicken coop, I was wondering.

One thing about being up to your knees in crap, it’s not mentally taxing. It gives you leisure to think. Have we Americans let this “pursuit of happiness” thing get out of hand?

There’s the U.S. divorce rate to be considered. I speak from experience. Being up to your knees in crap literally is preferable to being up to your knees in crap metaphorically, let alone legally.

My present—and it is to be hoped permanent—wife is not off pursing a spouse more to her liking. Although she did hand me one of the dog towels to wrap myself in after insisting that I strip naked before entering the house that evening. But I take this as an act of love—for her clean kitchen floor.

I shoveled some more. And raked. And swept. Besides a tractor bucket of chicken shit, there was another tractor bucket of old hay from the laying boxes, soggy scattered chicken feed, stinking cedar chips, pen muck, and leftovers from the leftovers we leave for the chickens. (Rhode Island Reds will not eat melon rinds, banana peels, orange skins, pickles, or onions, F.Y.I.)

Are the Hangover movies parables about modern America’s pursuit of happiness? They seem to send a mixed message that I don’t find in The Declaration of Independence.

Yes, I would wake up with a hangover the next morning, after consulting Dr. Dewar’s about the pain in my lower back. But no face tattoo. Being up to your knees in crap literally is more comforting than being up to your knees in crap culturally.

And at least I wasn’t engaged in “adventure travel.” While I was shoveling shit, park rangers were searching on foot and by helicopter for four adventure travelers and two adventure guides who died falling off Mt. Rainier.

The Founding Fathers wouldn’t have understood adventure travel, not in a day when all travel was an adventure, and many travelers didn’t return. The Founding Fathers would not have included paying money to climb the icy north slope of Mt. Rainier as an example of an unalienable Right.

Nor do we have to go back to the Founding Fathers. My father would have been baffled. He’d had enough adventure in the Pacific in WWII.

My mother had had enough herself. She served in the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve as a control tower operator in Cherry Point, North Carolina. She probably saw more carnage on the runway than Dad did in New Guinea and the Philippines.

Pursuit of happiness at our house involved a highball for Dad and an Old Fashioned for Mom. Plus big, well-oiled holiday dinners where the aunts and uncles played penny-ante poker after the turkey had been consumed and the cousins punched each other in the back yard.

As venturesome as travel got for us was a rented cottage at the lake. Dad constantly cooked burgers and hotdogs on the grill so that, for us children, the entire day was spent waiting an hour before we could go swimming.

If, on our way to the lake, the car broke down in the middle of nowhere and Dad had to hike to a farmhouse to call AAA while Mom looked for someplace to picnic free of the stuff I was shoveling (cow version), then my parents would say, “Well, that was an adventure.”

We were a happy family. And, typing that, it occurs to me how rarely we hear modern Americans use the word happy without an odor of irony. (Having spent eight hours in a dirty chicken coop, don’t get me started on odors.) “One big happy family.” “I hope that made you happy.” “Happy now?” And George W. Bush’s 1998 presidential campaign use of Bobby McFerrin’s song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” made Mr. McFerrin otherwise.

My wife and I and our children are also a happy family. Pursuing that happiness magic, we gave in to the kids about going to the Magic Kingdom.

It’s easier to picture the Founding Fathers on Mt. Rainier than in Disney World (never mind that they dressed as outlandishly as any “Cast Member”). John Adams, in his Thoughts on Government, recommended laws against excessive displays of wealth. Our five four-day passes to the park cost $1500.

Adams wrote, “Whether our countrymen have wisdom and virtue enough to submit to [these laws], I know not; but the happiness of the people might be greatly promoted by them…Frugality is a great revenue, besides curing us of vanities, levities, and fopperies, which are the real antidotes to all great, manly, and warlike virtues.” To be fair, Disney World gives discounts to military personnel.

In the Magic Kingdom, our vanities, levities, and fopperies (mouse ears!) were tempered by much whining and some crying while we stood in long lines waiting, for our amusement, to be violently shaken on rides. After which there was nausea, most pronounced in me.

Lacking great, manly, warlike virtues about being violently shaken, I’d volunteered to take our youngest to the Mad Hatter’s spinning teacups. Perhaps it hadn’t been a good idea, the stiff Bloody Mary I’d felt I needed that morning to face so many people pursuing so much happiness in the broiling Florida sun.

Well before the spinning stopped I would have rather been shoveling shit. Not in hell, but in my own chicken coop, which does not cost $1500 to enter.

And, really, what are the pursuit-of-happiness alternatives for a man in his sixties who’s got the day off when it’s nice outside?

Drink? I’d get to that.

Work? I mean work that I’d get paid for? Even John Adams wouldn’t go so far. Adams was swanning around in Philadelphia while Jefferson was drafting The Declaration of Independence, no doubt giving Tom helpful hints about George III’s vanities, levities, and fopperies. Adams’s wife, Abigail, was running the farm back in Quincy, Mass.

And it was a real farm too, unlike my hobby farm consisting of the six chickens and some hay fields where I’m allowed to smoke huge, aromatic (compared to chicken shit) cigars while mowing on my tractor. Plus we have a whole bunch of trees. We are a “Certified Tree Farm.” The crop’s gotta come in, rain, shine, or freezing cold, no matter the hardship—once every 30 years.

Golf? I come home sweaty, exhausted, and full of irritation about the three sleeves of Titleists lost in the rough. Whereas cleaning the chicken coop, I come home sweaty, exhausted, and full of pride about a clean chicken coop fragrantly strewn with cedar chips, fresh hay in the laying boxes, new feed in the feeders, clean water in the watering cans, pen raked to Zen garden perfection, and a pile of dry sand where the chickens can perform their morning ablutions.

But, as I was thinking these thoughts, I was far from these deeds. I was still up to my knees in crap. A tractor bucket of hen refuse remained to be hauled away to the compost pile (i.e. mound of vicious slime that no one goes near except when I dump another bucket-load on top.)

Jefferson was one of the great minds of the 18th century, and, if Sally Hemings is anything to go by, no stranger to pursuing this and that. In The Declaration of Independence, couldn’t he have been more specific than “Pursuit of Happiness”?

Jefferson has confused the whole nation about what we’re supposed to chasing. Other than Sally Hemings. And she’s dead. Plus my wife would have a fit.

Or, I should say, Jefferson has confused the whole middle-aged and older part of the nation. We who are expecting, finally, to catch a little bit of what we’ve been chasing, whatever it is.

I haven’t witnessed much capture. Our farm is on a hill. The graying ladies and gentlemen in goofy shoes running uphill look like they’re about to apprehend what the Spartans did in goofy sandals running uphill to Thermopylae.

The over-the-hill (but not quite there yet!) cyclists look even grimmer, with a facial expression like the bike seat just went up their butt.

I paused in my shoveling and picked up the broom. I had to chase the chickens back into the coop and close the door so I could finish with the Augean Stables of the chicken pen. I swatted. They squawked and fluttered. This was fun—poultry polo.

