Beautiful and Abundant

Publisher Bryan Welch on philosophy, farming and building the world we want.

Is Free Enterprise the Key to Future Success?

9/15/2009 4:50:10 PM

Tags: economy, resources, free enterprise

Desert creekWe Americans think of ourselves as independent and innovative. We like to ascribe our wealth and influence to our system of free enterprise and the personal liberty promised in our national Constitution. And it’s true that our systems and philosophies have been conducive to economic success. That’s undeniable. However, it’s equally undeniable that we had an enormous head start in the race to dominate the industrial revolution. We inherited a sparsely populated continent packed with natural resources. When it comes to natural resources — especially fertile agricultural land — our nation was born with a silver spoon in its mouth.

Most geographers today seem to agree that at least 40 million people lived in the Americas when Columbus landed here in 1492.[1] One century later 90 percent of those native people were gone mainly due to diseases introduced by Europeans. Africans, Europeans and Asians had been traveling, trading and procreating together since humanity evolved. When a new cold virus emerged in northern Europe in 1200 A.D., people were probably sneezing in Beijing within a few years. The populations of Old World nations developed natural resistance to each other’s diseases. Disease was always present, of course, and sometimes its effects were catastrophic. The “black death” is estimated to have killed about half of Europe’s population around the beginning of the 15th Century. [2] But the scale of population loss in the Western hemisphere was unique in recorded history.

European immigrants found here a fertile land mostly free for the taking. We have mythologized the settlers and dramatized their conflicts with Native Americans. But imagine what the conquest of the Americas would have been like if there were 10 times as many native peoples.

It would have been very different, to say the least, and European settlement as we understand it might not have occurred at all. The Americas might more resemble northern Asia now, where the ruling Russians and Chinese remain minorities. If there were still 40 million or 50 million native people in the Americas in 1776, competing with the 25 million Europeans who lived here then [3], how different would our history be? And what about our present?

We are taught in the United States that our free-enterprise system is the primary cause for our prosperity. We extrapolate, popularly, that free enterprise is the key to future success. But what if our historic prosperity is mainly due to the fact that we brought the Industrial Revolution to a depopulated continent where we could make maximum use of our new tools to develop its resources? Our free-enterprise philosophies did a great job of facilitating the development of the North American continent and many, many people benefited. It worked super in the development of all that natural abundance. But how well would it work in a world of severely constrained resources?

If our basic assumption that North American prosperity is attributable to our political and economic systems is more myth than reality, then do we have the political and economic systems we need to prosper in a future that will, inevitably, be very different from our past?

Photo by Bryan Welch


[1] Denevan, W. M. The native population of the Americas in 1492, 2nd ed. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. 1992 [1976].

[2] S. Barry and N. Gualde, "The Biggest Epidemics of History: (La plus grande épidémie de l'histoire)" L'Histoire.2006. pp. 45–6, say "between one-third and two-thirds"; R. Gottfried, "Black Death" in Dictionary of the Middle Ages, vol. 2, (1983). pp. 257–67, says "between 25 and 45 percent".

[3] The World at Six Billion, United Nations Population Division.



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Alex33
8/3/2013 7:56:55 AM


There is NO more Free-Enterprise in the first world (not even in USA).
Capitalists have no interest to keep Free-Enterprise alive, as a matter of fact capitalists have their interest in eradicating Free-Enterprise so as to eliminate competition to themselves.
Capitalists achieve this goal by allowing the Left-Wing to create enormous red tape, amortization tax and unsustainable level of social services.
In that process eventually Free-Enterprise is killed, and the Right-Wing parties represent the capitalists (but not Free-Enterprise) and the Left-Wing parties represent the Big-Brother approach to Socialism.
Capitalism and Socialism are both killing Free-Enterprise. Unless we dump their parties in the First-World, we are heading for a disaster (so far we are on that course).


