by Paul Ryan
Who? Ultimately, the government.
Free enterprise empowers entrepreneurs who have ideas and imagination, investors who take risks, and workers who hone their skills and offer their labor. Our exceptional country was built up by the ingenuity, capital, and sweat contributed by individuals who risked it all to build a brighter future for their families. America was founded on the shared belief that government’s primary role is to safeguard our God-given freedoms, as individual initiative and a strong civil society are what make prosperity and flourishing possible. America is exceptional for this very reason — no other country in the history of mankind was founded on such a powerful idea.
The President’s policies have stifled this commitment to economic freedom, resulting in millions of Americans facing painful economic hardships. In the President’s revealing rhetoric, we gain insight into why the economy remains so anemic and the future looks so bleak.
In this President’s telling, success is a function of government beneficence — not individual initiative. His outlook not only makes for terrible economics; it also reveals moral confusion. The issue that separates our President from our Founders is a moral one: freedom and individual initiative, or big government alternatives to freedom?
President Obama’s comments reflect an ideology that casts the private sector as an arena driven by greed and indifference to the well-being of others. In government-directed economies, the collective takes priority over the individual. The moral ideal is equal results.
That approach could not be further removed from the real world.
Every successful individual knows that his or her achievement depends on a community of persons working together. We strengthen our bonds with each other as we offer our unique gifts to others: some are inventors, some investors, others are laborers, managers, or marketers while customers reward the best producers and providers by buying their products and services. We work to advance the common good through our free association with each other, not through a coercive government directing our actions. Each human being has inherent dignity and unique gifts. Meaning is derived as we voluntarily share our individual gifts and talents with each other, in mutual assistance to meet our neighbors’ needs, thriving in ways we could not if isolated individuals as caricatured in the President’s distorted view of America’s commitment to free enterprise.
Of course government has a critical role to play: establishing neutral rules that enable open competition and securing peace and order with courts, a standard currency, defense forces, first responders, teachers, infrastructure, and a safety net for the most vulnerable. Government can help create the space for innovation and prosperity, but government does not fill that space. Activist government overreach and ongoing economic stagnation have shown us why Washington should not try to displace what is best left to civil society.
There are pernicious side effects from Washington’s intrusion into ever-increasing sectors of our economy and aspects of our lives. Big-government economics breeds crony capitalism. It’s corrupt, anything but neutral, and a barrier to broad participation in prosperity. Both political parties have been guilty of this trend. Most recently, Washington has pursued polices that pick winners and losers in specific sectors of our economy and that favor well-connected corporations and union bosses with bureaucratic access, tax loopholes, and regulatory waivers. Think Solyndra, bankrupt after a $500 million taxpayer guarantee, and Fisker Automotive, whose taxpayer loans created jobs in Finland, not the U.S.
The moral case for individual initiative in a free economy holds that people have a God-given right to use their creativity to produce things that improve our lives. A free economy and strong communities honor the dignity of every person, rewarding effort with justice, promoting upward mobility, and building solidarity among citizens. The President’s collective vision of a government-centered society — reflected in his troubling rhetoric and failed policies — divides class against class and belittles fair rewards for workers, entrepreneurs, and investors—America’s real builders.
We face a defining choice in November. Mitt Romney’s clear vision is very different from the President. America’s founding principles of freedom and equal opportunity will guide his policies as he repairs the damage, which the current administration’s agenda has inflicted on this country. We don’t need to change the nature of America. We need to recommit to our founding principles and rebuild what has been broken — and this comeback begins by replacing the current leadership in the White House.
Rep. Paul Ryan is a Republican Congressman from Wisconsin and the chairman of the House of Representatives Budget Committee.