Certainly it was more fun than yoga, which is, as far as I can tell, Kama Sutra for the lonely.

Or playing tennis. My wife is on a tennis team. Average age of women on the team: 50. Average attitude of women on the team to “playing” tennis: attitude of Bobby Knight to “playing” basketball.

I understand there are people my age snowboarding, surfboarding, wakeboarding. Waterboarding will probably be next. Often these people end up on a special kind of board with legs that fold out, a gurney.

Speaking of lost people my age, almost every time I go out to enlarge my carbon footprint with chainsaw and fireplace logs, I encounter wrinkled hikers who have no idea where they are.

I give them directions in practiced classic Yankee style, “Old skidder track’s grown in now. Can’t tell it from the rest of the woods. Follow that ‘till you get to the Johnson place. Burned down in 1956. Go straight through the swamp and you’ll be right there at the power lines.”

Chainsaw noise seems to attract the hikers—the first sound of civilization they’ve heard in hours, other than each other bitching. I don’t hear much bitching on the farm. In fact, what with the effects of chainsaw noise, tractor, hay mower racket, and shooting skeet in the upper field, I don’t hear much at all.

A farm comes with all sorts of things to add a little frisson to the pursuit of happiness, give it an edge. The edges of the chainsaw chains and the mower blades, obviously. The tractor is liable to tip over the edge of our hill. I have a Jeep that can tip over backwards. Then there’s the wedge on the hydraulic wood-splitter. And a sharp chicken beak is nothing to be trifled with either.

I suppose, if I wanted mild danger, I could have had it in the usual mid-life crisis way, buying a boat for about what the farm cost. I guess you can saw up a boat for fireplace logs, but then where would you keep the chickens?

This, however, was not getting their pen expurgated. I needed to do more heavy lifting. Such as thinking about Jefferson working on The Declaration of Independence. He had only 17 days to write the most important political document since the Magna Carta, and he had to write it in his spare time due to a busy day job as member of the Continental Congress.

In his “unalienable Rights” passage, Jefferson was openly cribbing from John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, published in 1689. But Locke’s phrase was “life, liberty, and estate,” meaning property.

What made Jefferson go off script? Professor Forrest McDonald, in his magisterial book Novus Ordo Seclorum—The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution (tree farming gives you a lot of time to read), argues that Jefferson may have gotten the alternative wording from British jurist and proponent of natural law, William Blackstone. Or from John Adams, who was hovering over his shoulder and was big on property if not the vanities and levities of showing off about it. Or, says McDonald, Jefferson may have been expressing an “Aristotelian idea.”

I doubt it. I don’t think Alexander the Great’s tutor kept chickens. Socrates, yes. His last words were, “Crito, we owe a rooster to Asclepius.” Aristotle, no.

Maybe Jefferson simply spotted a flaw in Locke’s logic. If “life, liberty, and property” are “unalienable Rights” then property can’t be alienated. That is, property can’t be separated from an individual. You can’t buy the farm, the way I did. And you can’t sell the farm, the way I may have to if the kids get into a decent college.

So Jefferson, going “Life, Liberty, and… and…” pulled “Pursuit of Happiness” out of his wig. To give a modern reading: “Life, Liberty, and WTF.”

The second tractor bucket of WTF was full at last. I departed for the compost heap happy that I was almost done cleaning the chicken coop. Also happy to get some fresh air (and a huge, aromatic cigar at a safe distance from the barn). And happy with the notion that the meaning of “happiness” has shifted since 1776.

The word did not then have the connotation of “jumping up and down with joy” (even on the bed with Sally Hemings) and certainly not the connotation of “jumping up and down with ironic joy” (Brooklyn vintage clothing store snap-brim fedora find).

Jefferson was familiar with Dr. Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language (farming with slaves gives you a lot of time to read). Dr. Johnson defined happiness as “state in which the desires are satisfied.” (Okay, okay, jumping up and down on the bed with Sally Hemings after all.)

But Jefferson was also familiar with Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Man. This is cited by The Oxford English Dictionary in its slightly archaic definition 2 of happiness: “The state of pleasurable content of mind, which results from success or the attainment of what is considered good.” For the chickens.


Life Lessons From Navy SEAL Training


The following is adapted from the commencement address by Adm. William H. McRaven, ninth commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, at the University of Texas at Austin on May 17.

The University of Texas slogan is “What starts here changes the world.”

I have to admit—I kinda like it.

“What starts here changes the world.”

Tonight there are almost 8,000 students graduating from UT.

That great paragon of analytical rigor, Ask.Com, says that the average American will meet 10,000 people in their lifetime.

That’s a lot of folks. But if every one of you changed the lives of just 10 people, and each one of those folks changed the lives of another 10 people—just 10—then in five generations, 125 years, the class of 2014 will have changed the lives of 800 million people.

Eight-hundred million people—think of it: over twice the population of the United States. Go one more generation and you can change the entire population of the world—eight billion people.

If you think it’s hard to change the lives of 10 people, change their lives forever, you’re wrong.

I saw it happen every day in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A young Army officer makes a decision to go left instead of right down a road in Baghdad and the 10 soldiers with him are saved from close-in ambush.

In Kandahar province, Afghanistan, a noncommissioned officer from the Female Engagement Team senses something isn’t right and directs the infantry platoon away from a 500-pound IED, saving the lives of a dozen soldiers.

But, if you think about it, not only were these soldiers saved by the decisions of one person, but their children yet unborn were also saved. And their children’s children were saved.

Generations were saved by one decision, by one person.

But changing the world can happen anywhere and anyone can do it.

So, what starts here can indeed change the world, but the question is: What will the world look like after you change it?

Well, I am confident that it will look much, much better, but if you will humor this old sailor for just a moment, I have a few suggestions that may help you on your way to a better a world.

And while these lessons were learned during my time in the military, I can assure you that it matters not whether you ever served a day in uniform. It matters not your gender, your ethnic or religious background, your orientation, or your social status. Our struggles in this world are similar and the lessons to overcome those struggles and to move forward—changing ourselves and the world around us—will apply equally to all.

I have been a Navy SEAL for 36 years. But it all began when I left UT for Basic SEAL training in Coronado, Calif.

Basic SEAL training is six months of long, torturous runs in the soft sand, midnight swims in the cold water off San Diego, obstacle courses, unending calisthenics, days without sleep and always being cold, wet and miserable.

It is six months of being constantly harassed by professionally trained warriors who seek to find the weak of mind and body and eliminate them from ever becoming a Navy SEAL.

But, the training also seeks to find those students who can lead in an environment of constant stress, chaos, failure and hardships. To me basic SEAL training was a lifetime of challenges crammed into six months.

So, here are lessons I learned from basic SEAL training that hopefully will be of value to you as you move forward in life.

1. Every morning in basic SEAL training, my instructors, who at the time were all Vietnam veterans, would show up in my barracks room and the first thing they would inspect was your bed. If you did it right, the corners would be square, the covers pulled tight, the pillow centered just under the headboard and the extra blanket folded neatly at the foot of the rack—that’s Navy talk for bed.

