American Enterprise Institute President Arthur C. Brooks published another book on free enterprise two years after he published The Battle. A pro-capitalist individual, I was very eager to get exposed to his arguments as to why a free enterprise system is better than what he refers to as a statist, social democratic or any system where there is more government than an entrepreneur would deem necessary. His most compelling argument – that free enterprise is moral.
Arthur Brooks was very entrepreneurial in articulating the notion of morality in free enterprise, especially in the United States. He interpreted the quote from the Declaration of Independence – “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” – as implying entrepreneurship. Unlike Karl Marx or communist dictators whose propaganda always revolves around pledging to build and sustain a social order that brings people happiness, the Founding Fathers envisioned a society where everyone is free to pursue their own happiness, instead of having the government provide, or pledge, happiness to everyone. While such a society doesn’t guarantee happiness to individuals, it promotes individual independence, which improves society, according to Mr. Brooks.
He argues that in a free enterprise society people are generally not only much more independent but also happier, especially the individuals who are entrepreneurs. While I understand his train of thought – and despite the fact that he supports this notion with data from surveys – I beg to slightly differ. He went on to discuss having been exposed to social entrepreneurs who were happy with what they were doing for a living even though they were so poor they lived off of noodles and tap water. My experience has been different. When I was working as a fitness instructor, I suggested to one of my colleagues – who was apparently into workouts, nutrition and competition – that he become a powerlifter. His answer: “I would love that but I cannot. There is not much money in that sport, especially unless you are among the first in your country.” A similar situation that I bumped into involved a college tennis player. She told me she was admitted to her undergraduate program with a sports scholarship but she doesn’t see her future in tennis: one reason because she is tired of tennis, and another reason because she is not that good compared to her potential opponents so she would end up barely making ends meet, regardless of whether she likes playing tennis or not.
I can think of personal examples. I have had lots of passions in my life, most of which would not pay me the bills, even if I do them 24:7, so I already know that if I am to survive in this world, I have to look for something else to do for a living.
Not to mention that living off of noodles and tap water (literally or not – we are talking about poverty here) is detrimental to one’s health. So living within such limited means deprives one of taking care of their health when they really need it – just because they cannot afford it.
Nevertheless, the book is a must-read. I liked the concepts there, especially the discussion of social capital. If everyone reads that book and applies most (not all) of its concepts, the world will be a better place to live in – and with a better social capital even in the big cities. In my opinion, this book should be required from high-school teachers. The best way to sustain positive mentality in a country is when valuable concepts and ideas are taught in K-12.