Sam Walton was all around me.
It was a few days before the Christmas of 2008. I was standing in the checkout line at a Wal-Mart, waiting to purchase the Tonka trucks and Buzz Lightyear action figures I had selected for my grandsons. As I looked around the store, I had to chuckle to myself. Somehow, that Wal-Mart reminded me of Sam Walton himself. I’d never met the founder of Wal-Mart, but I had read and heard a good deal about him over the years. People who knew him noted his attention to detail, his near maniacal passion about low prices, his plan to carry every single item a customer might want, and that he tended to be a spur of the moment — almost impetuous — manager. As I looked around me, I saw these very traits reflected in his store: low prices blazed from signage, everything from tires to toothpaste were available for purchase, and, well, the store was not as organized and buttoned down as those of other retailers I know. At Target, for example, aisles are wider and shelves are stocked and segregated like the Swiss might have done it. At Wal-Mart, things look a bit more helter-skelter, more jumbled and maybe a little more entertaining. Yes, Wal-Mart today is a reflection of its founder.
I’ve found the same to be true of a number of other businesses I know. Microsoft reflects the character and manner of Bill Gates whereas Apple is more like Steve Jobs.
When I was a boy, I met Walt Disney. He noticed the boy among the grown-ups, bent down, and asked me if I was having a good time at the wonderland he had built. Disney loved to entertain kids, to kindle their imagination, to spark their dreams. At the same time, he was a no-nonsense businessman — I’d seen that in the way he negotiated with my Dad over a sponsorship for his television show. Today, the Disney theme parks are in some ways the living legacy of Walt Disney himself: they entertain and delight children–and they make a great deal of money. Walt Disney’s ways continue to shape his company many years after he is gone.
From time to time, I fly on Jet Blue. Its founder, David Neeleman, is the consummate family man, with nine children. And “cheerful” hardly begins to describe him — every time I see him, he is smiling or laughing, even as he scurries from task to task. His airline has more than a bit of David in it: flight attendants act like family — even with an occasional tantrum as with Steven Slater who swore, grabbed two beers, and chuted to the ground. The airline is friendly and executes admirably fast turnarounds from one flight to the next. Virgin Atlantic is a different story; it’s more edgy and irreverent, just like its founder, Richard Branson.
I’ve found that it’s not just businesses that are shaped by their founders, it’s true of institutions of all kinds — schools, universities, charities, churches, even religions.
And it is also true of nations. Nations are shaped by their founders, often for many generations and centuries after those founders are gone. The culture and character of America reflects the nature and convictions of the men and women who founded it.
I’ve often imagined what it must have been like for those very first people who left Europe to immigrate to America. They left behind home, family, security and predictability in exchange for a life-threatening ocean passage, the possibility of hostile indigenous people, and uncertain shelter, food and climate. In the late 1500’s, colonies failed in Virginia — the 117 person Colony of Roanoke was mysteriously lost. But colonists were ultimately successful in Jamestown and Massachusetts. What manner of person willingly left everything behind in exchange for perils known and unknown?
Some who came here sought fortune. Others sought the right to practice their religion according to the dictates of their conscience. In almost every heart, it was a strain of liberty that drew them here — religious liberty, economic freedom, freedom to pioneer, or freedom from oppression. The thirst for freedom drove these American colonists. And it is very much a part of what we are as a people today — we love freedom.
The founders who drafted and signed the Declaration of Independence and those who framed and ratified the Constitution made choices as difficult and perilous as those made by the first colonists. They could have chosen the predictable and secure path, following the commands of the Crown. Instead, they risked their lives, their liberty and their sacred honor.
Later, after the war for Independence had been won, the Founders could have established their own form of monarchy: a powerful, autocratic government that would tell people what to make, where to sell it, and how much they would earn. But again, they choose freedom. Just as the people would be free to choose their president and their representatives, they would be free to choose their occupation, their religion and their life’s course — to pursue happiness according to their own dreams.
