Heartland’s CEO Joe Bast spoke recently at the “Yes, We Did Build It” rally in Waukesha, Wisconsin, sponsored by the Citizens for Responsible Government. (That’s Wisconsin Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, at right, speaking at the rally). The rally was inspired by the “you didn’t build that” comment President Obama made.
Joe’s speech was learned and well-grounded in conservative philosophy. But one particular section of his speech was especially moving, in my view.
We talk all the time – I do, certainly – about free markets and the values of capitalism. About principles, that is. But conservatives do not talk often enough about feelings. Fortunately, Joe did at that gathering.
The fact is that being conservative, living conservative, is moral. And it helps people feel good about themselves. It gives individuals a sense of purpose. A sense of accomplishment. Pride.
So, one of the virtues of capitalism, Joe said at the gathering, is that it empowers the powerless. Those who are not rich or politically connected or militarily empowered. Like me. Like many of you.
Here is part of what he said:
Before I end, let me make the case that what business owners and entrepreneurs do isn’t just necessary – doesn’t just put food on our plates, clothes on our backs, and roofs over our heads, however important that may be. What they do is also profoundly moral.
There are only two ways to get someone to do something: You either make it in his or her interest to do it, or you force him or her to do it. Governments have the ability to use force to compel people to do things, like buy health insurance under Obamacare. Businessmen and -women can’t use force. They can only trade you value for value. So capitalism is inherently peaceful.
What distinguishes capitalism from all other methods of organizing production is not that it relies on or encourages greed, but that capitalist institutions act as a check on greed by elevating trade – voluntary exchanges that create new wealth, not just redistribute existing wealth – over the use of force, fraud, or privilege.
Capitalism protects rather than violates human rights, and by doing so it creates a path to financial security and wealth that is open to the vast majority of people who don’t have political or military power. America was founded on capitalist values.
It’s no coincidence or mystery that 1776 was both the year of America’s founding and the year Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations was published … the first treatise on economics that made the case for capitalism. Adam Smith corresponded with Benjamin Franklin and other founding fathers. In his Autobiography, Franklin listed 13 virtues, all of them consistent with the new morality of capitalism. They are still worth pursuing: temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, and humility.
I’ve been reading a lot lately about our Founders, the men who drafted our Constitution. In Great Britain, their personal virtues were irrelevant. They were unable to alter their futures. They were doomed to live out the station in life they inherited from their fathers. Their aspirations and their abilities meant nothing. They were powerless. But they came to America to change all that.
As Joe concluded: “Thank you very much for listening, and God bless America.”