It was a simple task, mundane at best. But every morning we were required to make our bed to perfection. It seemed a little ridiculous at the time, particularly in light of the fact that were aspiring to be real warriors, tough battle hardened SEALs, but the wisdom of this simple act has been proven to me many times over.

If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter.

If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.

And if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made—and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.

If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.

2. During SEAL training the students are broken down into boat crews. Each crew is seven students—three on each side of a small rubber boat and one coxswain to help guide the dingy. Every day, your boat crew forms up on the beach and is instructed to get through the surfzone and paddle several miles down the coast.

In the winter, the surf off San Diego can get to be 8 to 10 feet high and it is exceedingly difficult to paddle through the plunging surf unless everyone digs in. Every paddle must be synchronized to the stroke count of the coxswain. Everyone must exert equal effort or the boat will turn against the wave and be unceremoniously tossed back on the beach.

For the boat to make it to its destination, everyone must paddle.

You can’t change the world alone—you will need some help—and to truly get from your starting point to your destination takes friends, colleagues, the goodwill of strangers and a strong coxswain to guide them.

If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle.

3. Over a few weeks of difficult training my SEAL class, which started with 150 men, was down to just 42. There were now six boat crews of seven men each.

I was in the boat with the tall guys, but the best boat crew we had was made up of the little guys—the munchkin crew we called them. No one was over about 5-foot-5.

The munchkin boat crew had one American Indian, one African-American, one Polish-American, one Greek-American, one Italian-American and two tough kids from the Midwest.

They out-paddled, out-ran and out-swam all the other boat crews.

The big men in the other boat crews would always make good-natured fun of the tiny little flippers the munchkins put on their tiny little feet prior to every swim. But somehow these little guys, from every corner of the nation and the world, always had the last laugh—swimming faster than everyone and reaching the shore long before the rest of us.

SEAL training was a great equalizer. Nothing mattered but your will to succeed. Not your color, not your ethnic background, not your education and not your social status.

If you want to change the world, measure people by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers.

4. Several times a week, the instructors would line up the class and do a uniform inspection. It was exceptionally thorough. Your hat had to be perfectly starched, your uniform immaculately pressed and your belt buckle shiny and void of any smudges.

But it seemed that no matter how much effort you put into starching your hat, or pressing your uniform or polishing your belt buckle, it just wasn’t good enough. The instructors would find “something” wrong.

For failing the uniform inspection, the student had to run, fully clothed, into the surfzone and then, wet from head to toe, roll around on the beach until every part of your body was covered with sand. The effect was known as a “sugar cookie.” You stayed in that uniform the rest of the day—cold, wet and sandy.

There were many students who just couldn’t accept the fact that all their effort was in vain. That no matter how hard they tried to get the uniform right, it was unappreciated.

Those students didn’t make it through training. Those students didn’t understand the purpose of the drill. You were never going to succeed. You were never going to have a perfect uniform.

Sometimes, no matter how well you prepare or how well you perform, you still end up as a sugar cookie. It’s just the way life is sometimes.

If you want to change the world, get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.

5. Every day during training you were challenged with multiple physical events. Long runs, long swims, obstacle courses, hours of calisthenics—something designed to test your mettle.

Every event had standards, times that you had to meet. If you failed to meet those standards, your name was posted on a list and at the end of the day those on the list were invited to a “circus.”

A circus was two hours of additional calisthenics designed to wear you down, to break your spirit, to force you to quit. No one wanted a circus. A circus meant that for that day you didn’t measure up. A circus meant more fatigue, and more fatigue meant that the following day would be more difficult—and more circuses were likely.

But at some time during SEAL training, everyone—everyone—made the circus list. Yet an interesting thing happened to those who were constantly on the list. Over time those students, who did two hours of extra calisthenics, got stronger and stronger. The pain of the circuses built inner strength—built physical resiliency.

Life is filled with circuses. You will fail. You will likely fail often. It will be painful. It will be discouraging. At times it will test you to your very core.

But if you want to change the world, don’t be afraid of the circuses.

6. At least twice a week, the trainees were required to run the obstacle course. The obstacle course contained 25 obstacles including a 10-foot-high wall, a 30-foot cargo net and a barbed-wire crawl, to name a few.

But the most challenging obstacle was the slide for life. It had a three-level, 30-foot tower at one end and a one-level tower at the other. In between was a 200-foot-long rope.

You had to climb the three-tiered tower and, once at the top, you grabbed the rope, swung underneath the rope and pulled yourself hand over hand until you got to the other end.

The record for the obstacle course had stood for years when my class began training in 1977. The record seemed unbeatable until one day a student decided to go down the slide for life—head-first. Instead of swinging his body underneath the rope and inching his way down, he bravely mounted the top of the rope and thrust himself forward.

It was a dangerous move—seemingly foolish, and fraught with risk. Failure could mean injury and being dropped from the training. Without hesitation, the student slid down the rope, perilously fast. Instead of several minutes, it only took him half that time and by the end of the course he had broken the record.

If you want to change the world sometimes you have to slide down the obstacle head-first.

7. During the land-warfare phase of training, the students are flown out to San Clemente Island near San Diego. The waters off San Clemente are a breeding ground for great white sharks. To pass SEAL training, there are a series of long swims that must be completed. One is the night swim.

Before the swim, the instructors joyfully brief the trainees on all the species of sharks that inhabit the waters off San Clemente. The instructors assure you, however, that no student has ever been eaten by a shark—at least not recently.

But, you are also taught that if a shark begins to circle your position, stand your ground. Do not swim away. Do not act afraid. And if the shark, hungry for a midnight snack, darts towards you, then summon up all your strength and punch him in the snout and he will turn and swim away.

There are a lot of sharks in the world. If you hope to complete the swim you will have to deal with them.

So, if you want to change the world, don’t back down from the sharks.

8. As Navy SEALs, one of our jobs is to conduct underwater attacks against enemy shipping. We practiced this technique extensively during basic training. The ship-attack mission is where a pair of SEAL divers is dropped off outside an enemy harbor and then swims well over 2 miles—underwater—using nothing but a depth gauge and a compass to get to their target.

During the entire swim, even well below the surface, there is some light that comes through. It is comforting to know that there is open water above you. But as you approach the ship, which is tied to a pier, the light begins to fade. The steel structure of the ship blocks the moonlight, it blocks the surrounding street lamps, it blocks all ambient light.

To be successful in your mission, you have to swim under the ship and find the keel—the centerline and the deepest part of the ship. This is your objective. But the keel is also the darkest part of the ship, where you cannot see your hand in front of your face, where the noise from the ship’s machinery is deafening and where it is easy to get disoriented and fail.

Every SEAL knows that under the keel, at the darkest moment of the mission, is the time when you must be calm, composed—when all your tactical skills, your physical power and all your inner strength must be brought to bear.