That first choice of freedom by the Founders — incomplete and only perfected by Lincoln four score years later–has made all the difference. People from all over the world who prized freedom — the innovators, the pioneers, the dreamers — came to America. And so they continue today. This is who we are as a people — it is in our DNA. It is this love of liberty and the accompanying spirit of invention, creativity, derring-do, and pioneering that have propelled America to become the most powerful nation in the history of the world.
But today, Washington is smothering the American spirit. Freedom, opportunity, innovation, pioneering — the very foundations of our national strength — are under assault. Those who took the helm of the ship of state in the elections of 2006 and 2008 believe that a wise and powerful federal government can better guide our economy and our lives than can the people themselves. They fundamentally reject the choice made by the Founders. America is a nation for the people because it is of and by the people; under Washington’s new management, government has become the agent of guidance.
Those who believe in such an ascendant role for government would restructure the fundamental character of the nation. They simply do not believe in America as it was shaped by the Founders. They do not believe that the principles and values that made America a great nation still apply. They don’t really believe in free enterprise, free markets, and free trade. They favor government management over consumer choice. They delight when they can replace personal responsibility with government requirements. Like the monarch the revolutionaries rejected, they have no limit on the amount they would tax the people and their enterprises, believing that government can better spend the resources of business and the product of labor. They brush aside the founding principle of federalism, asserting instead that there are no bounds to federal power. Rather than admire the heritage of peaceful assembly and petition, they ridicule and demean assemblies of ordinary citizens who protest their grand healthcare plans, takeovers and bailouts. In these and many other ways, they do not believe in America as it has been understood since its beginning.
Perhaps that is why they have been so quick to apologize for America. I had to nod my head when I read what Sylvester Stallone had said: “I think America apologizes too much.” He’s right, of course. No nation has done more to promote world peace and liberty than America. No nation has done more to combat disease and to salve humanity when it is suffering than America. No nation has done more to promulgate economic principles that have lifted billions of people from poverty than America. Of course we have made mistakes and of course we can do even more for others, but this nation has from the beginning done what it believed was right and good, and the ultimate sacrifice made for liberty by so many hundreds of thousands of our sons and daughters is unrivaled in human history. Do not apologize for America.
Other great nations believe in America. In Time magazine on September 13, 2010, Tony Blair wrote:
But America is great for a reason. It is looked up to, despite all the criticism, for a reason. There is a nobility in the American character that has been developed over the centuries, derived in part, no doubt, from the frontier spirit, from the waves of immigration that form the stock, from the circumstances of independence, from the Civil War, from the myriad of historical facts and coincidences. But it is there. That nobility isn’t about being nicer, better or more successful than anyone else. It is a feeling about the country. It is a devotion to the American ideal that at a certain point transcends class, race, religion or upbringing. That ideal is about values: freedom, the rule of law, democracy. It is also about the way you achieve: on merit, by your own efforts and hard work. But it is most of all that in striving for and protecting that ideal, you as an individual take second place to the interests of the nation as a whole. It is what makes the country determined to overcome its challenges. It is what makes its soldiers give their lives in sacrifice. It is what brings every variety of American, from the lowest to the highest, to their feet when “The Star Spangled Banner” is played.
Tony Blair may understand America better than some of our politicians in Washington.
As the nation has encountered new threats and new challenges, Washington’s 2006 and 2008 elected elite have tried to convince us that what has worked for America in the past is no longer applicable and effective. They are wrong. The Founders were right. The values and principles promulgated by them, earned by our heroes “proved in liberating strife,” and confirmed by the prosperity and strength of the nation compel us to believe in America.
Believing in America means believing in freedom.
Lady Liberty’s call to those “yearning to breathe free” has beckoned people from across the world. One of those millions was my mother’s physician. Mom inherited sometimes debilitating allergies, including a severe reaction to anything containing calcium. She was frail to begin with, but without calcium, she was headed toward debilitating osteoporosis. Her doctor diagnosed her condition and devised an intravenously applied regimen that kept her bones strong — she suffered only one broken bone during her 89 years. Mom called him a miracle worker.
