In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson famously wrote that our country would be based on the rights (among others) to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” But how can we get there from here?
In his new book, The Road to Freedom, Arthur C. Brooks offers a map. Brooks explains that it isn’t money that makes people happy—it’s having the opportunity to earn success. And the free enterprise system is the best way humans have yet devised for individuals to earn success.
During a recent speech at The Heritage Foundation, Brooks noted that since 1970, severe global poverty (the number of people living on $1 a day or less) has declined by 80 percent. In China alone, some 600 million people have been lifted out of poverty in that time. Brooks says it’s the global spread of free enterprise that’s saved and improved hundreds of millions of lives.
The Founding Fathers recognized the power of free trade, which is why they crafted the Constitution to protect free enterprise and property rights. “As the Founders saw it, the right to property was not simply an economic concept, and was much more than owning a bit of land. It was a first principle of liberty,” writes Heritage’s Matthew Spalding in his book We Still Hold These Truths. “The essence of liberty is the freedom to develop one’s talents, pursue opportunity, and generally take responsibility for one’s own life and well-being.”
As Brooks puts it, governments can’t give us the things that make us happy. They can redistribute income, taxing some and giving to others. But that only leads to feelings of “learned hopelessness” on the part of recipients, who find themselves dependent on government largesse.
Americans overwhelmingly believe “fairness” means rewarding merit. Good government protects property rights, and by doing so it allows people to succeed based on ability and hard work. That’s the Road to Freedom, and the moral case for free enterprise.