Sunday, October 19, 2008

Straight Talk from Ayaan about the Free Market

Recently Ayaan Hirsi Ali has written an excellent article, Does the Free Market Corrode Moral Character? in conjunction with her participation in the John Templeton Foundation's series of conversations among leading scientists, scholars, and public figures about the "big questions" of human life. There is right now a lot of conversation about what should be the direction for the country in terms of being on the right track to improve living conditions in the United States. An example of this discourse is evident by a question posed by JoeWurzelbacher to Barack Obama about the change he wants to implement if he is elected President. Obama's reply -
I think when you spread the wealth around it's good for everyone.
I encourage everyone to read the entire article, but I do want to highlight what I consider the real straight talk that she provides on this subject.

A socialist might measure moral strength by one's dedication to the redistribution of wealth. A liberal--by which I mean a classical, Adam Smith or Milton Friedman liberal, not a liberal in its American meaning of "pro-big government"--might be religious, and he might see the merits of income equality, but he will always put freedom first. This is the moral framework to which I subscribe.

To appreciate just how effectively the free market strengthens moral character, it is helpful to glance at economic systems that undermine or openly reject it. Everywhere Communism has been tried, for instance, it has resulted not just in corruption and sub-standard products but also in fear, apathy, ignorance, oppression, and a general lack of trust. The Soviet Union and pre-reform China were morally as well as economically bankrupt.

Or consider the feudal order typified by Saudi Arabia. There we see an absolute monarch, a religious hierarchy that reinforces the ruling family's hold on power, and several classes of serfs: the oppressed Shi'a minority, the vastly exploited underclass of immigrant workers, and women, who are confined and abused. The stagnation and oppression of Saudi society make it utterly immoral in the eyes of a classical liberal. Unlike Communism, it cannot even proffer the fig leaf of greater "fairness."

In a free-market society, where liberty comes first, individuals tend to be more creative and to innovate; in welfare states that assign priority to equality, the natural resourcefulness of human beings is perverted. To become successful, you must learn how to "work the system" rather than how to develop a better product. Risk is avoided, and individual responsibility is thwarted. Although superficially the system may appear fair, it promotes mediocrity and a sense of victimhood, and it discourages those who want to excel.

Free-market societies are under fire from environmentalists today for supposedly ruining the planet. But the passionate debate about global warming and the moral implications of waste and pollution has arisen only in politically free societies.

In the course of history, the search for perfect societies--that is, the failure to acknowledge human imperfection--almost always ended in one or another form of theocracy, authoritarianism, or violent anarchy. But for those who seek to work with human flaws of every stripe, and to increase the sum total of individual happiness, the free market, combined with political freedom, is the best way.

I put in boldface type some of the words she used in her straight talk that mean the most to me. This woman who was born a Muslim in the Horn of Africa nation of Somalia is an avowed atheist pro-choice and pro gay rights liberal who I respect and admire for her courage and her strength. She has written what I believe effectively in short concise and meaningful words, and all I can add to all that is one hearty AMEN.

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