Posts tagged with: free enterprise

[Part 1 is here.]

The free economy frees entrepreneurs to create new wealth for themselves and others, which brings us to the issue of consumption. In his book Crunchy Cons, conservative author Rod Dreher describes consumerism this way: “Consumerism fetishizes individual choice, and sees its expansion as unambiguous progress. A culture guided by consumerist values is one that welcomes technology without question and prizes efficiency…. A consumerist society encourages its members both to find and express their personal identity through the consumption of products.”

Dreher’s critique of consumerism is pointed, and many people, including many Christians, could benefit from hearing it. At the same time, though, Dreher’s description runs the risk of obscuring the crucial differences between consumerism and capitalism.

It’s true that capitalist economies are far better at wealth creation than socialist economies, which is why freer economies tend to have fewer people living in extreme poverty. But capitalism and consumerism—far from being necessarily joined at the hip—are not even compatible over the long term. A moment’s reflection suggests the reason. (more…)

A new study has produced an inflation-adjusted list of the richest people of all time. To give you an idea of just how rich the rich people on the list are consider that Sam Walton and Warren Buffett are the poorest guys to make the cut.

The richest person in history, according to the study, was Mansa Musa I of Mali—an obscure 14th century African king. Musa, who made his fortune on salt and gold, would have an inflation-adjusted fortune of $400 billion. Mali likely benefited from cronyism and a feudalistic command economy, but many of the others on the list made their wealth through free enterprise. Indeed, entrepreneurs crowd out emperors; out of the top 25 men (and they are all men), 14 are American businessmen.

What is most interesting about the list, though, is how much we benefit from the products and services created by these wealthy men. From cars and computers (Henry Ford and Bill Gates) to cheap consumer goods and toilet paper (Sam Walton and Friedrich Weyerhaeuser), we are better off because of the innovations and inventions that made these men wealthy. They got rich by improving the lives of millions (or billions) and contributing to the economic growth of the world.

The fruits of this economic growth are often worth more than their weight in gold—or in Musa’s case, salt and gold. The price to replace the American middle class living standard most of have now is almost incalculable. Who would trade their 21st century comforts in order to be the ruler of the Malian empire? Not me. Even to convince me to move back to the 1970s—an era before iPhones, Amazon.com, and central air conditioning—you’d have to promise me a minimum income of $10 million dollars.

Such is the magic of free enterprise. Not only does it make some people extraordinarily wealthy, it makes the rest of us extraordinarily better off too.

At an Acton Institute event on Oct. 3 in Grand Rapids, Mich., Amway President Doug DeVos delivered a talk on ‘Free Enterprise and the Entrepreneurial Spirit’ to an audience of 200 people. He was introduced by the Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president and co-founder of the Acton Institute.

See the Grand Rapids Press/MLive coverage of the event in “Read Doug DeVos’ take on Amway, the presidential race and Dwight Howard leaving the Orlando Magic” by reporter Shandra Martinez.

DeVos’ Amway bio:

Doug DeVos oversees daily operations of the company and shares Amway’s Office of the Chief Executive with chairman Steve Van Andel. Since 1986, DeVos has spent his career building enthusiasm for the Amway business. His belief in its ability to foster entrepreneurs around the world is reflected in the company’s record of sales growth during his time as president, since 2002.

He also has helped Amway grow into one of the world’s most international enterprises. DeVos has also served in various leadership positions in Asia, Europe and the Americas. DeVos is the youngest son of Amway co-founder Rich DeVos. In 1959, Rich DeVos and his lifelong friend and business partner, Jay Van Andel, started Amway from their homes in Ada, Mich. (more…)

You might get goose bumps watching this fiery speech by Fr. Andrew Kemberling. After all, it is not every day we hear a wholesale condemnation socialism from a priest on the “pulpit” of a conservative political rally!

This vociferous pastor from St. Thomas More parish in Centennial, Colo., delivered an impassioned address last May. It may be old news, but the video has gained enormous popularity and even gone viral (over 1.3 million views) just one month before the U.S. presidential elections.

As the free market vs. socialism politicking are growing to a climax, surely more Christian believers like Fr. Kemberling are declaring they too  have “earned a free pass” to engage in this heated debate to express  their strong convictions against centrally planned, godless political regimes. (more…)

People do not love markets,” says Pascal Boyer of the International Cognition & Culture Institute, “there is a lot of evidence for that.” Sadly, Boyer is right and I suspect he’s right about the cause too: People do not like markets because people seem not to understand much about market economics.

We don’t fully understand this antipathy, Boyer notes, because there hasn’t been much research on folk-economics, a study of “what makes people’s economic modules tick.” But I think Boyer has identified one of the key reasons why people tend to prefer government interventions to market-driven solutions:

(more…)

Last week, CBS Radio Philadelphia host Dom Giordano took to the airwaves to address President Obama’s “You didn’t get there on your own” speech. The speech, which garnered plenty of discussion at Acton and elsewhere, drew varied responses from Giordano’s radio audience. Among those responses were several callers who recommended Rev. Sirico’s latest book, Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy, as a useful corrective to the President’s speech. This prompted Giordano to read the book and invite Sirico, who was in Hong Kong at the time, on his show. What followed was a fruitful discussion on entrepreneurship, capitalism, and free enterprise. Excerpted below is the answer Sirico gave to the question “Why is the free enterprise system moral?”:

It’s moral because it reflects human nature. Human beings are several things simultaneously. Human beings are individual and yet we’re in relationship. From the first moment of our existence, we’re a unique biological entity. But we’re also in relationship with our mothers in the womb but later on with friends and neighbors. You can’t have a market economy without a society. …

But the second thing we are–and this gets to the moral dimension of it–we are physical, obviously, but we also transcend our physicality. We know innately that we’re more than the sum total of our material parts. When you blend these things together, you have a market economy that is productive, that is social, that can be moral. …

We’re never really satisfied when we’re acting beneath our capacity to be beings of destiny, beings of purpose, noble beings that can create. The very act of the creation involves working with other people as well.

