A Preview for July 4th, 2024

American Commerce and the Declaration of Independence

The 4th of July is every person’s chance to celebrate the nation’s birthday and honor our collective vision.

Among the Declaration’s unalienable Rights is “the pursuit of Happiness.”

The Commercial Spirit

This pursuit of happiness has become entwined with America’s commerce. In the post WW II federal highway infrastructure project, the car became a symbol of this open-ended personal adventure.

In 1976, Chevrolet was the most popular car in the USA. General Motors crafted a slogan with video declaring that Chevy and the USA were the same: “Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet.”  The company even tried to appropriate baseball’s 7th inning stretch to celebrate its brand leadership.

Today, crowds stand to sing God Bless America. A triumph of ideals over markets?

Independence and Credit Unions

Credit unions are an expression of America’s founding document.  Their self-help character demonstrate what makes American freedom and enterprise so powerful.

Credit unions embody more than the Declaration’s goals of life and liberty.  Cooperatives exemplify how the document’s spirit is to be realized in application. The last sentence reads:

And for the support of this Declaration . . . we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

This mutual pledge is every credit union’s founding ethos. Moreover, like America’s political democracy, the cooperative system depends on individuals’ character and their adherence to the principle of self-rule.

The first generation of credit union pioneers. like the founding fathers and mothers. understood both the ideals and challenges of self-government.   Credit unions are started and sustained by volunteers.  They shared funds and a commitment to address needs and common purpose.

The initial dimes and quarters may have been small, but their impact on lives was real.   Like the political colonies, these economic revolutionaries knew each other.  They joined to spread their vision of financial self-rule across America.

The Challenge

While the Declaration’s truths may seem self-evident, the democratic process is an ongoing experiment.  Today almost all credit union founders have passed on—will their basic principles be sustained?

As professional leaders take over, will their institutional ambitions for growth and size replace common purpose for members?  Will the pursuit of happiness instead become the happiness of pursuit?

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