If you want to change the world, you must be your very best in the darkest moment.

9. The ninth week of SEAL training is referred to as Hell Week. It is six days of no sleep, constant physical and mental harassment and one special day at the Mud Flats. The Mud Flats are an area between San Diego and Tijuana where the water runs off and creates the Tijuana slues—a swampy patch of terrain where the mud will engulf you.

It is on Wednesday of Hell Week that you paddle down to the mud flats and spend the next 15 hours trying to survive the freezing-cold mud, the howling wind and the incessant pressure from the instructors to quit.

As the sun began to set that Wednesday evening, my training class, having committed some “egregious infraction of the rules” was ordered into the mud. The mud consumed each man till there was nothing visible but our heads. The instructors told us we could leave the mud if only five men would quit—just five men and we could get out of the oppressive cold.

Looking around the mud flat, it was apparent that some students were about to give up. It was still over eight hours till the sun came up—eight more hours of bone-chilling cold. The chattering teeth and shivering moans of the trainees were so loud it was hard to hear anything. And then, one voice began to echo through the night—one voice raised in song.

The song was terribly out of tune, but sung with great enthusiasm. One voice became two, and two became three, and before long everyone in the class was singing.

We knew that if one man could rise above the misery then others could as well. The instructors threatened us with more time in the mud if we kept up the singing—but the singing persisted. And somehow, the mud seemed a little warmer, the wind a little tamer and the dawn not so far away.

If I have learned anything in my time traveling the world, it is the power of hope. The power of one person—Washington, Lincoln, King, Mandela and even a young girl from Pakistan named Malala—can change the world by giving people hope.

So, if you want to change the world, start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.

10. Finally, in SEAL training there is a bell. A brass bell that hangs in the center of the compound for all the students to see.

All you have to do to quit is ring the bell. Ring the bell and you no longer have to wake up at 5 o’clock. Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the freezing cold swims. Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the runs, the obstacle course, the PT—and you no longer have to endure the hardships of training. Just ring the bell.

If you want to change the world don’t ever, ever ring the bell.

To the graduating class of 2014, you are moments away from graduating. Moments away from beginning your journey through life. Moments away from starting to change the world—for the better.

It will not be easy.

But start each day with a task completed. Find someone to help you through life. Respect everyone. Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often, but if you take some risks, step up when the times are toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden and never, ever give up—if you do these things, then the next generation and the generations that follow will live in a world far better than the one we have today. And what started here will indeed have changed the world, for the better.

Thank you very much. Hook ’em horns.

What ‘Hard Work U’ Can Teach Elite Schools

‘We don’t do debt here,’ says College of the Ozarks President Jerry C. Davis.

Point Lookout, Mo.

Looking for the biggest bargain in higher education? I think I found it in this rural Missouri town, 40 miles south of Springfield, nestled in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. The school is College of the Ozarks, and it operates on an education model that could overturn the perverse method of financing college education that is turning this generation of young adults into a permanent debtor class.

At this college the tuition is nowhere near the $150,000 to $200,000 for a four-year degree that the elite top-tier universities are charging. At College of the Ozarks, tuition is free. That’s right. The school’s nearly 1,400 students don’t pay a dime in tuition during their time there.

So what’s the catch? All the college’s students—without exception—pay for their education by working 15 hours a week on campus. The jobs are plentiful because this school—just a few miles from Branson, a popular tourist destination—operates its own mill, a power plant, fire station, four-star restaurant and lodge, museum and dairy farm.

Some students from low-income homes also spend 12 weeks of summer on campus working to cover their room and board. Part of the students’ grade point average is determined by how they do on the job and those who shirk their work duties are tossed out. The jobs range from campus security to cooking and cleaning hotel rooms, tending the hundreds of cattle, building new dorms and buildings, to operating the power plant.

A College of the Ozarks student hard at work. Tommy Thompson

The college was founded in 1906 as the “School of the Ozarks” atop local Mount Huggins, named for brothers Louis and William Huggins from St. Joseph, Mo., who gave the school its first endowment. From the start, the school was run on the same work-for-education principle as it is today.

Just over 40 years ago, this newspaper made College of the Ozarks famous with a 1973 front-page story that nicknamed the school “Hard Work U.” In 1988, when he became the school’s president, Jerry C. Davis, started plastering the moniker “Hard Work U” on nearly every structure and piece of promotional material printed at the college. “We saw this as a huge marketing coup because it sets us apart from nearly every other school in the country,” explains the colorful Mr. Davis, who in 26 years as head of the school has brought to campus such luminaries as President George W. BushMargaret Thatcher, Tom Brokaw and Norman Schwarzkopf.

“We don’t do debt here,” Mr. Davis says. “The kids graduate debt free and the school is debt free too.” Operating expenses are paid out of a $400 million endowment. Seeing the success of College of the Ozarks, one wonders why presidents of schools with far bigger endowments don’t use them to make their colleges more affordable. This is one of the great derelictions of duty of college trustees as they allow universities to become massive storehouses of wealth as tuitions rise year after year.

In an era when patriotism on progressive college campuses is uncool or even denigrated as endorsing American imperialism, College of the Ozarks actually offers what it calls a “patriotic education.” “There’s value in teaching kids about the sacrifices previous generations have made,” Mr. Davis says. “Kids should know there are things worth fighting for.”

He says a dozen or so students will be taking a pilgrimage to Normandy in June to commemorate the 70-year anniversary of D-Day and the former College of the Ozarks students buried there. Amazingly, four of the school’s graduates served as generals in the U.S. military during the Vietnam War.

The emphasis on work in exchange for learning doesn’t mean the classroom experience is second rate. The college has a renowned nursing program, business school and agriculture program. As one who has lectured at many universities, I can attest that the many students I met on the campus are refreshingly respectful, inquisitive and grateful for the opportunity to learn.

These aren’t the highest academic status kids (the average ACT score is 21), but there is an unmistakable quest to succeed. To gain admittance, each student must demonstrate “financial need, academic ability, sound character, and a willingness to work.” Elizabeth Hughes, the public-relations director, says: “We don’t have a lot of rich kids . . . they have plenty of other schools they can choose from.”

That doesn’t mean the school is not in high demand. Unlike many small liberal-arts schools that are suffering a steep decline in applications, last year College of the Ozarks had 4,000 applicants for about 400 freshman slots, which makes this remote little school among the nation’s most selective.

All of this raises the question: To bring down tuition costs elsewhere, is it so unthinkable that college students be required to engage in an occasional honest day’s work? Many of the privileged class of kids who attend Dartmouth or Stanford or Wesleyan would no doubt call it a violation of their human rights. Others are too busy holding rallies for unisex bathrooms, reparations for slavery and an end to fossil fuels to work while in school. As the humorist P.J. O’Rourke once wrote: “Everyone wants to save the world, but no one wants to do the dishes.”

At Hard Work U, the kids actually do the dishes and much more while working their way through a four-year degree. Nearly 90% of graduates land jobs—an impressive figure, given the economy’s slow-motion recovery.