Full audio here:

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Brian Fikkert, a Professor of Economics and Community Development at Covenant College and the Executive Director of the Chalmers Center for Economic Development, takes a look at Arthur Brooks’ The Road to Freedom: How to Win the Fight for Free Enterprise in this week’s edition of CPJ’s Capital Commentary.

I think it’s a pretty balanced review, and Fikkert rightly highlights some of the important strength’s of Brooks’ work. But he also highlights some specifically theological concerns that have animated my own engagement with “happiness” research:

At a fundamental level, Christians must reject Brooks’ ethical standard: human happiness as defined by autonomous human beings. Brooks’ ethics are rooted in Enlightenment humanism rather than the transcendent standards of God’s moral decrees. To determine if the free enterprise system is moral, Christians must determine if it satisfies biblical standards of justice, not autonomous humans’ notions of happiness.

It’s important to note, of course, that as the head of AEI Brooks is making a case to a much more heterogeneous audience than simply like-minded Christians. And he’s trained as a social scientist, not as a theologian. But I think it would be interesting to hear how Brooks would address some of these challenges not firstly as the president of the American Enterprise Institute but as a professing Christian.

The answer Arthur Brooks gave to Josh Good of Christians for a Sustainable Economy (CASE) at Dr. Brooks’ plenary at the most recent Acton University is a great place to start:

American Enterprise Institute president and 2012 Acton University plenary speaker Arthur Brooks has a recent column in The Washington Post that lists five myths about free enterprise. Brooks’ five myths address some of free enterprise’s most common critiques and do so by giving free enterprise a moral aspect. The five points are especially relevant this election season, he says, because the two candidates represent such different fiscal perspectives.  Here’s a look a myth #2:

2. Free markets are driven by greed.

I once asked Charles Schwab how he built the $16 billion investment company bearing his name. He never said a word about money. He spoke instead about accomplishing personal goals, creating good jobs for employees and the sacrifices along the way — including when he took a second mortgage on his home so he could make payroll.

Entrepreneurs are rarely driven by greed. According to Careerbuilder.com, in 2011, small-business owners made 19 percent less money per year than government managers. And as Northwestern University business professor Steven Rogers has shown, the average entrepreneur fails about four times before succeeding.

Free markets and entrepreneurship are driven not by greed but by earned success. For some people, earned success means business success, while for others, it means helping the poor, raising good kids, building a nonprofit, or making beautiful art — whatever allows people to create value in their lives and in the lives of others.

Earned success gets at the heart of “the pursuit of happiness.” The General Social Survey from the University of Chicago reveals that people who say they feel “very successful” or “completely successful” in their work lives are twice as likely to say they are very happy about their overall lives than people who feel “somewhat successful.” And it doesn’t matter if they earn more or less; the differences persist.

Those acquainted of Acton Institute president and co-founder Rev. Robert Sirico will recognize arguments such as these from Sirico’s recent title, Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy. Sirico, like Brooks, argues that free enterprise is the economic system that best complements morality.

To listen to Brooks’ 2012 Acton University Lecture, click here.

Prager University has a new course up and running. The lecturer? Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute and author of Gross National Happiness: Why Happiness Matters for America—and How We Can Get More of It as well as the recently published The Road to Freedom: How to Win the Fight for Free Enterprise. Brooks’ lecture, titled “Earning Happiness: The Moral Promise of Free Enterprise,” makes a case for the free market as the economic system most conducive to human welfare. In the lecture, Brooks says, “Free enterprise matters not just because of its unparalleled material benefits but because of its unparalleled moral benefits.”

Video:

The Prager University course page can be found here.

The ongoing debate about food trucks here in Grand Rapids took a step forward this week, as this past Tuesday the city commission “voted unanimously to amend its zoning ordinance so that food trucks can operate on private property for extended periods of time.”

As I argued late last year, “There’s perhaps no more basic way to serve another person than to provide them with food,” and food trucks are something that ought to be welcomed rather than disdained in the context of a vibrant and variegated urban social space.

Rick DeVos, the founder of Grand Rapids-based ArtPrize, framed the issue quite well:

It’s called free enterprise and we should be embracing it no matter who is on the receiving end of its disruption…. The more we build the experience of downtown Grand Rapids as a great place to spend time, the more everyone doing business in downtown Grand Rapids will benefit.

Let’s get out of the way…and celebrate greater food choice in Grand Rapids.

While things have taken a step forward in Grand Rapids, the fight for food trucks and free enterprise continues throughout the country, and bears watching. The interaction between regulations and the non-profit sector is of particular interest, as both charitable ministry efforts as well as the formation of non-profit advocacy groups have been impacted by governmental policies.