Ronnie Boyd
12/17/2009 3:11:16 PM
If this magazine is about self-reliance and individual freedom, how can you be anything else but a capitalist? Do you want to be assigned a number like under Mao in communist China? Do you want to be told how to run your life from Central Planning (Big government)? The U.S. id the ONLY country EVER founded on the idea of individual freedom! Do you think that might have something to do with our greatness? Who ever thinks otherwise might need to go back and read about our history before the so-called intellectuals started revising it. Yes, there has been good and bad done in this country; but there has not been a more generous and liberating nation EVER!

jmcaul
12/9/2009 4:53:50 PM
If the author's premise about America being relatively unpopulated and rich with natural resources as the main factor in our phenomenal success as the economic powerhouse of the world (not to mention raising living standards all over the world through the kind of innovation that comes with free markets) were true, then why haven't Australia, South Africa, South America and Canada become as wealthy and successful? No. America's relative success (despite recent setbacks that can be directly attributed, it can be convincingly argued, to INCREASED Government 'fixes', interventions, controls, etc.)can instead be attributed to a spiritual difference in the American psyche: the worth of the Individual and the idea that Governments should exist to serve the people and not vice versa; that governments must be kept small and limited; and that individuals have the right of self-determination and the fruits of their labors. The pendulum is swinging back towards self-reliance which is why I read Mother Earth News. I want to learn how to do more things for myself so that I am more independent, NOT more dependent upon 'the system.'

Rupert_1
11/21/2009 7:34:20 PM
This is an example of why I do not subscribe to TMEN. When I go to my library I quickly head to read Mother. I am looking for husbanry, gardening, cost-cutting ideas and homebuilding news. All of these do I enjoy, BUT then this leftist PC raises it head and I remember why I won't send my money in for my own copy. First off, the statement that African, Asians and Europeans have been traveling, trading and procreating together since humans evolved.... Sorry, but you repeating a PC lie does NOT make it truth. The truth is Europeans, Asians and Africans developed INDEPENDENTLY!!! If you have doubt of this check the DNA records of the people of Iceland. The fact that we did NOT travel, trade and have sex together is where REAL diversity comes from. America was blessed with fertile land, but no more so then much of the land of China, Uganda, Zambia or Zimbabwe. Many of the lands in the "New World" settled by the spanish were in fact richer and higher in natural resources. No sir, Americans were different and need to return to being so. Thank you for practical information, you can keep the rest.

JILL JONES
11/10/2009 9:13:15 PM
It is obvious to see that this article has been written by a left wing progressive who wants to take our freedoms away. Mother Earth News please understand, I want articles about chickens, cows, rabbits, gardens, canning, candles,log homes, etc. I DO NOT WANT TO HEAR LEFT WING GARBAGE! I too will cancel my subscription if you do not hear me.

Ed_29
11/2/2009 7:39:14 PM
I believe that the original basis upon which TMEN was founded is the only real solution to the issues we face today; that is hardwork, conservation of resources and community. It is always a good idea to "love your neighbor" and care for those who are less fortunate than ourselves. Yes, there is a place for political debate. As there should be; or we don't have freedom of speech. But today's issues are extrememly complex and can only solved by the disolution of the current political system and the birth of a system that actually does represent the people. I'm no poliSci major so I lack the ability to suggest an alternative but I have yet to see a system that works. I guess we are stuck with the upcoming one world government and economic slavery to that system; we'll just have to wait and see.

John Edward Mercier
10/19/2009 11:03:13 AM
The author has a point... but I think fails to miss the effect that the destruction of industrial means during WWII in other countries had on the US supremacy during the past several decades.

Matthew L.
10/15/2009 12:41:08 PM
I also view my time with Mother Earth News as a retreat from constant bombardment by political hacks (both left and right)with their half baked ideas. The question posed by this article is not relevant to this magazine's stated purpose which is to provide information on living wisely in a self reliant manner. Please try to stay on point and away from political evangelism. That being said, I'd would like to contribute two quick points: 1. This is the United States of America, a constitutional republic dedicated to the idea that each of us are created equal and have the God given right to LIFE, LIBERTY and the PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS. Capitalism is at the very core of this form of government. If we cease to be capitalists, we cease to be Americans. 2. The core idea of capitalism is that it efficiently allocates SCARCE RESOURCES by balancing available supply against market demand through free exchange of goods and services.

Terry Smith_6
10/13/2009 10:13:54 AM
Every day we are bombarded by the political/communication machine. Mother Earth News is a retreat from this day to day BS. Stick with your core business and leave the politics out. If you insist on following this path I will no longer be a supporter of Mother Earth News.

