Capitalism will outlast terrorism

Reprinted from Cascade Policy Institute’s Fall 2002 Cascade Update newsletter)

One year after the September 11th attack on America, I recalled a 1993 speech that Steve Forbes of Forbes magazine gave at Hillsdale College in Michigan. It’s even more relevant today as we confront an enemy who rejects the very economic system that helps make America great, and the world free.

Forbes defined a market economy as “the only truly moral system of exchange. It encourages individuals to freely devote their energies and impulses to peaceful pursuits, to the satisfaction of others’ wants and needs, and to constructive action for the welfare of all. The basis of capitalism is not greed. You don’t see misers creating Walmarts and Microsofts.” (Terrorists learned to fly jetliners; they could never build them).

Forbes continued, “The market is people. All of us. We decide what to do and what not to do, where to shop and where not to shop, what to buy and what not to buy. So when central planners trash ‘market forces,’ they are really trashing us.”

“Letting individuals make their own decisions is what capitalism is all about. When people are free to make their own decisions, they have a stake in their economy, and when they have a stake in their economy, they have a stake in serving others, and when they have a stake in serving others, they have a stake in fighting for freedom.”

“Capitalism is the real enemy of tyranny. It stands not for accumulated wealth or greed but for human innovation, imagination, and risk-taking. It cannot be measured in mathematical models or quantified in statistical terms, which is why central planners and politicians always underestimate it.”

The terrorists also underestimate capitalism. The Twin Towers were full of capitalists, men and women who made their livings in large part by satisfying the wants and needs of others around the world.

The market is color blind, gender blind, and religion blind. That may be one reason the terrorists hate it. Isolated scandals such as Enron and WorldCom aside, the market is an expression of human nature at its best. The terrorists’ constricted worldview represents human nature at its worst. Men and women crave freedom, and they will fight for freedom above all other political goals. Terrorism may be with us for years, but capitalism and freedom will be with us forever.

Steve Buckstein is Founder and Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.