Mom’s doctor was a Jew, born in Russia. When he was just a young man, he and his fiancée hid in the coal bin of a ship that made it to America. I never learned his original family name because when he reached America he chose a new one: Freeman. In America, he said, he was a free man.
Like millions of others who have immigrated to this “sweet land of Liberty,” Dr. Freeman sought to escape the oppression of government. There was no guarantee of fortune or comfort, only the assurance of freedom to choose the course of his life rather than have an oppressive government choose it for him.
Freedom does not require the complete absence of government — government plays a critical role in protecting our lives and liberties from those who would endeavor to take them from us. But freedom does demand restraint in government’s intrusion into our life, freedom and livelihood.
Among liberals in Washington, there are those who regularly endeavor to substitute government choice for personal choice. Fearing that we might make a wrong choice in the selection of our health insurance plan, for example, they would require every health insurance policy to contain the coverages that they would choose for us. These might include, for example, eyeglass coverage, in vitro fertilization coverage or dental coverage. Rather than let the citizen choose which of these benefits he wants in his insurance policy, the choice is to be made for him by the government. Not only is the individual’s preference frustrated, but the benefits package becomes subject to special interest lobbyists who influence — and donate — to government politicians.
Candidate Barack Obama revealed a great deal when he confessed his belief to “Joe the Plumber” that government should take the money of one citizen to “spread the wealth around” to others. This is not a matter of caring for those who cannot care for themselves — conservatives may well exceed liberals in their commitment to such genuine charity. His was an expression instead of a type of government oppression — taking from one citizen to give to another, selected by government. This lottery of benefits is the opposite of freedom.
The framers of the Constitution foresaw the necessity of restricting the reach of government and thus established boundaries of federal power. The need for such boundaries was also understood by those who ratified it.
Massachusetts farmer Jonathan Smith was elected to his state’s ratification convention for the federal Constitution. “I am a plain man,” Smith began in his speech to the convention, “and get my living from the plow. I am not used to speak in public, but I beg your leave to say a few words to my brother plow joggers in this house.”
Smith explained that he had read the proposed federal Constitution, “over and over.” Then, he continued: “I had been a member of the Convention to form our own state Constitution, and had learnt something of the checks and balances of power, and I found them all there. I did not go to any lawyer, to ask his opinion. We have no lawyer in our town, and we do well enough without. I formed my own opinion, and was pleased with this Constitution.”
Like Farmer Smith, Americans today can read the Constitution and observe the painstaking care exercised by its framers to protect the powers of the states and to preserve the freedoms of the citizens. But liberals in office and on the bench are increasingly creative in fashioning tortuous arguments to breach the Constitution’s protective barriers. The wisdom of America’s first President, however, should continue to guide: “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”
Believing in America means believing in free enterprise.
The economic crisis that began in 2008 led a number of people to question whether free enterprise really is superior to a government-managed economy. Liberals seized on the crisis to promote their long held belief in a government-centric economy as well as their disdain for free enterprise. Politicians of both parties exploited the appetite for populism by singularly blaming greedy Wall Street capitalists for the collapse. Without question, free economies have been subject to the cycle of boom and bust, and when the latter occurs, many families feel the pain of unemployment, the loss of a nest egg, or the loss a home. But the awful toll of the economic cycle is far from proof that a government led economy is a better choice.
Communist and socialist economies suffer from cycles as well, and when they do, starvation and death have sometimes been the result. Chinese and Russian populations have historically experienced shocking devastation. Even in relatively good years, North Korean citizens are nearly starved so that the government and the military can be amply fed.
Nor should the 2008 economic decline be laid solely at the feet of Wall Street and the private sector. The government’s interference in the housing market was a proximate factor in the collapse. And government officials, committees, regulators and watchdogs had the necessary data and preventative tools that could have prevented it, but they were either lulled into inaction by special interests or were asleep in their bureaucracies. Their incompetence and its collision with a severe economic cycle is no reason to write-off free enterprise.
