The Choices-a comparison
The value of free enterprise has nothing to do with money or wealth
Arthur C. Brooks
There’s no doubt it’s been a rough few years for free enterprise in the United States. The financial crisis that began in 2007 is still a drag on the economy, and for every sign of recovery there’s another dark cloud on the horizon. Entrepreneurs are unsure about the future and skittish about investing their time, treasure, and talent in growing their businesses, much less starting new ones. President Obama’s stimulus package was a dud, and the unemployment rate today is 50 percent higher than what he promised would be the worst-case scenario.
It’s easy to get discouraged. But we cannot afford to be defeatist—or be defeated. Principled advocates of free enterprise have to redouble our efforts to make the case for free enterprise and confront its detractors with the truth. This means we have to explain in clear and unambiguous terms why free enterprise matters to the United States.
It might seem that the best case for free enterprise is the material one. Free enterprise lets people make more money, buy more and nicer stuff, and have a greater degree of comfort. The freer our economy is, the more competitive the US economy is vis-à-vis the rest of the world. And so on.
But these aren’t our best arguments. There is another reason, a transcendent reason, for which free enterprise matters most—and this is the case we all must be able to make today.
We all learned early on in school that the Declaration of Independence claimed for each of us the unalienable right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Note that the founders didn’t assert a right to be happy; such is the domain of tinpots and crackpots, of 1984’s “Ministry of Plenty” and Josef Stalin’s aggrandizing self-description as the Soviet Union’s “Constructor of Happiness.” So what, in practice, does this right to pursue happiness mean?
It means the right to define and earn our happiness through our ideas, hard work, and gumption, to earn our success by creating value honestly, in our own lives and in the lives of others. It doesn’t mean the pursuit of a big lottery win or an inheritance. Those bring money, but not happiness. And a mountain of evidence shows that after a fairly low threshold, more money doesn’t make us happier. The best case for free enterprise has nothing at all to do with money or material goods or wealth. Those are just icing on the cake. We must stop talking about free enterprise as just an engine of wealth creation. It’s much more than that.
In short, the secret to the pursuit of happiness is earning our own success; creating value with our lives and in the lives of others. This earned success is the fruit of hard work and just rewards in a system built on merit. Only in a free enterprise system is effort and innovation rewarded over connections and predation. (And this means that we have to draw a distinction between free enterprise, which is based on opportunity and competition between ideas, and corporate cronyism, which is just another form of statism masquerading as free enterprise.)
Of course, none of this is new to free enterprise advocates. Most of us have known our whole adult lives that an enterprise society provides the greatest freedom and opportunity for people, not just in material ways, but by allowing us to give our lives meaning and purpose. Yet we’ve shelved transcendent arguments and devoted far too much time and effort to making arguments about efficiency—arguments our opponents largely accepted (or at least stopped trying to refute) over a decade ago.
Instead, we have allowed the enemies of free enterprise—the statists, the redistributionists, the folks for whom every problem is a government program waiting to be enacted—to claim the mantle of fairness and the moral high ground for their discredited ideas. That needs to change. After all, Adam Smith wrote his Theory of Moral Sentiments two decades before The Wealth of Nations. Efficiency came after morality, not vice versa.
It is time to contest the moral high ground. In order to win the fight for free enterprise against its opponents who are once again beating the drum to turn America into some sort of Anglophone Sweden (or Greece), we have to follow Smith’s lead. We have to make the case for free enterprise and economic growth from a moral perspective, using language about opportunity and happiness and living a meaningful life. We have to explain how the pursuit of happiness requires the opportunity to earn our success, and how earned success comes only when we succeed on our own terms.
The statists preach a crass, shallow gospel of materialism. We cannot defeat them by merely responding with claims about economic efficiency. We can win the battle for free enterprise in the United States. But we have to say what is written on our hearts, not just on our bank statements.
How's That Government Meddling Workin' Out for Ya'?
By Richard N. Weltz
Back in the heyday of the old Soviet Union an agricultural commissar from the Ukraine was summoned to the Agricultural Ministry in Moscow to report on the year's potato crop. "Ah, Comrade Minister," said the commissar, beaming, "If all the potatoes harvested this year were put into a single pile, it would reach to the feet of God."
"What!" exclaimed the minister, "you know that in Communism there is no God."
"Also," sighed the commissar, "in the Ukraine is no potatoes."
There was more truth than fiction to this old saw; and we remember the "good old days" of the USSR with complete government rule over production, 5-year plan after 5-year plan, and nothing but empty shelves, long lines just to buy bread, and tinny little cars for the few who could buy even that.