“If I were an employer, I’d take our graduates over those at most any other schools,” says Mr. Davis. “The kids at these East Coast colleges strike me as being a little spoiled. Our graduates don’t expect to come into the company as the CEO.” But they certainly join a company knowing the value of work.

Mr. Moore is chief economist at the Heritage Foundation.

Productivity and the Ice Man: Understanding Outsourcing

May 26, 2004

Hysteria about job losses caused by overseas outsourcing ignores a crucial fact: Americans lose jobs primarily because people develop innovative ways to do things faster, better, and cheaper. In other words, human creativity is a double-edged sword, bringing productivity improvements and, very often, widespread job loss. The good news is that the net result is not fewer jobs, but more jobs—and more productive ones.

Since most job losses are a consequence of men and women cultivating Creation, we should never be surprised to hear that companies are downsizing. Neither should we dismiss the indisputable financial and emotional toll that a mass layoff or shuttered factory can cause individuals. But to really understand what’s going on we need to look at the economic fundamentals. Was the layoff caused by the introduction of a more productive technology, a smarter way to manufacture, or a shift in consumer preferences?

While the outsourcing issue has generated headlines, it is not the chief cause of job losses. Of the 2.7 million jobs lost over the past three years, only 300,000 have resulted from outsourcing, according to Forrester Research Inc., a technology research firm.Business Week Magazine reports that one percentage point of productivity growth can eliminate up to 1.3 million jobs a year.

Automation, a traditional means of boosting productivity, continues to eliminate jobs right before our eyes. The sectors most affected by automation include construction, manufacturing, retail and wholesale trade, transportation, information, and food services. Airlines have reduced the number of ticket agents because of airport kiosks, online ticket purchases, and online check-in. Grocery store clerks are on the decline with the onset of automated check-out counters.

This is nothing new. As the United States industrialized, the life cycle of entire industries was radically shortened. On July 6, 1858, for example, Lyman Blake patented a shoe-manufacturing machine. As these machines were popularized, the need for hand-made shoes quickly disappeared — and so did related jobs. The horse and buggy industry took a hit in major cities when the first cable car, patented on January 17, 1871, by Andrew S. Hallidie, began service a couple years later. The buggy business took a death-blow when Henry Ford introduced the Model T in 1908 and then installed moving assembly lines in his factory shortly afterward. This development did not portend inevitable unemployment for the thousands of worker who might otherwise have been employed making horse carriages. Instead, it spawned new industries (many carriage companies flourished as makers of vehicle bodies) and made human transportation exponentially more efficient.

The invention of Freon in 1928 and the introduction of electric refrigerators devastated the ice industry. Until this point, ice was taken from the rivers and ponds, cut into blocks and delivered to insulated storage buildings for summer use. Ice wagons, first on steel wheels and later on rubber tires, carried ice to customers’ homes. Because a 25-pound block of ice lasted only a few days, icemen kept busy making deliveries two or three times per week. These routes were so well traveled that new deliverymen in some cases simply gave free rein to the old iceman’s horse, which was familiar with all the stops. General Motors’ Frigidaire “electric ice box” wiped out a whole set of occupations, including ice box manufacturers, ice gatherers, and the manufacturers of the tools and equipment needed to handle large blocks of ice. Who today would want to replace their frost free refrigerator-freezer with an ice box?

In the auto industry, General Motors today uses approximately 25,000 robots for tasks that people used to do including spot welding, painting, machine loading, parts transfer, and assembly. Robots have replaced people in electronic assembly, mounting microchips on circuit boards. Many of the jobs replaced were dangerous, dirty and tedious. Overall, North American manufacturing companies ordered 19 percent more robots from North American robotics suppliers in 2003 than in 2002 according to new figures released by Robotic Industries Association (RIA), an industry trade group. RIA estimates that some 135,000 robots are now being used in U.S. factories to do jobs faster, better, and cheaper than humans ever could. And robots need to be manufactured, sold, installed, delivered, maintained, repaired, and improved.

During technological transitions, the difficult task is providing the education and training necessary to help people use their gifts and skills in new industries. This raises important questions about the role of education and whether or not limiting students to learning only one skill or trade will help them in the long run. Quality education programs will focus on training students in such a way that transitions into new emerging industries will be less costly.

Technological advances must always occur within a sound moral framework. If consistent with genuine human flourishing, advances should be embraced as a product of human creativity rather than feared as a source of human suffering. Using other countries’ workers as scapegoats for the fallout from technological change sabotages our preparedness for such change. This type of sabotage leads to misguided policies that impede productivity improvements and innovations—which are the very things that make our lives more comfortable, safer, and healthier.

The Charter School Performance Breakout

Many have been puzzled by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio‘s skepticism toward charter schools, his calls for ending space-sharing and charging them rent, and his $210 million cut of a construction fund important to the schools. Education reformers are also anxious about the failure of President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan to defend charter schools in the face of these prominent reversals of New York City policy. Is this just about teacher-union politics, or are there perhaps legitimate performance reasons for tapping the brakes on charter schools in public education today?

The first thing to remember about charter schools is how recent an invention they are. Born in the 1990s, it wasn’t until 2006 that total enrollment reached a million children—out of 55 million pupils in the country. More than half of the charters in New York City are less than five years old.

Students enter the Success Academy and Opportunity Charity schools, both of which share space inside Harlem’s P.S. 241, in New York.Associated Press

With huge waiting lists for every available seat, though, charters are now beginning to mushroom. Well before Mr. de Blasio faces re-election in 2017, charters will educate 10% of New York City’s public-school students, and they already enroll a quarter of all pupils in some of the city’s poorest districts. Nationwide, charter schools will enroll five million by the end of this decade.

But do they get results? Initial assessments were mixed. In the early days, charter authorizing was very loose, nobody knew what worked best, and lots of weak schools were launched. The system has since tightened. In Washington, D.C., for instance, seven out of nine requests to open new charters are now turned down, and 41 charters have been closed for failing to produce good results.

Nationwide, 561 new charter schools opened last year, while 206 laggards were closed. Unlike conventional public schools, the charter system allows poorly performing schools to be squeezed out.

As charter operators have figured out how to succeed with children, they are doubling down on the best models. Successful charter schools have many distinctive features: longer school days and longer years, more flexibility and accountability for teachers and principals, higher expectations for students, more discipline and structure, more curricular innovation, more rigorous testing. Most charter growth today is coming from replication of the best schools. The rate of enrollment increase at high-performing networks is now 10 times what it is at single-campus “mom and pop” academies.

The combination of weak charters closing and strong charters replicating is having powerful effects. The first major assessment of charter schools by Stanford’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes found their results to be extremely variable, and overall no better than conventional schools as of 2009. Its follow-up study several years later found that steady closures and their replacement by proven models had pushed charters ahead of conventional schools. In New York City, the average charter-school student now absorbs five months of extra learning a year in math, and one extra month in reading, compared with counterparts in conventional schools.

