On the New Culture War over Free Enterprise

America faces a new culture war. This is not a fight over guns, abortions, religion or gays. Nor is it about Republicans versus Democrats. Rather, it is a struggle between two competing visions of America's future.

In one, America will continue to be a unique and exceptional nation organized around the principles of free enterprise. In the other, America will move toward European-style statism grounded in expanding bureaucracies, increasing income redistribution, and government-controlled corporations.

"The Battle" presents the evidence that free enterprise is an expression of the core values of a large majority of Americans. It brings the most life satisfaction to the most people. Personal liberty, individual opportunity and entrepreneurship are the explanation for our nation's past success and the promise of greater things to come.

Whether we ask people their views about free markets, the importance of private business, or the proper role of government, a very large majority express support for free enterprise over statism and redistribution.

But the unprecedented economic crisis has introduced panic to our nation. Panic distorts our values and has given the minority who support big government a pretext to introduce sweeping change that threatens the very core of America's national history, culture and character.

Many Americans have forgotten the evils of Soviet socialism and the disasters of the Great Society's welfare state programs in this country. The forces of statism are back with a vengeance.

They have the full arsenal of government money and power, they are working for the hearts of a whole generation of younger Americans, and they are using our economic insecurity to introduce breathtaking increases in state power.

There is a very real threat before us that our great nation may be transformed forever. One can only hope that this threat will clear our thinking enough to bring forth leaders with our principles at heart and the ideas to match.

If principle triumphs over the mere quest for political power, perhaps the other core principles of the free-enterprise movement will emerge anew. And America will be the stronger for it.

When it comes to attitudes about free enterprise, there are stark differences between Americans and our cousins across the Atlantic. According to a 2006 Pew Research Center Global Attitudes study, Europeans are half as likely as Americans to attribute success in life to their own efforts.

They are far less likely to say that competition is a positive force for the country. And they value less the merits of personal industry: Even the notoriously industrious Germans are only one-third as likely as Americans (20 percent compared to 60 percent) to believe that children should be instructed in the value of hard work.

Free enterprise lies at the very core of America's national history, culture and character. Most of us believe that free enterprise is the best system for America. It's part of the cultural mainstream--as American as apple pie.

Whether we ask people their views about free markets, the importance of private business, or the proper role of government, a very large majority express support for free enterprise over statism and redistribution.

No matter how the question is posed, less than 30 percent of Americans say they believe we would be better off without free enterprise at the core of our system.

But the sad truth is that the 30 percent coalition did not start governing this country with the advent of Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. They've been in charge for years.

Republicans, who once counted spending discipline as a core value, have been as responsible as Democrats for the growth in government in recent years. The only difference is that the Democrats in office today are true believers in the values of the 30 percent coalition.

Arthur C. Brooks is the president of AEI.

Photo Credit: COMSTOCK

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Arthur C.
Brooks

What's new on AEI

AEI Election Watch 2014: What will happen and why it matters
image A nation divided by marriage
image Teaching reform
image Socialist party pushing $20 minimum wage defends $13-an-hour job listing
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 20
    MON
  • 21
    TUE
  • 22
    WED
  • 23
    THU
  • 24
    FRI
Monday, October 20, 2014 | 2:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Warfare beneath the waves: The undersea domain in Asia

We welcome you to join us for a panel discussion of the undersea military competition occurring in Asia and what it means for the United States and its allies.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014 | 8:30 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
AEI Election Watch 2014: What will happen and why it matters

AEI’s Election Watch is back! Please join us for two sessions of the longest-running election program in Washington, DC. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014 | 1:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
What now for the Common Core?

We welcome you to join us at AEI for a discussion of what’s next for the Common Core.

Event Registration is Closed
Thursday, October 23, 2014 | 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Brazil’s presidential election: Real challenges, real choices

Please join AEI for a discussion examining each candidate’s platform and prospects for victory and the impact that a possible shift toward free-market policies in Brazil might have on South America as a whole.

Event Registration is Closed
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.