The culture war of our times: free enterprise versus government control

Loudoun’s own Randy Minchew is a one of those guys who speaks softly but says important things – it’s generally wise to listen carefully. He pointed me toward an editorial in the Washington Post from this past Sunday and, while it took me all bloody week to get the chance to read it, I’m certainly glad he did. He told me it was a good editorial and he was right.

It’s by Arthur Brooks, headlined as “America’s new culture war: Free enterprise vs. government control,” and it deals with a basic conflict between the 2 philosophies. It is well worth the read, I assure you.

I call this a culture war because free enterprise has been integral to American culture from the beginning, and it still lies at the core of our history and character. “A wise and frugal government,” Thomas Jefferson declared in his first inaugural address in 1801, “which 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.” He later warned: “To take from one, because it is thought that his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.” In other words, beware government’s economic control, and woe betide the redistributors.

But redistributors are what we have in Washington these days, more so now that in the recent past, but it’s not a phenomenon that started in 2008. One of the recurring themes many Republicans, including myself, have reported since the 2006 elections was that GOP members of Congress had forgotten their fiscal conservative values. A comment I’ve seen many times over these past 4 years is that “Republicans tried to out-Democrat the Democrats” in terms of spending like drunken sailors. I’ve never defended that attitude on the part of the 2004-2006 Congress nor of the Bush administration and I hold that it was directly responsible for the abysmal showing by Republican candidates in 2006 and 2008. The attitude that government expansion was justifiable was already in place in DC before the 2008 elections, but the ferocity and pace of those who sought to remake America into their Euro-inspired utopia picked up quick afterwards.

But the real tipping point was the financial crisis, which began in 2008. The meltdown presented a golden opportunity for the 30 percent coalition to attack free enterprise openly and remake America in its own image.

And it seized that opportunity. While Republicans had no convincing explanation for the crisis, seemed responsible for it and had no obvious plans to fix it, the statists offered a full and compelling narrative. Ordinary Americans were not to blame for the financial collapse, nor was government. The real culprits were Wall Street and the Bush administration, which had gutted the regulatory system that was supposed to keep banks in line.

The solution was obvious: Vote for a new order to expand the powers of government to rein in the dangerous excesses of capitalism.

And, boy, did a lot of people fall for it. Although there were a lot of people who voted the way they did to have a part in “the historic vote” the fact is many people bought the argument Brooks articulates above. He goes on to say that the truth of the matter isn’t that there was insufficient regulation – there was plenty of that – it was largely government policy that caused things to tip over. The response to this economic crisis was to attempt to spend our way out of it, something that has never worked before when it was tried. The so-called “stimulus” package Obama and congressional Democrats insisted was the only way to halt the recession has not come close to doing what was promised, particularly where job creation is concerned. There are signs, in fact, that it’s actually prolonging things.

Central to Brooks’ editorial is the concept of earned success and how critical it is to a healthy, vibrant nation. Free enterprise, not government control and statism, enables the achievement of earned success. Brooks goes into detail on the matter and it’s the point of the article. No amount of excerpting that I could do will do it justice; you really need to go read it yourself. I strongly recommend you do.