Other reviews show similar results, and performance advantages will accelerate in the near future. Charter schools tend to start small and then add one additional grade each year. Thus many charters in New York and elsewhere are just getting started with many children. As the schools mature, and weak performers continue to be replaced, charters will become even more effective.

But the results top charter schools are achieving are already striking. At KIPP, the largest chain of charters, 86% of all students are low-income, and 95% are African-American or Latino, yet 83% go to college. In New York City, one of the academies Mr. de Blasio has denied additional space to is Harlem’s highest-performing middle school, with its 97% minority fifth-graders ranking No. 1 in the state in math achievement. It and the 21 other schools in its charter network have passing rates on state math and reading tests more than twice the citywide average.

Judged by how far they move students from where they start, New York charter schools like Success Academies, Uncommon Schools, Democracy Prep and Achievement First—and others like them across the country—are now the highest-achieving schools in America. The oft-heard claim that charters perform no better than conventional schools on the whole is out of date and inaccurate.

Remarkably, charters do all this on the cheap. In a city where conventional public schools spend $19,770 per student, the New York City Department of Education funded its public charter schools at only $13,527 per pupil in the latest year. That’s right around the average disparity nationwide, where urban charter schools get 72% of what conventional public schools receive for each child enrolled.

When the next school year starts this fall, there will be nearly 7,000 charter schools in America, with the growth curve pointing sharply upward. Historians who look back at our era may describe charter schools as the most consequential social invention of this generation, with potent effects on economic mobility.

And chartering represents one of the great self-organizing movements of our age. It rose up in the face of strong resistance from the educational establishment. It has been powered by independent social entrepreneurs and local philanthropists. It is a response by men and women who refused to accept heartbreaking educational failures that the responsible government institutions showed no capacity to solve on their own.

Mr. Zinsmeister is the author of “From Promising to Proven: A Wise Giver’s Guide to Expanding on the Success of Charter Schools,” just published by The Philanthropy Roundtable.

Tattooing Justin Bieber’s Heart

Anthony Bradley
by  on WEDNESDAY, MARCH 5, 2014


Justin Bieber is no different than many 20-year-olds in the US and Canada. He is naturally searching for identity, meaning, and purpose — and searching for a community with whom to pursue those things. This is a normal process of transitioning from the teenage years into adulthood. Beiber, like many 20-year-olds, has shown a lack of judgement at times that has landed him not only in the news but also in jail. Many of us have remember our own antics in those years and breathe a sigh of relief that we were never caught.

January 23, 2014 was one of those nights for Bieber. He was taken into custody with singer Khalil Amir Sharieff after police busted an illegal street drag race involving exotic cars, according to news sources. The Miami Police are now releasing photos from the custody intake process that put on displaying Bieber’s many tattoos. What I find interesting is that Bieber not only has a tattoo of Psalm 119:105 and but also one of Jesus. It made me wonder what Bieber’s life would like look if these things were tattooed not only on his skin but also on his heart.

It would be great to have an opportunity to ask Bieber what Jesus and Psalm 119 mean to him with no cameras, no media, no “selfies,” and the like–just to have an honest conversation about how he believes Jesus and Psalm 119 provide direction in his life. According to the Christian Post, Bieber recently tried to get baptized in an evangelical Protestant church.

Justin Bieber, seen recently in an X-rated photo with an adult dancer, reportedly scoured New York City over the weekend for a private pool where he could be baptized through Hillsong NYC church, led by his close friend Pastor Carl Lentz.

“Justin and his team spent time on Saturday searching for a place with a pool where they could conduct a baptism for him, a cleansing ritual, with the Hillsong Church. But they couldn’t find a place in time,” one person, among “multiple sources,” told the New York Post’s Page Six.

Bieber seems to be clearly searching for something deeper in his life but maybe what he really needs is not simply the occasional drop-in on a church comprised of and led by his peers. Maybe the wrestling with his past? Maybe he wants to be free? What Bieber needs, then, is spiritual direction from a sage. A Gandalf or Yoda figure. Someone who is 2 or 3 times his age and has the life skills and wisdom to help Bieber ink those texts and images on his body onto his heart and soul. Spiritual direction from a sage, a spiritual father or grandfather, with whom Bieber can consult confidentially, outside the eyes of social media, to provide him encouragement, correction, and vision.

In the coming years, Bieber will need to figure out something to do with his massive international influence and wealth as he ages and transitions into someone who spent years building an audience to now having some responsibility to properly steward his influence. If Bieber’s future in one that is characterized by the drive to love God and love neighbor(Matt 22:36-40), and driven to publicly promoted and advance moral virtue (Phil 4:8), instead of citiesprotesting him taking up residence they would welcome him with open arms.

What Would Lincoln Do?

Modern-day leaders could learn a lot from our 16th president

Abraham Lincoln, whose birthday we mark this holiday weekend, had less leadership experience than almost any earlier president. George Washington and Andrew Jackson had been generals, several other presidents had been governors, and all the Southerners had owned plantations. They had run organizations and managed men. President Lincoln, by contrast, was a former state legislator, a one-term congressman and the senior partner of a two-man law firm; he kept his most important papers filed away in his hat.

And yet Lincoln filled the office of president so effectively that he regularly tops historians’ rankings of great presidents.

It helped, of course, that he was one of the greatest writers in the American canon—certainly the greatest ever to reach the White House (Jefferson at his best could be equally good, but his range was narrower). Leaving aside such extraordinary talents, which of Lincoln’s principles of action can guide his successors?

Looking to the Past: An 1860 portrait by George Peter Alexander Healy. The Granger Collection

Cite precedent. Lincoln the lawyer was ever mindful of precedents, while Lincoln the unhappy son who never bonded with his hard-driving, un-bookish father was always looking for paternal surrogates. He found both precedents and men he could look up to in America’s founding fathers.

Lincoln’s mature career—from the repeal of the Missouri Compromise in 1854 until his death in 1865—was, among other things, a long effort to show that his positions on the issue of slavery were those of the founders. (Lincoln wanted slavery contained and ultimately extinguished; so, he said, did they.) He hammered away at this theme in his Peoria speech in 1854, the three-hour-long oration that first laid out his ideas; he returned to it repeatedly in his 1858 debates with the Illinois Democrat Stephen Douglas ; and he spent half the Cooper Union Address, his New York City command performance in 1860, showing that “our fathers, who framed the government under which we live,” agreed with him. “As those fathers marked [slavery], let it be again marked,” he said, “as an evil not to be extended.”

Lincoln wanted to wrap himself in the founders’ aura—gilt by association—and he believed that they had been right about human nature, liberty and equality. He wanted to be on their side, and he wanted them on his.

Make your case. The histories of kingdoms and empires are often court histories—who whispered what to whom. So, dismayingly, is much modern political reporting: Who got to the chief of staff? How did the senator learn about this? If Saint-Simon, the chronicler of the Sun King’s Versailles, were alive today, he would have a column or a talk show.

