America’s Revolutionary generation combined the Enlightenment ideas of civil liberties for individuals with their perception of the Greek-Roman concept of sacrifices and service to the state.

An application of these ideas resulted in the emergence of liberalism in 19th-century America. However, these ideas have been challenged by the Great Depression in the 20th century and now another in the 21st.

The severity of these economic conditions leads to the question as to whether modern virtue and politics are sufficient to induce a commitment to shared sacrifices that benefits the well-being of everyone.

The continuing issue is how do we provide equitable security? Remember that Shay’s Rebellion in Massachusetts was a major motivation for the Constitutional Convention that came up with a dedication to a national government that was primarily concerned with protecting specific rights for “We the People.”

During this writer’s lifetime economic security for millions of Americans has been severely threatened twice: increasingly people are out of work, losing their homes, and anticipate more of the same. Now, 5 percent of Americans with the greatest means account for 40 percent of all purchases made. As in the 1930’s, our society has become more and more unequal.

Then, President Franklin D. Roosevelt responded by creating the Committee on Economic Security which stressed that “the security of men, women and children of the nation must come first.”

Roosevelt asked the committee to propose “sound means” to secure against “several of the great disturbing factors in life — especially those which relate to unemployment and old-age.” Those “sound means” eventually emerged as the programs of Social Security pensions, old age assistance and unemployment insurance.

The New Deal and World War II provided economic expansion and launched the continuing economic expansion for numerous decades. Now with the new century millions of Americans are again out of work, home foreclosures are at a historic high, and there appear to be few prospects of relief for those in need.

Looking back over the past century there appears to be a pattern. During periods when the most affluent took home a smaller proportion of the total income — such as the Great Prosperity between 1947 and 1977 — the economy of the nation expanded and medium wages in particular surged.

However, during periods when the super-rich took home a larger proportion, as between 1918 and 1933, and again from 1981 to the present day, we have experienced economic chaos.

Commencing during World War II women entered the work force. During the 1960s only 12 percent of married women worked, and by the 1990s 55 percent did. Also from the 1990s to 2007 typical household value and debt both increased.

The most significant event was government deregulation of controls that had been initiated by the New Deal, which resulted in Wall Street now accounting for 40 percent of the nation’s profits; up from 10 percent for nearly a century. A consequence was that government services and oversight deteriorated.

Back in 1934 President Roosevelt made the focus of the New Deal on people and family security and the risks all of us must share. The headline news today is about the federal budget, and GOP claims that this is adversely impacting investments in jobs.

When we look back over the past century the first half was concerned about our common institutions and our common history. In the 1930s the government was to share benefits with all the people; and we had common obligations.

Today, the question is whether and when we will again choose to live in a land in which life should be better, richer and more meaningful for everyone.

Dr. Lloyd V. Stover is an environmental scientist and creator of Envirodynamics, a systems analysis approach to perform environmental impact analysis. He can be contacted via email at: ursine005@gmail.com.