AuburnYank_1
10/12/2009 9:55:36 AM
Please keep the political agenda OUT of Mother Earth News! The left wing propaganda machine seems to have even crawled in here - Guess the fate of this periodical may take the path of the others that have succummed to the unexcusable bashing of America and the greatness it has provided to the ENTIRE world. There is no other freedom loving and living nation in the world, that will be able to help us. It is so heart warming to see that others of like mind are on the same page. America, in 1492, (or somewhere there abouts) was an abundant and sparcly populated land. I am NOT going to apologize for something that happened 300, 400, 500 years ago, it was the Age of Exploration. Every single nation of the entire world, established its boundries with blood shed. Our boundries are worth fighting for, and we have hundreds of thousands of brave men and women that have died to preserve it. Free enterprise allows - encourages! - innovation, competition, fair market price. Government control = no price limit (monopoly!!!), wasteful spending (got to pay back all the 'ol boys), and increasing government employees, with benefit packages, that tax paying citizens will have to shoulder. A system that WILL emplode. Mother Earth News, PLEASE, stay away from political agenda! Rodale Press, shame on you

Lobo_1
10/12/2009 9:47:38 AM
Capitalism is the basis of a free society. However we as a nation need to learn to be a lot less "gotta have the latest or greatest". Madison Avenue only job in life is to get you to buy more and more, even if your present item is prefectly good. Many of us work small "mom and pop" businesses out of our homes. I for one make and sell wood items for kids to play with and household items thjat can actually be used, not just looked at. I used to shop at Wal-Mart whne the things were actually American made, before Sam Walton died and the bean counters got in to it. I personally do not but it if its not made in the United States. Of course many items are finally assembled here, those I will consider. I do not buy clothes made in India or Pakistan. I never buy bottled water (it is ruining the countries where it is bottled), I made my own shopping bags instead of buying the plastic ones made in China from old plastic bottles shipped to them and then shipped back.

ccm989
10/12/2009 9:23:34 AM
Another thoughtful article -- has capitalism run amuck? Certainly all of us who are descendents of western European settlers benefitted from the mass immigration and capitalism that our country initally experienced. But, sadly, things have changed. Our resources are dwindling because everyone wants to live like an American. Our land is getting crowded because everyone wants to live here (look at the explosive illegal alien situation). What to do? The capitalism of the 1700s is far less effective in America in this century. Look at the bank bailouts, the auto company bail outs, etc. This is what happens when the CEOs are able to buy our government out and crush all restrictions and regulations. Congress is run not for the American people but for the benefit of lobbyists and Big Corporations. We need to reign in the lobbyists and the corporations and put government back to work by the people and for the people. Capitalism is the Best Economic System on Earth but it needs to be transparent and held accountable to the American people and the world. To do less puts us all in peril.

MC_2
10/10/2009 9:46:17 AM
I, too, tend to be of the opinion that this fellow needs to spend a little more time working the "rancho" and a little less time sitting in front of the computadora with his "cappuccino". He strikes me as a silly rich white suburbanite with more degrees than good sense who wants to think of himself as a) sophisticated, b) academic, and c) an environmentalist (in that order of priority). In other words, the reason I left college without an advanced degree even though I could have gotten one easily and at least half the reason the environmental movement keeps foundering. But, please, unbunch your panties. He's got as much right to his opinion as we do to ours. Personally I hope he's wrong, and I'd rather deal with population-decimating pandemics than live in the kind of world he seems to be proposing (seeing as how disease doesn't discriminate, but wealthy white 'progressives' almost always do)... ...but he does ask valid and interesting questions. Points to ponder when it's too dark to work. Hey, like the old folks say-- even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Mark_67
9/30/2009 7:28:00 PM
You know, for a magazine that emphasizes self-reliance, your staff certainly seems to be part of the growing number of people in this country who want everyone to rely on the government to solve their problems. Please stop these political articles. Continue printing great articles about self-reliance and do-it-yourself, and I'll continue buying your magazine. Continue printing garbage about government being the only solution, and I will no longer buy your magazine.

Sarah_31
9/30/2009 2:00:56 AM
If all it took to become an industrial power was natural resources, we would have become one long before we did. It was not until World Wars I and II that the United States emerged as an industrial superpower. Apparently, necessity is the mother of invention. Large groups of people have to commit to doing things before society as a whole changes. The suggestion that only one factor is mostly responsible for anything that has happened historically or will happen in the future is simply unscholarly. People make decisions based on many factors and to ignore any of them is to have an incomplete understanding of a situation. It would be just as foolish to decide that war leads to great advances in technology and to just go out and start one every decade... Anyway, I would hope that this article was a misguided attempt to make the reader think about the value of free enterprise. I'm sure I wouldn't want to live in a country without it. I'm sure it affects important decisions made every day. I'm also sure it's not the only thing affecting our future. And I agree with others who have said that this type of pseudo-academic, rambling, politically charged article is an unwelcome intrusion on my otherwise enjoyable time spent reading Mother Earth News.