Lincoln could play inside baseball, making deals and manipulating colleagues, when he had to. But he understood that democracies are ultimately ruled not by such little maneuvers but by the people. “Public opinion in this country,” he said bluntly in 1859, “is everything.” That means that everything depends on wooing, shaping and educating public opinion. That, in turn, requires leaders to put themselves out there. It helps, of course, if their arguments are clear and their programs sensible. But even the most brilliant philosopher statesman has to make his case.

Humor helps. Lincoln had an immense stock of jokes and stories, some of them off-color. He often used them to distract people he knew he couldn’t immediately satisfy. Leonard Swett, one of his Illinois cronies, recalled him receiving visitors in Springfield, Illinois, after he had won the Republican nomination in 1860: “He told them all a story, said nothing, and sent them away.”

But Lincoln’s humor worked at a deeper level to keep everything in proportion. One of his favorite jokes—his last law partner, William Herndon, said he heard Lincoln tell it “often and often”—was about a bold, clever fellow who breaks wind while carving a turkey at a party “so that all the people heard it distinctly.” The hero of the joke manages to get the turkey carved in the end.

But the ludicrous situation, with its vulgar twist, served to remind Lincoln and his auditors that life is full of mishaps and (even worse) embarrassments. No one should be surprised, aggrieved or affronted by this; one must simply carry on, jauntily if possible. This is an important lesson for the many frustrations and crises of politics.

Principles first.Lincoln grew up in a major political party that had a shorter life span than he had. The Whig Party came together in the early 1830s to combat Andrew Jackson, the man who had transformed the Republican Party of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison into the Democratic Party of today. Jackson had a personality—combative, tempestuous—but he also had principles: small government, sticking up for the common man (the latter continues to be a watchword for today’s Democrats).

The Whigs had vivid leaders of their own— Henry Clay and Daniel Webster —and principles too: They wanted a central bank, protective tariffs and economic development. But time was not kind to the Whigs or their principles. Clay himself cut tariffs after the Nullification Crisis of 1832-33, and the charter of the Second Bank of the United States expired in 1836, never to be renewed. The Whigs were reduced to trying to win presidential elections by running war heroes. Two of them— William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor —won, in 1840 and 1848. But the third, Winfield Scott, was crushed in 1852. The Whig Party was dead on its feet.

But a new issue was stirring. John Stuart, a former Whig congressman who had been Lincoln’s first law partner and mentor, said to him one day, “Lincoln, the time is coming when we shall have to be all either Abolitionists or Democrats.” “My mind is made up,” Lincoln answered, “for I believe the slavery question can never be successfully compromised.”

Lincoln had been in one party whose principles had leached out of it. He would never be in that position again. In 1860, he ended the Cooper Union Address with this ringing appeal to his fellow Republicans: “Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.”

Be inclusive. Principles are not disembodied things; they require men who will make them real in this world. Lincoln had a wide embrace for allies.

This was partly a necessity of a new party. The Republican Party, which coalesced in 1854-56, included longtime abolitionists, Whigs, Democrats and Know Nothings (who disliked slavery but disliked immigrants only slightly less). Lincoln worked with men who possessed all these back-stories. He also worked with men of different temperaments. His secretary of state, William H. Seward, was genial and good-humored. His treasury secretary, Salmon P. Chase, was sharp-elbowed and forever submitting his resignation. His first secretary of war, Simon Cameron, was ethically challenged (Lincoln saved him from a congressional investigation).

Doris Kearns Goodwin, surveying Lincoln’s cabinet, coined the term “Team of Rivals.” It might be better to say that Lincoln ignored the rivalries to focus on whatever he could have in common with these often talented, always contentious men. Lincoln expressed his rule of thumb in his Peoria speech in 1854: “Stand with anybody that stands RIGHT. Stand with him while he is right and PART with him when he goes wrong.”

Look to the past, speak out, laugh, stand firm and stand together. What worked for Lincoln might work for you.

Mr. Brookhiser is the author of “James Madison” (Basic Books) and “Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington” (Free Press).

Why the Rest of Michigan Isn’t Singing the Motown Blues

Unemployment in Detroit was 15.1% at the end of 2013. In the Grand Rapids metro area it was under 6%.
  • By

    Jan. 31, 2014 6:03 p.m. ET
    Bruce Los, vice president of Gentex Corp. GNTX +0.63% , a $1.2 billion manufacturing company located in tiny Zeeland, Mich. (population 5,508), often hosts executives from foreign auto companies like BMWBMW.XE -0.36% Nissan 7201.TO +0.78% andToyota7203.TO -0.84% With 4,000 employees and a state-of-the-art facility, Gentex makes some of the world’s most advanced rearview mirrors, with camera-based driver assistance. After touring the plant, the foreign executives’ reaction is always one of amazement: “They say, ‘this isn’t at all like the Detroit we’ve read about and see on TV,’ ” Mr. Los says, laughing.No, not even close. But the image of bankrupt Detroit is a daunting public-relations challenge here in western Michigan—a region of about one million people that curls around the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. When I met recently with business leaders in Grand Rapids, the unofficial capital of western Michigan, I heard the same refrain again and again: “Detroit is not Michigan. And Michigan isn’t Detroit.”

    The Motor City’s meltdown has overshadowed the muscular economic recovery in this region, whose success reflects a manufacturing and technology renaissance. Congress’s Joint Economic Committee reports that manufacturers created 600,000 new jobs in 2013, and western Michigan is one of the places where they’re sprouting the fastest.


    The state overall is in the midst of a broad-based economic recovery. According to a 2013 study of Bureau of Labor Statistics data by the state’s Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Michigan has created more than a quarter-million jobs since the official start of the U.S. economic recovery in June 2009—a 7% increase that ranks fifth best in the nation.

    Outsiders might attribute the state’s turnaround to the federal auto bailouts—President Obama does—but that’s a small part of the story. This is a healthy, diversified recovery. According to Mackinac’s study, only about 4% of Michigan’s four million jobs are auto-related. Even those jobs are at least as dependent on sales to Honda, Toyota and Mercedes as they are on the sales to GMGM +2.26% and Chrysler. International trade is now a big net plus for Michigan. Light manufacturing, information technology and health care have all seen strong job growth.

    Some of the credit goes to Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, a low-key, no-nonsense leader who has cut business taxes and shaved spending to balance the highly indebted state budget he inherited. Just over a year ago he signed a right-to-work law that sent a signal to the world that the state was no longer politically captive to unions.

    While the unemployment rate at the end of 2013 in Detroit was a sky-high 15.1%, in the Grand Rapids metro area it was just under 6%. Jerry Zandstra, president of Inno-Versity LLC, a Lowell, Mich.-based firm that produces manufacturing training films, says the region needs “more trained engineers, technicians and tradesmen” to meet the demand from thriving local companies.

    He adds that Michigan has benefited enormously from America’s energy drilling boom that has lowered power costs. Cheap natural gas drilled from the nearby Marcellus Shale is also used as a production feed stock for chemicals and other manufactured products.

