Copyright (c) 2010 Scott F Paradis
The principle headline in the Outlook section of this Sunday’s Washington Post read: “The New Culture War”, the subheading continued: “On one side, the forces of free enterprise. On the other, an expanding and paternalistic government. It’s time to choose.” The author, Arthur C. Brooks, argues that a liberal minority now in power, supported by perhaps 30 percent of the population, are actively seeking to remake America in the image of a European-style social state. The culture war is the clash of the traditional, uniquely American free enterprise legacy system with the progressive, egalitarian, highly regulated, state managed society. These ends, Brooks declares, are mutually exclusive. We now stand at a crossroads of history. We must choose a course.
Initially Brooks presents the perspective of competition, dominance and materialism facing off squarely against equality, social justice, and penchant for shared resources. The two camps might be represented by Wall Street barons on one side and utopian opportunists on the other. A proponent of social harmony will see little value in the ‘ambition of greed’ argument over the ‘substance of charity’ offering.
Brooks, appealing to anti-government sentiment, employs no less than the likes of Thomas Jefferson quoting, “A wise and frugal government…shall restrain men from injuring one another, 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. This is the sum of good government.” A strong and forceful passage, no doubt, but it leaves unrecognized the modern realities of the risk of technology and mass market levers in the hands of a few, conscienceless men whose motivations are self-aggrandizement, fame and fortune. The free enterprise argument stumbles then falls when it overlooks the responsibility inherent in freedom.
No man is an island unto himself. Greed, avarice and the systems that support these vices impact us all. In the face of grave threats, a government, of the people, by the people, for the people must act. But, acting to combat greed can, through redistribution of wealth (as “social” governments seek to do), easily become another obsession toward power – one veiled by the perceived legitimacy of government.
Brooks, however, ultimately redeems himself. He develops his case further and turns his rhetoric from praising accumulation and instead turns to a fundamental human need – the yearning to create something of value. For you see, the strength of a free market is not in the wealth the system purports to amass. The power, promise and ultimate prosperity of a free enterprise system is the creative energy it unleashes. Brooks here quotes Benjamin Franklin, “Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of filling a vacuum, it makes one.” The key, Brooks suggests, is “earning” happiness.
The essential ingredient to a prosperous society is the ability to pursue happiness on your own terms. To act for the benefit of others; using your own energy, enthusiasm and talent you create your own utopia. The state, regardless of what it provides, or how it redistributes assets, cannot find or deliver a suitable substitute for self sufficiency.
The state, our state, the United States, was founded with a fundamental duty to promote the pursuit of happiness. While some, typically a small minority, who seek to impose government solutions to social challenges, may be motivated by an intention of promoting happiness, the truth is, one only realizes happiness in the pursuit. Social engineering does not, will not and cannot bring about happiness. Motivated individuals, acting toward mutually beneficial, cooperative ends will achieve happiness best through a free and enterprising system.
A culture war may be brewing. Let’s not let the contrast be drawn between the money grubbers and soulless bureaucrats. Success, for an individual, as for a society, is a function of the values and motivation of the masses. Don’t ever lose sight – the issue is not about how to divide up the money. The task of government and of industry is allow people to create. We need not be at war.
About the Author:
Scott F. Paradis, author of “Promise and Potential: A Life of Wisdom, Courage, Strength and Will” http://www.promiseandpotential.com publishes “Insights” and a free weekly ezine, “Money, Power and the True Path to Prosperity”. Subscribe now at http://www.c-achieve.com