Life, Liberty and Stuff

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management
July 9, 2006

When we celebrated Independence Day last Tuesday, I wondered how many of us realized that July 4 was not the day our founding fathers assumed would be proclaimed as the birth of our country? Although the Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, they voted to declare independence on July 2. Two days later, the formal document was approved.

John Adams and others assumed July 2 would be the day'celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival'with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward, forevermore.'

So they missed it by two days. They got a lot of other stuff right.

As I enjoyed my July Fourth holiday last week, I thought about the positive things that set our country apart both from the rest of the world and the rest of history. The late musician, Frank Zappa, hardly a conservative stalwart, once commented that 'communism won't work because people like to own stuff.'

What a fantastic observation.

Of course, some people argue that it is impossible to actually 'own' anything. All we can do is merely use an asset, then pass it own to successive generations for further use. Although I disagree with that notion, that is irrelevant. People really do like to own stuff.

If you don't believe it, watch kids.

Kids have to be taught to share. They do not have to be taught to protect and hoard their stuff. All men are endowed by their Creator with the Right to pursue Happiness. And Power Rangers.

(Thomas Jefferson originally drafted ''Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Property' in the Declaration of Independence. The phrase 'Life, Liberty and Property' is in the Declaration of Colonial Rights, a resolution of the First Continental Congress.)

The ability to own stuff is one of the primary reasons the United States has, in a mere 230 years, built history's greatest economic power. The chief economic natural resource found on our continent isn't some mineral or strategic geography.

It is the mind and drive of Man.

It's been said that humans use only a small portion of our brain capacity, perhaps as little as ten percent. New PET scanning technology casts doubt on this claim, but there is little doubt that few of us ever reach our psychological, emotional and intellectual potential.

Either the English folks who chose to escape British tyranny brought unusually talented DNA to North America or we've used our intellectual raw material in a particularly effective way.

Something motivates us to do that: the ability to own Stuff.

Have you ever sat at a stop light and seen a kid screech his tires at the changing of the light? The kid probably didn't pay for the tires.

Teenagers change the oil in cars they purchase with their own money.

There is a power in property ownership. People do like to own stuff. We are motivated to get it, and when we do, we fight to protect it.

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).

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