Free enterprise: The obligated conservative’s perspective
By Mark Bard
The first, the socialist systems, provides for authoritative government control over the economy. Characteristics of these systems include:
Four similar economic systems possess all four of the above features: Socialism, Fascism, Communism, and Nazism (i.e., National Socialism).
For certain, there are many frightening similarities between the economic beliefs of Fidel Castro and Bernie Sanders. Perhaps those two should have read, Crossroads, The Great American Experiment a brilliant 1984 book in which the economists, Dr. Barry Asmus and Dr. Don Billings concluded that “Never mind the historical fact that systems other than capitalism trample freedom, spawn totalitarian political regimes, and make a mockery of economic efficiency.”
The non-socialist economic system is capitalism – aka free enterprise. The social elements of this decentralized economic system are founded on the Love Thy Neighbor (LTN) rights of every individual to make their own decisions as to their and their family’s security and happiness. For the most part, the government’s role is limited to such functions as regulating and policing worker, product, and environmental safety; preventing profiteering from immoral services and products; preventing or busting up unfair monopolies; ensuring efficient and honest financial and economic systems; and protecting individual rights to contract and property.
In terms of living standards, conservative capitalism - as historically practiced in the U. S. - has produced astonishing results. Free enterprise encourages creativity and innovation. There are competitive forces encouraging individuals to continuously build better quality and less expensive mousetraps and cellphones.
In the 1912 rural Maine home of my father-in-law’s birth, there was no central heating, electricity, indoor plumbing, or automobile. When my mother and father first brought me to their two-bedroom apartment back in 1954, they had no television, telephone, FM radio, stereo, microwave oven, air-conditioner, washer, dryer, or dishwasher. For anyone my age; plastics, hairdryers, DVRs, CD players, computers, cell phones, digital TVs, video games, Facebook, and many other common gadgets and gizmos are all recent inventions.
In agriculture alone, as the result of productivity gains from mechanization, fertilizers, irrigation, and pesticides, the percentage of the US population involved with farming has decreased from 70% early in the 19th century to only 1.3% today. And as another example, just in my lifetime, the average amount of milk produced by your average everyday dairy cow more than tripled to nine tons per year and bushels of corn per farm acre increased from 39 to 153.
For the American worker, the 20th century produced unforeseeable material gains in terms of compensation and working conditions. In 1900, per capita annual income (in 1999 dollars) was $4,200 and was eight times as much by 1999. Employee fringe benefits - which were non-existent in 1900 - cost employers another $11,600 per employee per year a century later. Yet another example of improved working conditions, 1,500 workers were killed in America’s mines in 1900 and that was down to 35 in 1999. (Much better, but still an unacceptably high number.)
All those remarkable gains in material comforts and compensation are fine to brag about. But, perhaps the most telling measure of free enterprise’s contribution to the welfare of Americans is the miraculous increase in our average life expectancies. An American born in 1900 had an average lifespan of 47.3 years. By the turn of our new century, the average American was expected to celebrate their 77th birthday.
This gift of more than three decades of precious life per person is partially attributed to the increase in time and resources we have available to focus on our safety, health, and nutrition, but more so to the fantastic advancements in medical knowledge, technologies and treatments achieved over the past one hundred years. When I was a child, a heart attack resulted in a $50 ride to the funeral home. Now, it’s a $250,000 triple by-pass and 15 more years of life.
Let’s not forget, it’s only by America’s free enterprise economic system that we are free today. Our innovation and our industrial and agricultural output were critical to the 1945 defeats of Nazi Germany and Empirical Japan. And, it was our economic freedoms, along with our vigilant determination, that led to the cold war consolidation of the post-war Soviet Union.
But, if asked why they prefer capitalism to any socialist economic system, I don’t think those factors of material well-being, life expectancy, or totalitarianism defeat would be the first reason that comes to the minds of Obligated Conservatives (OCs). Instead, I believe most of us would focus on every individual’s LTN rights to liberty and pursuit of happiness that only the capitalistic economic system equally protects for all individuals regardless of any demographic characteristic. In any society, where moral people are free, they will naturally develop a voluntary system of mutually beneficial exchange that we call free enterprise or capitalism.
What may be the greatest single cause of the gulf between OCs and Entitled Liberals (ELs) is their opposing perceptions of what constitutes the fairest economic system.
To ELs, social justice demands an equality of income between people. This, of course, all boils down to money. Such a perception is certainly understandable given that our human natures cause many of us with entitled moral characters to envy those who have more than we do and to look for ways to rationalize confiscation. Further, to the entitled, capitalism is oppressive because it tends to reward those who work hardest more than it does those who don’t.
To OCs, social justice isn’t about money. It’s about the equality of rights. Conservatives want all social elements to equally protect the LTN rights of everyone – man or woman, rich or poor, black or white, big guy or little guy. Per George Strait’s Amarillo by Morning, country classic: “I ain’t got a dime, but what I got is mine, I ain’t rich, but Lord I’m free.” To conservatives, individual freedom and the equality of rights trump the confiscation and redistribution of money every time.
Suppose four individuals survive a shipwreck and find themselves on a secluded island. They take a vote and agree that each should farm their own section of the island and are free to voluntarily trade vegetables with each other at any mutually agreed-upon exchange rate. Let’s say each person must work an average of 80 hours per week to produce four units of vegetables.
One of the four puts in even more work hours and through her brains, sweat, risk, and luck, she invents a tractor. By using her new machine in the field only five hours per week, her total weekly work effort is reduced by half – to a total of 40 hours, and her production increases from four units to nine.
The other three, seeing this awesome increase in productivity, at first, eagerly agree to pay the inventor one unit of vegetables per week in exchange for use of her tractor for 5 hours. With this deal, for each of the three, their work week has been cut in half and their net production has doubled to a net of eight units.
Given human greed, the three soon perceive that the inventor is an oppressive capitalist and, as the result of a 3 to 1 vote, they forcibly tax the inventor six units per week - which is then distributed to each of the three ELs.
FANS Contract: A Proposed Solution for an Angry Socialist (EL)
Author’s note: Mark Bard, author of “Obligated Conservatism: Striving for a Love Thy Neighbor Society,” is a lifelong and now retired conservative. For the most part, the above essay is an excerpt from that book. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.