Welfare is Broken and Government is Too Big: The Case for Free Enterprise in America


Throughout history, several American icons have made compelling cases for greater free enterprise in the country. This past week, Mitt Romney joined this group when he gave a speech on the subject after winning several state primaries.

In his new book, The Road to Freedom, Arthur C. Brooks defines free enterprise as “the system of values and laws that respects private property and limits government, encourages competition and industry, celebrates achievement based on merit, and creates individual opportunity.”

“Free enterprise requires trust in markets to produce the most desirable outcomes for society. It is the opposite of statism, which is the belief that government is generally the best, fairest ... entity to distribute resources and coordinate our economic lives.”

These words, I am sure, resonate with many commentators at Policymic and certainly among millenials. To make the case for free enterprise, one must make a moral argument “to remind Americans why the future of the nation is worth more to each of us than a few short-term government benefits.”

Conservatives eschew moral arguments for free enterprise because they are reminiscent of the days of tiresome debate about abortion and homosexuality. But, this attitude is not appropriate, as many Americans yearn for a system that is “morally legitimate, not just efficient.”

“Free enterprise champions” truly believe in the existence of a social safety net. Yet, they support capitalism and achievement based upon merit. They believe in meaningful work that will enable the poor to unshackle themselves from welfare, ultimately enabling them to find fulfillment and happiness.

The “materialistic argument” for free enterprise is not convincing. It portrays capitalists as being interested only in money. Those who preach morality and attempt to redistribute wealth are frequently described as virtuous. They are “fairer and kinder people.” The result is that average Americans are left with two unsatisfactory choices: “the moral left versus the materialistic right.”

The words of our Founding Fathers are compelling on the issue of free enterprise and morality. The latter is front and center in the Declaration of Independence: “... Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Actually, Thomas Jefferson’s words were not “original.” George Mason wrote a first draft, and it showcased this concept along with strong sentiment about “acquiring and possessing property.” Mason's words were based upon John Locke, “who believed that all men had the natural right to acquire, protect, and dispose of property.” Jefferson wanted to emphasize “the pursuit of happiness, a shift from materialism to morality,” and so he deleted references to materiality.

But most important, “The Founders did not promise happiness itself, only its pursuit ....”

Moral arguments are much more persuasive than material arguments as exhibited by Mohamed Bouazizi of Tunisia. “The fire that burned Bouazizi ignited the Tunisian revolution.” The Tunisian was harassed and deprived of his property, but he set himself afire to make a statement about living free.

The demise of the Soviet Union was based upon morality and not economics or the arms race according to Brooks. Mikhail Gorbachev wanted glasnost (openness) and democracy. “He called it his moral position.”

And, in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter based upon Carter’s pitiful handling of the economy and national security. Reagan stated, “the responsibility of freedom presses us towards higher knowledge and, I believe, moral and spiritual greatness. Through lower taxes and smaller government, government has its ways of freeing people’s spirits .... Excellence is what makes freedom ring.”

Finally, in the 1990s, we experienced welfare reform orchestrated by Bill Clinton, no less. Millions of workers were disenfranchised and became unhappy wards of the state, a “permanent underclass,” if you will. “The unemployed received unearned support, lost job skills (or never acquired them) and thus became unable to gain stable employment, making them chronically, miserably reliant on state aid.”

Many years earlier, on this topic, Jefferson said, “dependence begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue ....” Even Franklin Roosevelt said, “continued dependence on [government support} induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fiber.”

Welfare enslaves millions of people even today transforming aid into an entitlement. The system steals the dignity of the participants and makes them permanently dependent on the state. People on welfare can never be happy; they are not caring for themselves and are living off the charity of others.

Within three years of enactment, the reformation of the system caused “4.7 million Americans” [to move] from welfare dependency to self-sufficiency. Welfare reform was not possible because it became too expensive, but when the moral case had finally been made. “[It] was destroying the lives of the most vulnerable among us.”

Today, entitlements, including welfare are bankrupting the country as liberal congresses and presidents have sought to increase benefits rather than finding ways to employ people. Today, the moral and economic realities scream for reform, certainly not to create hardship, but to make all self-sufficient.