The evidence in favor of free enterprise, on the other hand, is overwhelming. Government-managed economies such as those of Cuba, North Korea and Venezuela are basket cases. American free enterprise has led us to enjoy an average per person income that is about one-third greater than that of Western Europeans, where government has a heavier hand in the economy.
Perhaps there is no more stark comparison of free enterprise vs. government enterprise than that of North and South Korea: same ethnicity, same geography, same national start date. I stood at the border between the two Koreas in 2007. To the south were factories, super highways, high-rise apartments and skyscrapers. To the north, I could make out a city as well, but with satellites that can look behind that city’s front face, we now know that it is no city at all: the North Koreans have set up a giant facade — like a Hollywood set — for us to see from the border.
At night, lights from the homes in South Korea fill the sky; to the north, it’s dark, literally and figuratively.
A similar story is true of Cuba and, tragically, it is now true in oil-rich Venezuela. Hugo Chavez is destroying the economy of his resource rich country even as he threatens his neighbor and our democratic ally, Columbia. Government-dominated economies inevitably malfunction. To deflect attention from their failures, they excite fear in phantom foreign threats, shut down the press, and celebrate their citizens’ misery as a triumph of equality.
Most liberals in America are smart enough not to openly call for replacing free enterprise with socialism — the politics of that are still not good. So instead, when they are in power, they take action that is consistent with socialism but call it by a more palatable name. In the two years following their 2008 ascendancy to power, the actions that demonstrate their distrust in free enterprise are numerous:
· funds voted by Congress to save and secure the financial system were used instead for bailouts
· agreements to promote trade were stalled
· healthcare was put on the road to federal government takeover
· government became the venture capitalist of first resort to the “green energy sector”
· the rule of law was ignored in order to reward the auto workers union at General Motors
· scores of unelected and unaccountable boards, commissions and regulators were installed in government bureaucracies
· and businesspeople and professionals of all kinds–from insurance executives to doctors to financial managers to pharmaceutical managers to attendees at trade shows and to bondholders — were demonized from the bully pulpit.
The Administration’s response to the downturn also evidenced the elevated esteem it holds for government over the private sector. The stimulus bailed out state governments and grew government employment, not private sector employment. Rather than enact incentives for private sector growth and investment, the Administration burdened private sector employers with new regulations, new mandates, and higher taxes. Even as the President chose his cabinet members and senior staff, he selected people with virtually no private sector experience — government and academic experience is clearly what he values and prefers. A friend emailed me that he and his wife were thinking of moving to France: “if we’re going to live in a socialist country, it might as well be one with really good food.”
Over the past several years, I have spoken with thousands of people across the country. Without question, the economy has been their greatest concern. The many without work are worried about finding a job and those who have a job are worried about losing it. Some have lost their homes. Most are worried about a future of lower pay and higher costs of living. And for the first time in history, the majority of Americans believe their children’s future will not be as prosperous as their own. President Obama calculated that these fears would be translated into willingness to embrace a government-led economy. He was wrong.
Everywhere I have traveled, people have told me that they want less government, not more. They believe in small business, in entrepreneurs, in consumer choice — they believe in free enterprise.
Many thousands of these people have joined Tea Parties and 9/12 groups. Many millions more don’t rally or march but nod their head in agreement.
We need a U-turn from the policies of the past few years. We need more private sector growth and we need to pare down the government, dramatically.
Yes, there are a number of people who have become so dependent on government that they think only of how much it will give them. They are in the minority, and they will ultimately realize that government’s ability to care for them is limited by the private sector’s ability to grow the economy. As Margaret Thatcher famously quipped: “the problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.”
