The argument for free enterprise is won at “free”. And the thing that enterprise must be liberated from is, of course, government.
When people are free (from government) to produce, own, exchange, store, transport, invest, save, buy, sell, invent, work, and consume in any manner they see fit, the most possible prosperity is delivered to the widest possible number of people in the shortest possible time. This is the lesson that economic history teaches to those who will observe and learn.
And it is not difficult to understand why it is so - 310 million distributed brains focused on rational self-interest have a higher aggregated IQ than do a few dozen civil-service central planners whose priorities are more time off and early pension.
Apologists for central planning may have a different answer for that free-from-what question; probably “greed” or “monopoly” or “corporate predation”. But monopoly power is a grant from government in nearly every case, and corporate predation can only occur when government paves the way.
As much as it might like to, the socialists’ evil nemesis Walmart can’t raise prices on a whim – not because there is a government, but because there is a Target. Meanwhile, the sugar cartel can charge three times world market price because of U.S. government protection.
Human beings must cooperate to survive; we were organizing ourselves into civil societies and engaging in trade in order to sustain and protect ourselves for tens of thousands of years before there was government as we know it. Our brains are no larger today than they were 35,000 years ago, and our ancestors’ capacity for learning and innovation was no less potent than ours.
They did not love their children any less than we do, and yet all of the technology we depend on to save our sick children came into existence in only the last 200 years. In fact, most of the material things that we find indispensable to modern living were unavailable to all but the last seven or less generations of humans. Why? What happened to suddenly turn the fight for survival into the pursuit of happiness?
America happened, with its free enterprise system and its Constitutionally-limited government. For the first time in history, people owned themselves and the fruits of their labors. They kept what they produced instead of turning it over to a king, priest, dictator, warlord, tribal chief, colonial governor, general, emperor, commissar, or entire village.
People who can keep the surplus they produce, produce in surplus; those who can’t, don’t. The word economists use to describe this phenomenon is “duh”.
And America would not have happened but for two other seminal events – the Protestant Reformation and the invention of the printing press. Religious freedom and freedom of speech were the necessary precursors for the establishment of political and economic freedom. More freedom is good, less freedom is bad and yes, it is really that simple.
You don’t need a Ph.D. in economics or commerce to test that theory. Simply look at any of the most miserable and impoverished countries – North Korea will suffice – and run down the list of what else they don’t have besides prosperity: religious freedom, freedom of speech, gun rights, freedom of association, political freedom, economic freedom.
And then look at the countries whose living standards are rising the fastest – China will suffice – and ask yourself: why there and why now? What changed to lift them out of abject poverty, starvation and oppression? The government changed, that’s what.
It rejected central planning and embraced free enterprise; and the results have been nothing short of miraculous. Since 2000, the United States created roughly 6 million new businesses; the Chinese started an astonishing 43 million. The shift from government enterprise to private enterprise in China has transformed the economy so that 70% of China’s output is now generated in the private sector.
Free enterprise has raised the average manufacturing wage in China from 58 cents per hour in 2000 to nearly $6 per hour today. Let’s connect the dots for the UW grads: government lets go of the rope, 43 million new businesses are formed, the economy is 70% liberated, and wages go up 10-fold in a decade. Get it?
Meanwhile, our government is tying us up with more rope, business start-ups have slowed to a trickle, government takes a bigger share of GDP each year, and wages (measured in tangible value, like ounces of gold) have plummeted over the last decade. The Chinese are not kicking our butts; we are sitting on their foot.
North Korea has roads and schools and free health care and food stamps and public transportation all those other things the “you didn’t build it” crowd thinks made this country great. So did China when it was wasting two generations on a failed system that relies on someone else to “make that happen.” What happened is that tens of millions of people starved to death and millions more were killed for complaining about it.
China is not perfect, but it is better in every way since government started to let go of the rope. If you melted down all the Olympic medals won by China during their communist years, you couldn’t make a bicycle. This summer they will carry home more gold than is probably left in Ft. Knox.
The Olympic Games remind us that choice and competition make us all better – and the Games also remind us why “equality of outcome” makes us all worse. Michael Phelps has way too many medals; nobody really needs that many, so by modern liberal standards he is a greedy and selfish bastard who should be occupied.
And I don’t have any gold medals, so how do we spread Mr. Phelps’ wealth around to me? You could pass a hundred laws and a thousand executive orders that say I swim as fast as Michael Phelps and it would not make it so. The only way that we could achieve equality of outcome – the only way - is to force Michael Phelps to slow down.
That is what socialism does to our most productive wealth-generators. And slowing them down does not make the less productive more productive, it just makes them feel better about their lack of productivity. It gives the envious a temporary reprieve from their jealous tantrums while they look around for something else to covet.
Free enterprise doesn’t care who wins and by how much. It lets each of us discover how high is up for us. And when our enterprise is free from government, most of us discover that up is a lot higher than we could have ever possibly imagined.
When we liberate ourselves, we learn that the only real disadvantage we ever had were the people who told us we couldn’t compete, couldn’t win, and shouldn’t try. Don’t listen to the slow swimmers and those who covet.
Liberate yourself instead; you will be glad you did.
“Moment of Clarity” is a weekly commentary by Libertarian writer and speaker Tim Nerenz, Ph.D. Visit Tim’s website www.timnerenz.com to find your moment.