    This area has long been known for its productive agriculture, landmark companies like Amway, Steelcase SCS +0.23% and Herman Miller, and world-class medical facilities such as the Van Andel Research Institute along the “Medical Miracle Mile” off I-96 in Grand Rapids.

    Still, the region is not fully independent of the boom-and-bust cycles of the domestic auto industry. Many of the local business owners I met grimace when recalling the 30%-50% crash in factory orders during the crisis years of 2008-10.

    Fred Keller, president of Cascade Engineering, which employs more than 1,000 workers assembling truck and auto parts, recalls how the more senior factory workers volunteered to take lower pay and a cut in hours during the depths of the recession to avoid the misery of layoffs of younger workers with families to support. Others logged extra hours without pay to help pull their employers through the darkest hours of the crisis.

    This workers-united attitude would rarely be seen in a United Auto Workers plant. But unions are scarce in this part of the state, and that may be a key to its success. Collecting unemployment benefits and welfare is still frowned upon—and the notion in Washington that handouts for doing nothing are an economic “stimulus” draws hearty laughs.

    Gentex, with its 4,000 employees, is a corporate anchor in the region. The company’s skilled workers operate tens of millions of dollars in state-of-the art machinery. The brain center of the facility is a lab with physicists, chemists and designers who are constantly developing new technologies, such as high-tech dimming windows for airplanes, a new Gentex product line. The company owns more than 600 patents.

    But Gentex, like most of the state’s biggest employers, has had its share of struggles. Fred Bauer, the company’s founder and CEO, remembers that when he opened for business in 1974 the office was across the street from a graveyard. “Believe me, there were many times we thought we would end up buried in that cemetery,” he says.

    The tenacity of Gentex to survive the hard times and find a way to flourish is symbolic of the never-say-die spirit of this region. Those who complain that “Americans don’t make anything anymore” haven’t been to western Michigan, where some of the highest-quality manufactured products in the world are shipped world-wide. That’s the big unheralded recovery story in Michigan, and it’s happening nearly everywhere in the state—outside of Detroit.

    Mr. Moore, a former member of the Journal’s editorial board, is chief economist at the Heritage Foundation.

    The liberal dilemma on sex-selective abortion

    The revelation of extensive sex-selective abortion in Britain has again pitched cultural relativism against the idea of gender equality, argues James Mumford.

    The controversy over sex-selection abortions, which hit the front pages again this month, pits two deep egalitarian impulses – a commitment to gender equality on the one hand, a commitment to cultural diversity on the other – against each other. It can leave politically correct people looking as if they might internally combust.

    The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has decided it is not in the public interest to prosecute doctors offering abortions on the grounds of gender alone. Evidence this is happening was first publicised in 2012 when Daily Telegraph reporters accompanied pregnant women to different abortion clinics around Britain. After the women had explicitly stated they were unhappy their foetuses were female, the doctors proceeded to falsify the paperwork. Said one: ‘I’ll put too young for pregnancy, yeah?’

    The CPS’s decision not to punish this practice has provoked outrage. From pro-lifers, predictably. But also from people, otherwise pro-choice, who’ve spent their lives campaigning for gender equality. So, Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston has said that selective abortion of baby girls ‘harms all women by reinforcing misogynist attitudes.’ While Shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry told the Director of Public Prosecutions that any progress in dealing with violence against women and against girls ‘will be completely undermined if the [CPS] is seen to wash its hands of alleged abortion on grounds of sex selection.’

    Problem is, there is also evidence that in some of these circumstances sex-selection abortions are an expression of deeply held cultural preferences, not just individual choices. Some of the pregnant women in the Telegraph sting were from ethnic minorities, while the former medical director of the UK’s largest abortion provider, British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas), has alleged that not only is abortion of female fetuses widespread in the UK, but that the phenomenon is also ‘more common among some ethnic communities’. And then, in January 2014, The Independent’s analysis of the 2011 National Census revealed the ‘widespread discrepancy’ in the sex ratio of children in some immigrant families, a fact which ‘can only be explained’ by sex-selective abortion.

    We know that in the developing world the increasing availability of ultrasound technology has led to the abortion of millions of female fetuses. Indian economist Amartya Sen was the first to draw this to the attention of the West. In 1990 he arrived at an estimate of 100 million missing women, a number revised to 163 million by French demographer Christophe Guilmoto in 2005.1 In her powerful book, Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys over Girls, And the Consequences of a World Full of Men, Mara Hvistendahl tells the story of the fateful pairing of ‘old traditions and new technologies’ across Asia. In India, she shows, there are now 112 boys born for every 100 girls; in China, 121.

    The existence of this practice in the UK, however, has come as news to us. If, as critics say, the whole episode has thrown a beam of light across the reality of abortion on demand, it has also raised the question of exactly whose demand we are talking about. The individual’s or the group’s? The couple’s or the culture’s?

    And so respect for the particular mores of minority groups comes up against a foundational concern about the place of women in the world. An appreciation of diversity, our making peace with pluralism, and a belief that culture ‘goes all the way down’ – those convictions might lead us to reason that here is a distinct cultural practice which, though we might personally disagree with it, we are nevertheless obliged to tolerate (particularly if abortion is legal otherwise). Or we might think that certain rights simply trump others, and women’s rights are among those.

    The horns of a dilemma indeed. What are we to make of it? How should we respond? Over the course of the debate there have been so many old rogue philosophies surfacing it is difficult to know where to start. For example, who dares to call out the unashamed Utilitarianism of bpas’s Ann Furedi when they admit the assumption that aborting girls is okay if the detrimental consequences of having those girls outweigh the benefits? (As G.K. Chesterton countered, when there aren’t enough hats to go around the problem isn’t solved by lopping off some heads.) Here, though, as we try to understand what’s at stake, it is worth bearing in mind historical context.

    There is in fact a direct precedent for this most emotive of issues. In the nineteenth century there was another practice involving female sacrifice which appalled white Westerners. That practice also on the face of it seemed voluntary, something women were not physically forced to do. It too was rooted in an ancient religion and its transcendent ideals, in a culture far older than that with which it came into conflict. It too was legitimated by people’s forward-looking concerns about what kind of lives the ‘candidates’ in question would live if spared. And – to make the quandary even more acute –that practice emanated from an indigenous rather than immigrant culture, i.e. one the British encountered away from home.

    Sati was the Hindu practice whereby a widow would absolve herself of her sins, and show her utmost devotion to her dead husband, by throwing herself on his funeral pyre. So when the British banned it from Bengal in 1829, was that an unforgivable imposition, an exercise of immense cultural power? Or was it the best thing the British ever did in India? A victory for gender equality? A cause for celebration? That it was the latter is suggested by the fact that the campaign against Sati was not just carried forward by the usual suspects in England – Wilberforce et al. In Bengal itself Raja Rammohan Roy led the charge, thus demonstrating that perhaps certain moral principles may prove more foundational than the deepest of cultures.