Liberals and Democrats have long characterized conservatives and the Republican Party as being “for the rich” — by which they also mean to imply “indifferent to the poor.” Because liberals advocate for a bigger government that can provide larger benefits, they argue that they are the party for the common man. Their intentions may be good, but their reasoning is not. The best way to help the poor–as well as the middle class and indeed everybody — is by growing the economy and employment, and the compelling evidence demonstrates that free enterprise is the most successful system to do just that. Accordingly, we must look to measures that foster free enterprise and encourage businesses to grow, invest and hire — not because we have a special liking for rich people (in fact, Democrats raise a lot more money from the very wealthy than do Republicans), but because we know that is the best way to provide for the prosperity of all Americans.
Not every government-directed economy is an entire failure, of course. While the more socialistic approach of some Western European nations has not produced average incomes as high, nor average unemployment levels as low as those of the United States, many Europeans are satisfied with their countries’ mix of benefits and taxes. These are societies shaped by much different historical experience than ours. Thus, what may work adequately in Europe — where government has played a key economic role for hundreds of years — would be unlikely to be even moderately successful here. Our economic culture was shaped by our founding parents long ago and is embedded in our educational systems, incentives, institutions and expectations. And perhaps most tellingly, European nations are increasingly emulating American-style free enterprise principles — because they work so comparatively well. It turns out than a growing slice of Europe has seen the future and concluded that their old ways won’t work for much longer.
I wrote this book in the months immediately after President Obama’s Inauguration. Since then, my worst fears about the President have come true. Rather than focusing his energy and political capital on solving the economic crisis, he exploited it to promote his extreme liberal agenda. The economy will of course right itself — every recession inevitably comes to an end. He and Vice President Biden will undoubtedly take credit, but they in fact have made the downturn deeper and longer. The credit instead will belong to the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of the American people. It is free enterprise, not enterprising government, that grows the economy.
The founders’ American experiment was not solely a political one. It was also an economic experiment: Could a free people pursuing their individual dreams create a vibrant and robust economy? The answer was and remains a resounding yes — they created a political and economic system that is unrivaled in history and in the modern world. Like democracy based on federalism and the separation of powers, free enterprise is an integral part of our national character.
Believing in America means believing in opportunity.
We’ve heard it since we were kids: “every American should have the opportunity to realize the American dream.” Many assume that the “American dream” means owning your own home. Others might substitute instead a certain degree of financial success or a comfortable lifestyle.
The phrase was originally coined by historian James Truslow Adams in his 1931 book, Epic of America. His description then was very different from the popular definitions of today. “The American dream,” Adams writes, “has not been a dream of material plenty.” Rather, he continues, the American dream is a “social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”
This dream was envisioned by the founders of the nation and its basis was provided in the Declaration and Constitution they crafted. The tragedy of the Founding was that some of the most eloquent of these early patriots failed to extend the American dream to African slaves and Native Americans, even as some of their colleagues urged upon them the necessity of doing so. The principles of freedom enshrined in our founding documents eventually triumphed though at a price of hundreds of thousands of lives in the Civil War and decades more of the pain and suffering of segregation.
The American dream inspired every person in the world who sought opportunity — every pioneer, every inventor, every person who wished to breach the circumstance of their birth looked to America, “the shining city on a hill.” And they came here by the millions, seeking freedom and seeking opportunity.
The pioneering, innovating and entrepreneurial spirit which infuses the national economy is what drove ours past that of the great nations of the world. It is a large part of what enables us to outperform the world today — and which makes possible our enviable standard of living. There are nations which are larger and older, but America is still the most creative and inventive. If that were to cease to be the case, America’s economy would fall behind, and so would the wages and incomes of our citizens.
Government can promote opportunity or it can crush it. Laws and regulations that govern business practices are essential for markets to function efficiently, fostering economic opportunity. Conversely, if they become outmoded and needlessly burdensome, they can cripple commerce and industry, reducing the opportunity for citizens. Similarly, safety, environmental and labor regulations can facilitate economic activity. But if they are crafted with bias and political agendas, they can stifle small business and entrepreneurs.
Nowhere are the stakes higher than with education. Government’s original decision to mandate and provide for the education of the public has both enhanced opportunity for our citizens and strengthened the nation. But its resistance to school choice, accountability and standards has irreparably harmed generations of young people, for which the nation will suffer.
