Monday, October 17, 2011

The Case for the Free Market

Ezra Taft Benson
Yesterday a friend put up a link to one of those pieces that I read and think, “Why hasn’t this been in my files all along?” This time the piece is “The Case for the Free Market,” a chapter from the book This Nation Shall Endure, ©1977, by Ezra Taft Benson. I reference his “The Proper Role of Government” several times in my Spherical Model writings, and keep it filed with Bastiat’s The Law, which it cites several times. 

The article is worth spending a day summarizing. He teaches us with a parable of two fathers of sons:

Two fathers lived side by side as neighbors. Each had two sons. Each had a good job, a roomy house, and material means to provide the best of life’s luxuries. The essential difference between the two fathers was one of philosophy.
Mr. A’s objective with his sons was to instill principles that would bring about self-respect, personal responsibility, and independence. His method merits our scrutiny.
When his boys were young, he taught them how to work at simple tasks by his side. When they became more mature, he developed a work-incentive program. The pay scale was commensurate with the quality of the work performed. An “average job,” for example, paid fifty cents; “above average,” sixty cents’ “exceptional,” seventy-five cents. A “one-dollar job” was the impossible task, a goal that he soon observed the boys were striving after. [Mr. Spherical Model is convinced his grandfather used this same scale on lawn care and other duties he and his brothers were hired to do.] He impressed on them that the only limitations to their earnings were their own personal initiative and desire. He emphasized the necessity of postponing wants so they could save for the future. The lessons were well learned over a period of time.
There was an undergirding moral element to Mr. A’s philosophy, a principle more “caught” than taught. A simple example will suffice. One day the boys, now young men, were working in his plant. Mr. A observed some sloppy work being done on one of the products. He asked to see the product, and removed the label. One of the boys resisted. “Why are you doing that, Dad?” he asked. Mr. A replied, “I’ll not have my name attached to a shoddy product. When my name goes on, my customers must know I’ve given them my best workmanship. Would you want to own this product?” It was an answer that provided a lesson that would last a lifetime. How could the Golden Rule be emphasized more effectively in business!
“Mr. B also had a philosophy, albeit one that was reactionary to the early struggles of youth. “I’ll not have my kids go through what I did.” His philosophy was designed to remove the struggle from life. His method also merits our consideration.
Regularly his sons were provided with generous allowances. Little work was expected in their formative years. In later years the boys were encouraged to work, but now they were too comfortable in their security. After all, they had all their material wants satisfied. At this juncture Mr. B made a profound discovery: wants always exceed needs and are never satisfied unless disciplined. To counteract the lack of self-discipline, Mr. B embarked on a routine of imposed restraints. To his chagrin, he found his sons embittered toward him, ungrateful, and frequently disobedient to rules imposed on them.
The story is timeless. It is also instructive on a larger level, mainly the increasing expectation that government is there to provide for us, which is impossible—since government produces nothing—until government takes from a producer who earned his wealth and gives it to someone who didn’t earn it. Ironically, people sneeringly deride the free market as unfair and immoral.

In the interest of brevity, I’m going to include just a couple of lists. First, Benson gives the following crucial elements of the free market system (along with some explication that I’m not including here):

·         First: The free-market system rests on a moral base.
·         Second: The free market is based on the right to property.
·         Third: The free market is based on the right to enjoy private enterprise for profit.
·         Fourth: The free market is the right to voluntary exchange of goods and services, free from restraints and controls.
·         Fifth: A free market survives with competition. 

This next list is a logic equation, step-by-step showing why logically these principles apply to the free market, reduced to this formula: 

  1. Economic security for all is impossible without widespread abundance.
  2. Abundance is impossible without industrious and efficient production.
  3. Such production is impossible without energetic, willing, and eager labor.
  4. Such labor is not possible without incentive.
  5. Of all forms of incentive, the freedom to attain a reward for one’s labors is the most sustaining for most people. Sometimes called the profit motive, it is simply the right to plan and to earn and to enjoy the fruits of one’s labor.
  6. This profit motive diminishes as government controls, regulations, and taxes increase to deny the fruits of success to those who produce.
  7. Therefore, any attempt through government intervention to redistribute the material rewards of labor can only result in the eventual destruction of the productive base of society, without which real abundance and security for more than the ruling elite are quite impossible.
Ezra Taft Benson was an outspoken opponent of socialism. He was appointed US Secretary of Agriculture in 1953, serving all eight years of the Eisenhower administration, all the while opposing the price supports and aid to farmers that came under his jurisdiction. He consistently encouraged adherence to the Constitution, and in people performing their civic duties with diligence and attention. 

If you aren’t aware of this brilliant man, you may not be aware that he served as president and prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1985 until his death in 1994. It was noteworthy that, while he was an outspoken political conservative all through his life, once he became the prophet, he spoke almost not at all on political issues. People had been worried (particularly those who disagreed with him, or those who feared those who disagreed with him) that he would use his worldwide position toward some political agenda. That simply didn’t happen.  

For anyone needlessly worrying that a Romney presidency would put the country at the mercy of the political desires of Mormon leaders, note that even a man as right, articulate, and motivated to protect our freedoms as Ezra Taft Benson was nevertheless maintained strict political neutrality as the worldwide leader. Not only would a Latter-day Saint prophet not press a US president or other elected official to act in a certain political way, a prophet would not even allow himself to speak politically. 

After four or five decades since these words were written, one surprising thing is seeing how much more they apply today. Maybe that is evidence of the truth of the principles of our founders. We don’t need to “progress” to some newer design for society; we need to live the principles that are most moral and therefore most liberating.

You can read "The Case for the Free Market" in its entirety here.

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