Is Free Enterprise the Key to Future Success?

| 9/15/2009 4:50:10 PM

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?

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!

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.'

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