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The greatest risk of resurrgent statism is that we will forsake the unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness…

Arthur C. Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute in The Washington Post:

The new statism in America, made possible by years of drift and accelerated by the panic over the economic crisis, threatens to make us permanently poorer. But that is not the greatest danger. The real risk is that in the new culture war, we will forsake the third unalienable right set out in our Declaration of Independence: the pursuit of happiness.

Free enterprise brings happiness; redistribution does not. The reason is that only free enterprise brings earned success.

Earned success involves the ability to create value honestly — not by inheriting a fortune, not by picking up a welfare check. It doesn’t mean making money in and of itself. Earned success is the creation of value in our lives or in the lives of others. Earned success is the stuff of entrepreneurs who seek value through innovation, hard work and passion. Earned success is what parents feel when their children do wonderful things, what social innovators feel when they change lives, what artists feel when they create something of beauty.

Money is not the same as earned success but is rather a symbol, important not for what it can buy but for what it says about how people are contributing and what kind of difference they are making. Money corresponds to happiness only through earned success.

Not surprisingly, unearned money — while it may help alleviate suffering — carries with it no personal satisfaction. Studies of lottery winners, for instance, show that after a brief period of increased happiness, their moods darken as they no longer derive the same enjoyment from the simple pleasures in life, and as the glow of buying things wears off.

The same results emerge with other kinds of unearned income — welfare payments, for example. According to the University of Michigan’s 2001 Panel Study of Income Dynamics, going on the welfare rolls increases by 16 percent the likelihood of a person saying that she or he has felt inconsolably sad over the past month. Of course, the misery of welfare recipients probably goes well beyond the check itself. Nonetheless, studies show that recipients are far unhappier than equally poor people who do not receive such government benefits.

Benjamin Franklin (a pretty rich man for his time) grasped the truth about money’s inability by itself to deliver satisfaction. "Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it," he declared. "The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of filling a vacuum, it makes one."

If unearned money does not bring happiness, redistributing money by force won’t make for a happier America — and the redistributionists’ theory of a better society through income equality falls apart.

The goal of our system should be to give all Americans the greatest opportunities possible to succeed based on their work and merit. And that’s exactly what the free enterprise system does: It makes earned success possible for the most people. This is the liberty that enables the true pursuit of happiness.

To win the culture war, those of us in the 70 percent majority must reclaim — and proclaim — the morality of our worldview.

Unfortunately, we often fail to do this. Instead, we sound unabashedly materialistic. We talk about growth rates, inflation and investment, while the 30 percent coalition walks off with the claims to happiness and fairness. (According to Obama, for example, we need to restore "fairness" to our tax code by increasing taxes on the wealthy and exempting more people at the bottom from paying anything.)

The irony is that it is the 30 percent coalition, not the 70 percent majority, that is fundamentally materialistic. What do they consider the greatest problem of poor people in America? Insufficient income. What would be evidence of a fairer society? Greater income equality. For the leaders of the 30 percent coalition, money does buy happiness — as long as it is spread evenly. That is why redistribution of income is a fundamental goal and why free enterprise, which rewards some people and penalizes others, cannot be trusted.

The 70 percent majority, meanwhile, believes that ingenuity and hard work should be rewarded. We admire creative entrepreneurs and disdain rule-making bureaucrats. We know that income inequality by itself is not what makes people unhappy, and that only earned success can make them happy.

We must do more to show that while we use the language of commerce and business, we believe in human flourishing and contentment. We must articulate moral principles that set forth our fundamental values, and we must be prepared to defend them.

This is just a longish clip. Read the whole thing.

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  • 5 comments

    5 Comments so far

    1. Ashlee May 23rd, 2010 7:17 pm

      Great read. Def something to think about and put to work.

    2. Chris Johnson May 23rd, 2010 8:19 pm

      This is one area where you get it right and the libertarians get it wrong. The libertarians and tea partiers scream “mine mine mine,” and come off as crabby rich dudes. Nobody likes put upon rich dudes.

    3. Teri Lussier May 23rd, 2010 8:28 pm

      More from the post:

      >the purpose of free enterprise is human flourishing, not materialism; that we stand for equality of opportunity, not equality of income; that we seek to stimulate true prosperity rather than simply treat poverty; and that we believe in principle over power.

      That’s just plain inspirational.

    4. [...] GSwann [...]

    5. Greg Swann May 24th, 2010 7:50 am

      > This is one area where you get it right and the libertarians get it wrong.

      Political liberty is the freedom to use your mind and to follow it wherever it might lead you — the pursuit not of happiness but of perfect splendor, if you can attain it. Coercion seeks the opposite: To frustrate your mind, to forbid you the fruits of your thinking and, ultimately, to enmire you in the squalor that is compulsion’s sole end-product. The values we seem to others to seek — money, art, love — are secondary consequences. Every purposive action is taken first by the self upon the self. The objective of every normal human being is to manifest in one’s behavior the ego each one of us is aware of only introspectively. At its essence, everything that matters about a particular person’s behavior is invisible to all other people, discernible only by inference from perceived actions — secondary consequences. In this respect, all coercion is fundamentally self-frustrating. You cannot control other people from the outside. The more you try to do so, the less human your victims become — ultimately unto their deaths. The human mind cannot be enslaved, only extinguished.