Phillip_8
9/28/2009 3:14:50 AM
Everyone missed the comments of the author concerning the Native American People. A sincere study of history would reveal what appears to be an attempt at genocide. Diseases did play a role in the decline of their population but was not the main cause. A very good example is the needless slaughter of the buffalo to deprive certain tribes of the native people of their main food source. This ignorance also explains the lack of intelligence on the part of the author concerning free enterprise, without it this will no longer be the United States of America. We will have no freedom without free enterprise. Greed is the main flaw to the free enterprise system and may be it's destruction as we are all now very aware according to current events.

allenwrench
9/27/2009 5:00:39 PM
Well, we live in an upside down world. We have created a defective model for long term population support. IT'S NOT THAT SIMPLE TO DO A 180...Without compulsive spending and conspicuous consumption funded by unaffordable debt, we would fail as a country. Our world is upside down, when the right way to s sustainable future will bring our world down. The only thing to do to keep the Ponzi scheme going is to do just the opposite of prudent advice. What would happen to our economy if we took the advice and did as this recycled victory poster from WWII suggested? http://i685.photobucket.com/albums/vv219/keepitlow456/victorygarden.jpg Since our economy if fueled 70% by the consumer, we must stay in debt and consume by any means necessary. We must make shoddy products that self-destruct quickly - so new products are in constant demand to keep the workforce of drones working. All the while squandering resources. We must not grow our own food and buy poisonous food from chemical laden farms. Our concrete jungles could never hope to allow anything else from their inhabitants. And we must squander fossil fuels as fast as possible to keep the economy booming. What would all the tourists traps from Las Vegas to Florida do without the travelers? And the multitude of business that depend on travel along the pilgrimage routes? On an a more global level, lets say everyone becomes voluntary simplicity and frugal squirrel devotees. We recycle, reuse, repair and just say NO to buying more crap. If we stop buying all the stuff that America imports from China - who keeps the 1.3 billion plus people in China from starving, so they do not go back to old ways of trying to take over the world? We can see we have created a time bomb. Even the highest level brainiac economists can't fix what ails us. Our whole system is based on an unsustainable model that will eventually collapse no matter how much money that is pri

Ken Larsen
9/27/2009 4:35:26 PM
Free enterprise is definitely PART of the solution. So is government control. Obviously extreme ideologies can never be efficient and effective in accomplishing all our goals. Each challenge (climate change, overpopulation, manufacturing, healthcare...) requires an individualized approach. What we need are effective policies, and no one "cookie-cutter" political or economic philosophy will address every aspect of human life. Without collective measures, we can't effectively address the need to preserve the earth for a huge and growing population. The abundance of resources in early America is an increasing rarity in today's world. Taxes, for example, can discourage harmful behaviors while funding needed public services. But incentives for innovation and freedom of expression are also crucial elements in prosperity. Taking income equality to the extreme leads to physical and mental laziness on the part of the public.

Mary_77
9/27/2009 4:30:40 PM
Whoa, y'all are really getting off on this! Where does the author say capitalism is the cause of anything bad? He's saying it's done great things -- so far. And he's not saying it can't continue to do great things. He's simply posing a thought-provoking question: What if free enterprise only worked so well because the deck was stacked in its favor? Will it work so well in a situation where resources are scarce? You folks are reading in the criticism of free enterprise.

Kim_40
9/27/2009 4:14:06 PM
Thanks Jack for your comment. There is a very good reason that newspapers are failing around the country and "main-stream" media are losing viewers and that is that we don't buy into the progressive agenda. We don't want to be subjected to it, hear it or view it. Well, Mother Earth take heed. If you continue with this leftist agenda you will be going the way of the newspaper - out of business. Please note that in the comments only one person supported the article. You are not in line with your readers. If I see much more of this I will cancel my subscription. Get back to the reason we ordered Mother Earth in the first place - hint, it has nothing to do with politics.