To a point, even taxes can foster opportunity. Taxes are necessary to provide essential security and infrastructure. But when taxes take from the individual the very resources she or he needs to pursue their ambitions, and further, when these monies are used to finance government inefficiency, waste and excess, they drain opportunity from the people of the nation.
Unfortunately, the political elite who took power in the election of 2008 have so grossly expanded the scale and intrusiveness of government that they are smothering opportunity. They have raised taxes on small business and on investment even though small business and investment are two of the most significant means by which Americans pursue opportunity. They have laid a crushing array of regulations and mandates on financial service enterprises, not only depressing opportunity in that sector but also making it more difficult for businesses and entrepreneurs in other sectors to obtain necessary financing. They have enacted 2,000 pages of healthcare legislation, and while the politicians did not take the time to read it before they voted, small businesses will have no choice but to read and comply with every one of its new mandates and provisions. They have slanted the labor-management environment so steeply toward their large-donor labor unions that small businesspersons correctly wonder whether they can afford to hire new workers. And they have successfully raised taxes across the board that will be paid by the American people, and they earnestly endeavor to do so again.
These actions–and many more like them — have sharply reduced opportunity in America. And they are smothering the American dream.
They are also deepening and lengthening the economic downturn which began in 2008. Businesspeople are so unsure of the future under this regime and so uncertain of the impact these new laws and regulations will ultimately have on their enterprises that they have been reluctant to invest in new hires, new purchases and new investments.
As a result, a record amount of capital is sitting idle on business balance sheets. If we do not move quickly, a large measure of that capital will leave our shores for other, friendlier environs. The investment of that capital must be earned, and it is earned by stable policies that promote growth and which do not penalize success. Had the administration implemented policies that fostered opportunity and encouraged entrepreneurialism such as lower taxes on employment, immediate write-off for capital expenditures, and greater incentives for innovation, much of the capital that today is waiting on the sidelines would have been employed, growing the economy and jobs.
Reducing opportunity is one of the worst things a government can do in a period of economic distress. It is the entrepreneur, the risk taker, the small businessperson who lifts the economy out of recession. Stifle opportunity and you stifle the economy.
In this country, there is a nearly direct tradeoff between growing government and growing opportunity: grow government and opportunity shrinks. Intrusive excessive government is the enemy of the American dream. Believing in opportunity means believing in a smaller government, restricted by its constitutional boundaries.
Believing in America means providing for a better future.
I know how John Adams felt. Being away from Abigail was a hardship — John and she were each other’s best friend, confidant and advisor. They loved one another. But in order to build a free and prosperous nation for those who followed them, John Adams spent long years away from home, separated from the love of his life. And all alone, she raised children and managed their farm in sometimes cold, rocky Massachusetts. His son, John Quincy Adams addressed his posterity: “you will never know how much it has cost my generation to preserve your freedom”
Adams sacrifice then is mirrored in the sacrifice today of the men and women of our military who serve multiple deployments for years at a time in far-away places, often where danger is continually present.
There is no separation as devastating as a permanent one. No sacrifice compares with that of the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who have given their lives. Many more thousands walk in the shadow of death, preserving liberty and life for us and for those who will follow. It has been part of the American experience since our beginning — soldier heroes pay an incalculable price to purchase a better future for all Americans.
There is a desire in the hearts of Americans to create a future for our children that is better than the life we have known. This hope isn’t hard to find. Over the years, I have ridden in quite a few cabs. Often, there is a picture of the cabbie’s family pinned to the visor or taped to the dashboard. In conversation, many tell me of long hours and late nights away from home, and they point with pride to the accomplishments of their children for whom they have worked so hard. In ways as different as our many occupations, we make sacrifices for our children, and for the generations of descendants that will follow.
