(The following is part of the Mission Statement of the non-partisan group Common Sense, Common People. Explore more about this group on their Facebook group page.)
We believe that Common People want to work hard in order to achieve prosperity. This essay explains why.
Life is challenging and resources are scarce, so personal effort is necessary to fulfill our desires. We require the freedom to think and to act in order to fulfill our self-defined needs and desires for ourselves and our chosen ones. Private property is the mechanism for protecting our ownership of what our hands and minds produce. Freedom of action requires that a person be able to create, possess, trade, and dispose of their personal property as they see fit. If we do not have this ability, we essentially do not have the ability to sustain our own lives because we will be at the mercy of others, even for our basest needs. General prosperity is only possible when individuals are free to think, act, and produce for their own benefit and at their own risk. This can only be done in a free market system, which has proven to be the greatest wealth-creation system in the history of humankind.
Everyone prefers better rather than worse. We prefer love over hate, security over danger, convenience over hardship, joy over suffering, independence over subservience, and wealth over poverty. These preferences inspire us to work hard to achieve positive outcomes for ourselves and our loved ones. The creation of abundance in the form of wealth and property enables the pursuit of higher forms of satisfaction like security, leisure, and intellectual and spiritual development.
The Role of Government
We enter into society and create governments to secure our freedom against those people or groups who wish to take them away. We do not enter into society or create governments in order to lose our freedom or to sacrifice the fruits of our labor.
The Purpose of Private Property
Since we each own ourselves, we necessarily own what our hands and our minds produce. To deny this is to embrace the concepts of slavery and of legalized theft of the just rewards for our efforts.
Human abundance comes from the creativity and hard work of each individual. Therefore, creativity and hard work must be justly rewarded. This is the essence of private property and the catalyst of the spectacular success of America. People who personally have nothing to gain or lose by their own actions tend to do nothing or tend to do something destructive. All collectivist societies have proven that what everyone owns, no one owns, and that when production is divided up equally, the incentive to produce evaporates.
The Importance of Free Markets
Free markets are the most prolific enablers of wealth creation ever devised. Before Capitalism, the entire world lived in abject poverty for thousands of years. With Capitalism, common people achieved lifestyles that only royalty could in the past.
Free markets incentivize producers to use the fewest resources to yield the greatest output for consumers. Every participant is motivated to work hard, generate ideas, take risks, and innovate. A free person in a free society will always drive themselves harder than any proletarian in a commune.
Free markets are based on the principle that people must produce before they consume, and that to satisfy yourself you must first satisfy others. In this sense, free markets are the fairest and most comprehensive human collaboration strategy. How successful you are at serving your fellow humans determines how bountifully you get served in return, since every person is a producer and a consumer. It is the most elegant form of justice. Almost all developments of civilization have come through the spontaneous collaboration of millions of people making rational choices in free markets to improve their lives.
The Importance of Self-Responsibility
Freedom and responsibility are inseparable. The freedom to choose carries with it the burden to bear the responsibility for your choices. Making choices in an environment of self-responsibility is challenging, but the alternative is someone else making the choices for you in an environment of pure obedience. To paraphrase Thoreau, make your own choices, or others will choose for you without thinking of you.
Good outcomes are earned by exercising your free will, your intelligence, and your ambition. Freedom does not mean having unearned access to everything that you want. It means having the opportunity to make good choices and to work hard in a complex and challenging environment. Self-ownership necessarily implies self-sufficiency. If we could each claim the efforts of others, none of us would own ourselves.
Personal growth comes through being challenged, not coddled. The laws of human development are as unavoidable as the laws of gravity. It is not the role of the teacher to solve every problem for their students. It is not the role of the physical trainer to perform the exercises for their clients. It is not the role of the mother to do everything for her child. Likewise, it is not the role of government to satisfy the economic needs of its citizens.
When the government tries to satisfy our economic needs, our ability to provide for ourselves atrophies. The cumulative effect of this across generations will ruin a society. When our intellect and our hard work are no longer needed because everything is decided and provided for us, we will eventually lose our intellect and our ambition. Then adults will regress back to being children as bureaucrats smother them like overprotective helicopter parents.
Collectivism is the Enemy of Individual and General Prosperity
The notion that human action is only permissible if it serves the collective good is the moral rationale for all forms of slavery. It presumes that wanting to keep what you produce is greedy, yet it ignores the real truth that the worst type of greed is lusting after what other people produce. What could be greedier than expecting someone else to provide for you? People lusting over what others have, and people trying to shift the burden of their care onto the shoulders of others, are the root causes of the darkest episodes of human history.
The young can be forgiven for feeling that they are entitled to everything and responsible for nothing, because that is the ethos of childhood. But when they enter adulthood with the same perspective, and then agitate for all of society to adopt that ethos too, disaster follows. Collectivism is not just a moral failure and a perversion of justice. It always results in poverty rather than prosperity.
Why is this necessarily true? In a capitalist system, rational behavior is to be productive, because that is how you make your life better. In a collectivist system, rational behavior is to do nothing, because your life will be the same whether you produce or not (“to each according to his need”). In fact, if you choose not to produce, you will have more leisure time and your needs will still be met. However, your needs will only be met until the social surplus is consumed and the social fabric begins to collapse. Wealth does not come from the destructive avarice of dividing up existing resources equally. Wealth is a function of sustained creativity and sustained effort.
The Achilles heel of collectivism boils down to this question: If you can’t keep what you produce, why produce at all? If others have the right to take what you produce, you must have the reciprocal right to take what they produce. But what will come from that perverse reciprocity but a death spiral of violence and poverty? Everyone will rationally judge that no effort should be spent on producing and all effort should be spent on taking — at least until there is nothing left to take. Such has been the history of all collectivist societies.
There is another reason why collectivist economies all fail. Bureaucratic decisions can never match the efficiency and effectiveness of free market decisions. It is impossible for smug bureaucrats to make the right economic decisions because they have no objective way to judge what “better” or “worse” means to each person, especially when the bureaucrats’ own interests cloud their motives.
Consider the social chaos that would erupt if bureaucrats in a central government tried to coordinate everything in a complex national economy. Billions of economic decisions need to be made each day, and trillions of actions are necessary to execute them, all in the context of an unpredictable and ever-changing world. What is the likelihood that any centralized committee of even the most extraordinarily intelligent bureaucrats could properly organize such a cosmic muddle? The answer is zero. No society can effectively function without free markets that automatically coordinate the rational decisions of all participants. The societies that have tried it have always reverted back to free markets to avoid starvation and collapse.
As Thomas Jefferson put it, “When we shall have to wait on Washington to tell us when to sow and when to reap, we will soon want bread.” The same is true if we take away the freedom of common people to work hard in order to achieve prosperity.