Jack Veggie
9/27/2009 1:12:31 PM
It is amazing how the political progressive agenda propaganda machine has infiltrated the likes of Mother Earth and the Rodale bunch. I don't think I witnessed anything like it during my years on earth (1954 to present). I read about how the propaganda machines worked during WW2 and have seen some posters and trinkets that are relics of the era, but I failed to appreciated the level at which the average citizen could be bombarded with double speak and spin. Luckily, the comment sections here and at the Rodale site reflect true thought, and until the propagandists shut those avenues down, offer hope that the future will have people of reason, not hype in a majority position. Maybe when Mother Earth chokes on its own propaganda, journalistic evolution will bring forth a cool publication like Mother Earth used to be, before the editorialists displaced the how-to-do-it writers. Till then I'll spend more time reading Faulkner's Plowmans Folly and Second Look, and less time reading Mother Earth News.

Don_36
9/27/2009 1:03:31 PM
Capitalism is the problem? Where is the writer of this article? Hopefully not in America! I am under the belief that our jobs of manufacturing as well as anything else that government regulates now has moved overseas because the government stepped in and pushed the capitalists around. Many businesses want cheap labor, but regulations are much less for manufacturing in China, and even Mexico. Why does government step in? Because of the extreme left like this author, that think its more important to save a fish, than to give the farmers their water to keep their trees alive, thus feeding America and the world. The best thing that can happen is for the government to stay out of people's lives, and let them find their purpose. America became strong because of capitalism. The world economy is riding on the backs of capitalism. And government intervention to capitalism is making an artificial economy that our children and our grandchildren (and many more generations) will have to pay for. But how will they pay for it with a negative GDP if leftists like this get their way? We cannot be a nation of spending, and borrowing forever. We will have to someday return to our industrial ways to keep a balance in our country, and in our world. But this cannot happen with a left wing agenda, and a deficit growing by billions a day. So thank you government, and thank you leftists, for changing America from the great country it once was, to a socialist country we are soon headed to be.

Mary Saunders_3
9/27/2009 1:01:52 PM
If you look carefully at sources of pollution, you will find that your taxes are often used to pollute, and government can exempt itself from remedies under law. A small business cannot do that. Corrupt companies curry favor with government, considering the cost of that as an investment. Their investments are levers to get many times more back in subsidies than their carefully designed investments. It is this we must get at if we are to get better class mobility and interaction. This corruption fuels our high incarceration rate and our other challenges. Looking at health care, deaths from treatment are in the hundreds of thousands. Deaths from lack of treatment are estimated at 14,000, last I checked. Fixing this has not been part of any proposals I know of. And what they do propose could be changed in hundreds of pages at the last minute so they would not even have had time to read the changes. Proper oversight could maybe happen on a county level, except for those counties with little resources who could make alliances with other counties. Our ability to performance-audit government is out of control.

Kim_40
9/27/2009 11:41:35 AM
Yes, comrade, you are right. We see that working as a government run collective has been so very productive and vastly improved the lives of those in the Soviet Union and in China. Oh, and let's not forget how having the government run a country works so well for North Korea, Venezuela and Iran. It is the freedom to think, innovate and, yes, even prosper (gasp!)that has allowed us to make incredible strides in technology, medicine, science etc. that benefit the entire world. We, because of our freedom and the opportunities to explore new ideas, not a low population and high resources, caused the amazing country we live in and will continue to do so if government leaves us alone. I agree that greed is one factor in poor stewardship of the "commons" and has caused some of the problems we have. But we are an innovative people very capable of fixing our problems. Let's not destroy the foundation but fix the cracks. Oh, and Mother Earth, PLEASE stop with the left-wing propaganda articles!!!! Next you'll have us singing the hymn to Obama just like the children I saw on TV this week.

JASON Aakhus
9/27/2009 9:53:13 AM
Greedy, selfish capitalists are exploiting our resources! I'm so thankful that only selfless, altruistic people seek power in politics.

Pat Miketinac
9/23/2009 11:04:14 PM
I still believe that the free market is the best system under any circumstances because it provides incentives for innovation and problem solving. We don't have a true free market now due to government and Fed interference, which is causing most of our problems by confiscating so much capital, enough to prevent an economic recovery if not controlled. Capitalism needs real savings, not fiat money created by the Fed.

George Works
9/23/2009 3:00:24 PM
I think free enterprise - Capitalism - was a good fit for early America. Resources were plentiful, and Capitalism rewarded those who could exploit them. But things have changed, and many of our problems today concern "the commons": the air and waters around us that no individual owns. Because nobody owns them, Capitalism does not apply. Absent action by the people, through our government, the commons is being polluted and its value destroyed. This action can only be taken collectively because none of us individually owns the commons. I think this is a legitimate function of government, and I hope that enough of you agree so that we can act to save the commons while there is still time. And perhaps save ourselves, too.







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