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Commentary from the Free Enterprise Foundation, Issue 2010-06 More Thought Provoking Commentary!
March 23, 2010
You are invited to read this commentary from the Free Enterprise Foundation. It will make you think!
By Robert E. Freer, Jr., President of The Free Enterprise Foundation
“Surely there never was so evil a thing as money, which maketh cities into ruinous heaps, and banisheth men from their houses, and turneth their thoughts from good unto evil.” (Sophocles, Antigone)
“So you think that money is the root of all evil? Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can't exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce. Is this what you consider evil? (Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged)
Money is at the root of what ails us. Who has it; who doesn’t; how we gain money, spend it, and whose business is it to know these things about us in the first place? deToqueville in touring our country 60 years after our founding noted, “I know of no country, indeed, where the love of money has taken stronger hold on the affections of men, and where the profounder contempt is expressed for the theory of the permanent equality of property.”
The Scottish proverb of “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations” seems created to describe the constant churning in our lives. If we are not diligent, we live out another saying, “The father buys, the son builds, the grandchild sells, and his son begs.” Or at least that is the fear that drives us to achieve, and achieve some more. Never looking over our shoulder for fear poverty is gaining upon such fragile security as we may have achieved, we scramble to stay just beyond fear’s reach.
America was born in fear. America was born in want- the want of something from which our ancestors fled: the absence of hope for a better life. They fled from a continent stratified in its social structure and fixed in its opportunity for no better than their parents achieved. They fled from being “subjects” of a monarch to the challenge of being free and “citizens” of a new world. They arrived on the edge of this great continent with but a peppercorn of hope for something better.
They then hacked a beachhead from its forests and streams, pried rocks from it fields with their bare hands and tilled its rich soil. They built great cities and spread across the land overtaking the mountains, first as an intrepid few and then in a cascade of wagons and brave legions from Europe and Asia given heart by the accomplishments of the first generations. Our ancestors tied our coasts together with bands of steel, ever developing our land’s vast resources for better lives and to exalt in the satisfaction of their freedom.
Ted Turner once said that, “Life is a game. Money is how we keep score.” Well if so, Americans have played the game exceedingly well, and even the poorest have been uplifted. It would be a mistake, however to count these gains as a community effort. It has been gained by individuals, men and women of talent pursuing, one at a time, their personal success and benefiting the community by the sweat of their brow or their brawn.
Mistake not that money to be savored must be won by diligent effort. Contemplation of the lucre won is oh-so-sweet if the muscles ache or the mind is fogged by the fatigue of dedicated mental effort. Self respect comes not with the handout but with the hand-up for whatever coin of value you will accept in an amount freely negotiated. Do we really want to flirt with disaster by allowing a bloated federal bureaucracy to overwhelm a winning formula?
Ayn Rand refers with disgust to the moochers who would wean you from your hard won gains by tears, or outright theft. Hayek notes the inevitability of government’s intrusion in the allocation of goods as begetting tyranny and loss of freedom. Only Adam Smith’s invisible hand succeeds in protecting freedom while providing the mechanism to satisfy the shifting needs of a nation by a process of offer and sale that adjusts the essential needs and even the whims of its people to an ever changing source of supply. Freedom is what produces the greatest justice, and it is money that is the medium to allow this to happen.
Money is but a reflection of those who seek it. If they are of solid personal values, it can naught but be good. If they be base, it corrupts. Those with talent and imagination can multiply and create more. Those of poor values and lack of skill will lose it to those without their faults. Money is neither good nor evil. It is, however, in a free society the greatest tool of creation yet conceived to lift man from all those aspects of life that would cause mankind to fold in upon itself and destroy all that we can be.
Ayn Rand puts it thus, “Money is the product of virtue, but it will not give you virtue and it will not redeem your vices. Money will not give you the unearned, neither in matter nor in spirit…. The man who dams money has earned it dishonorably; the man who respects it has earned it.”
Money in America is the sum of both our national aspirations and those aspects of our national history we would rather leave behind. We seek a brighter future. Whatever that future, it is clear that we will progress to it one at a time, agreed on principle or not at all. If we do not remain true to our principles, we will have cause to lament, along with Yogi Berra, “A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.”
Copyright © 2010 by Robert E. Freer, Jr. All rights reserved
About the author: Robert E. Freer, Jr., is president of the Free Enterprise Foundation. He is also the first BB&T Visiting Professor in Ethics and Free Enterprise Leadership at The Citadel. A regular contributor to the Mercury, Prof. Freer may be reached at Robert.firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like him to appear before your group or organization to speak on any of the subjects about which he writes, please contact him at The Citadel. Copies of his earlier columns may be found at The Free Enterprise Foundation
This article may be republished unedited in its entirety provided that copyright statement and author by-lines are kept intact and unchanged and hyperlinks and/or URLs provided by the author remain active.
Please sent any comments to Robert Freer, President of The Free Enterprise Foundation
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