“Agriculture, manufactures, commerce, and navigation, the four pillars of our prosperity are the most thriving when left most free to individual enterprise.” (Jefferson)
Our nation’s prosperity is a direct result of our Founding Fathers’ commitment to create a society based upon the principles of free enterprise. As a result, Americans became the first people to substantially realize liberty’s economic dimension. Free enterprise is defined as the system in which private businesses are able to compete with each other with little control by the government. It’s the system which has been in place since our nation’s founding. Thomas Jefferson said: “A wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.”
Free enterprise is our crucible of innovation, from the dawn of industrialization through to our current information age. By any objective measure this approach outperforms all others in providing for the needs of its people – most notably those that have been based on the principles of centralized government control. Nations that are economically free consistently outperform non-free nations in indicators of well-being. Free enterprise lifts people out of poverty and creates economic freedom across all classes of society.
Despite this, a steady progression towards greater government control of business and the economy has emerged in our country. The United States has slipped to the rank of only 12th in the most recent Economic Freedom of the World Annual Report, which measures the degree to which the policies and institutions of countries are supportive of economic freedom. Many citizens perceive corporations as untrustworthy and exploitative, requiring ever increasing government oversight and intervention. In weighing this question, we should be mindful of the relative records of success in creating economic prosperity that free enterprise has achieved versus what government has achieved, and consider what role we really want government to play. Author P.J. O’Rourke said: “The free market tells us what people are willing to pay for a given thing at a given moment. That’s all the free market does. The free market is a bathroom scale. We may not like what we see when we step on the bathroom scale, but we can’t pass a law making ourselves weigh 165.”