This is another reason why there is such discomfort with Washington — the very real sense that our government is destroying the hope of a better future for our children. It has spent too much and borrowed too much, leaving huge debts in its wake. It has made generous promises to citizens in my generation, but rather than put aside the funds that are needed to pay for these promises, it intends to pass those obligations on to our children. It has won the votes and endorsements of government unions by creating unfunded pensions that far exceed those in the private sector. All totaled, the debts and unfunded liabilities that government has imposed on future Americans amount to nearly 75 trillion dollars — five times the size of the entire economy.
Just as destructive to America’s future is the liberals’ accommodation of the demands of the teachers unions. Our public schools are among the lowest performing in the developed world. One half of the youth that live in our cities do not graduate from high school. Yet the reforms that are almost universally acknowledged as essential to improve our schools are vigorously opposed by the most powerful of the Democratic Party’s special interests. That Party has traded our children’s future for votes and campaign contributions.
I began this introduction by recalling a Christmas shopping trip for my grandchildren and with a recollection of business founders. My father’s generation left Ann and me and our children an America of unlimited possibility, a land where individuals starting with little other than an idea –Sam Walton, Walt Disney, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs — could build vast engines of employment, prosperity and wealth, not only for themselves but for millions of their countrymen. Each generation hopes to leave a better future to those who follow. It isn’t so much the presents under the tree that matter, but our children’s freedom to achieve their potential in a land of opportunity. Americans have become increasingly aware of the government’s failure to protect so basic and intrinsic an American value.
The Choice for America
Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute observes in his book The Battle that there are two very different views regarding the source of human happiness. One is that happiness is the result of individual achievement and “earned success in life” — a view like that expressed by James Truslow Adams in his definition of the American Dream. Accordingly, the extent of individual happiness is dependent on the degree to which a society will encourage and protect the freedom and opportunity necessary to individual achievement.
The alternative view is that happiness is the result of financial equality. This view holds that to increase human happiness government has to remove the rewards of success from those who have created it in order to give it to those who have not.
The founders believed the former — hence their recognition that happiness would be a matter of “pursuit” rather than entitlement. America would be a land of equal opportunity, not of equal outcomes. That, too, is the view held by the great majority of Americans today. The liberal elite, on the other hand, say a few kind words about freedom but move to enact laws and regulations that promote the second view. In their hearts, they are statists. They believe in government’s ability to enforce happiness through “economic justice,” as they define it.
The disparate perspectives regarding happiness lead to very different convictions regarding the mission of government. Liberals favor higher taxes and redistribution of income. Unfunded liabilities and borrowing are means to their ends: ultimately, they know that these promises will necessitate massive tax increases.
They are also highly suspicious of free enterprise because it offers unparalleled opportunity for individual success and reward, and thus enables inequality. They endeavor to grow the scale and reach of government, to empower it to guide the economy and make better choices for the people. While few of the liberal elite would ever openly advocate for the diminution of freedom and opportunity, that is the inevitable product of their policies.
These fellow-Americans fail to appreciate the power of the choice that was made by the Founders — theirs was the creed of the pioneer, the innovator, the striver who expects no guarantee of success, but asks only to live and work in freedom. This liberating, inventing, creating, independent current now runs from coast to coast. It has produced not only the renown, like Bill Gates. It also accounts for men and women of almost every occupation who strive, who explore, who go beyond what is expected of them to reach for breakthrough and accomplishment. It is the engineer who tries to get one more mile from a gallon of gasoline, the chef who creates new recipes, the salesperson who goes off-script to make the sale, the educator who works with a child after school, the programmer who can’t rest until she has eliminated every excess line of code, the entrepreneur who starts his own business, the kid who launches a commercial site on the internet, the person who edits an entry on Wikipedia, the farmer who plants a new variety — the list is endless. The pursuit of achievement, of discovery, of greatness, is what has made America the powerhouse of the world. And it has made us happy as well. Smother this spirit with the weight of government and America ceases to be America. That is what Washington is doing, and we must not allow it. Washington believes in itself. The American people believe in America.
– Mitt Romney is former governor of Massachusetts. This is the complete, new introduction to his book, No Apology.