And we congratulated ourselves that in the good old U S of A, we were smart enough to allow market forces to bring abundance and luxury into every grocery, department store, or auto showroom. Shortages, certainly, were little known with respect to anything Americans needed or wanted. That may not be so true a whole lot longer, if Obama and his leftist-thinking ideologues continue to have their way.
Consider the following:
Drugs needed to treat for ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) are in seriously short supply, as reported by the New York Times. It seems that the DEA worries that too much production might lead to theft, so it sets quotas on how much of the relevant drugs the pharmaceutical industry may produce each year. In its bureaucratic wisdom, this has caused severe shortages of the drugs for people, especially children, who badly need them.
There's no shortage, however, of alternative-fueled cars; there's a glut thanks to government meddling. The recent automobile show in Detroit displayed a panoply of plug-in and hybrid vehicles that few, if any, buyers want. Reported Nick Bunkley:
Automakers are flooding the Detroit auto show with new hybrid and plug-in models, but the combination of gas prices below $4 a gallon and higher upfront costs for the cars is not attracting consumers.
Regardless, the automakers have little choice but to develop and try to push more hybrids as they prepare for fuel-efficiency requirements that call for significant increases later this decade.
But there is a huge shortage of a mandated fuel additive. The feds may be levying up to $6.8 million in fines on oil companies who fail to blend into their gasoline and diesel fuels cellulosic biofuel, which is not available commercially, but which government planners demand refiners to blend in.
On the other hand, the DoT's "Cash for Clunkers" program did create a shortage of affordable used cars because the rules set up by the planners mandated that, while the cars turned in had to be in drivable condition, they could not be resold on the secondhand market, but had to be completely scrapped. Unintended consequences of government meddling struck again.
Incandescent light bulbs aren't in such short supply yet - but they soon will be. In its infinite wisdom, Congress decided to set standards for light bulbs that could not be met by the kinds based on the original Edison design and still widely in use throughout the nation. Beginning January 2012, the 100-watt size was to be effectively banned, to be followed in subsequent years by bulbs of other wattages.
Yes, a last-minute bit of legislation withholds funding for enforcement of the ban; but it's too late to do any good. Manufacturers have already shut down production and moved jobs offshore to Asia, where the expensive substitute CFLs are made. Says ABC News:
But what many Republicans are celebrating as a win for individuals' light-bulb-choosing freedom will probably not save the energy-guzzling bulbs from disappearing off store shelves.
"The industry has moved on," said Larry Lauck, a spokesman for the American Lighting Association.
Lauck said U.S. light bulb manufacturers have already "retooled" their production lines to build more efficient bulbs, he said.
Sometimes bureaucratic interference doesn't create an actual shortage of something but simply drives its price sky high over what once were free-market levels. Take the recent case of colchicine, as explained by Slate.com:
A drug called colchicine is all that keeps some 2 million American gout patients from suffering debilitating pain in their toes, elbows, wrists, and fingers. Doctors have prescribed the compound, derived from the seeds of the autumn crocus, for centuries.
But patients who take colchicine woke up with a new symptom recently: a giant pain in the wallet. Until January, colchicine was sold by many companies and cost as little as 10 cents a pill. Now it's available only under the trade name Colcrys, sold by a Philadelphia company called URL Pharma -- for five dollars per pill.
It seems that, although the drug was originally approved in 1974 and had no history of problems, somebody (you get three guesses who) with access to political ears persuaded the FDA to revoke all licenses for its manufacture and require producers to go anew through an approval and licensing procedure. At the normal market price of a dime a pill, it's small wonder that only one company bothered to do so and now can charge any price it pleases.
These are, of course, only a few examples of the egregious way in which the government began in January 2009 to control ever more of the American economy - banking, finance, autos, energy production, and whatever else some élitist types believed they know better how to do than Americans can do for themselves in a free market economy.
The Obama DOJ even tried to take away a church or synagogue's right to hire and fire its own spiritual leaders and religious teachers -- stopped only by the unanimous Supreme Court decision earlier this week "exempting" religious organizations from the burden of the pervasive employment rules that govern secular enterprises.
Speaking of employment, though, PepsiCo's largest bottling unit is being forced by the EEOC to pay a whopping $3 million-plus fine and offer jobs and training to blacks, against whom the government says Pepsi discriminated by choosing not to hire applicants who didn't pass the company's criminal background check.
Shortages, pricing screw-ups, unintended adverse consequences, micromanagement of citizens' private lives - the Soviets did all that; the Chinese as well; and the North Koreans and Cubans are still at it, all to ill effect. Never before in our nation's history have we moved so quickly and so unthinkingly down this dangerous path. Look around, and keep this in mind when you cast your votes in 2012.