by Thomas J. Donohue
It’s ironic that a government that has been so hostile to free enterprise recently opened a new exhibit in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History celebrating how business ingenuity and innovation helped create the most successful and wealthy economy on earth. The exhibit–American Enterprise–seeks to inspire the next generation of innovators. It’s a welcome reminder of the power of free enterprise to stimulate economic growth, create jobs, and raise our standard of living.
Support for free enterprise in America used to be a given. The painful recession made many Americans feel insecure and question if free enterprise was the best approach for our country. In fact, today we are in the midst of a battle between two distinct economic models. The first believes in the power of the individual and the free market–with a strong social safety net–to spur economic growth and spark innovation. The second trusts in the power of government, where politicians and unaccountable bureaucrats divvy up the economic spoils as they see fit, exercise control over key industry sectors, and dictate to individuals.
The tilt toward big government in recent years–and away from free enterprise–has taken a toll on the economy. An onslaught of government regulations, a “you didn’t build that” attitude, and sweeping legislation that’s remade key industries like health care, finance, and energy have sapped economic growth and job creation. The result? We’ve had the weakest recovery since World War II, and the labor force participation rate is the lowest since 1978.
A return to free enterprise principles would help rev up our economic engine, create jobs, and encourage innovation. Free enterprise, not government, empowers individuals; enables legitimate risk taking that is at the heart of innovation and growth; and reflects the values our nation was founded on. After all, the spirit of enterprise is in our DNA. From Benjamin Franklin to Steve Jobs, Americans have always pushed the boundaries of what was thought possible.
Free enterprise shouldn’t be relegated to a museum. It is something we need here and now to revitalize our economy and provide opportunities for all Americans. Free enterprise is what made the United States the land of opportunity and created the American Dream. While visiting the new exhibit is a great way to celebrate the role that free enterprise played in America’s past, we need to renew our commitment to it today. By doing so, we can get back to business, jobs, and economic growth.
Thomas J. Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.