Why Feed the Hungry When We Can Bicker About Words Instead?
There is really no debate to be had about this. Call up some people in rural India on their cell phones. Ask them if they'd like to go back to living at starvation level and depending on western aid.
But what if the real purpose of an economic system is to provide a cultural context within which we can grow morally and spiritually—become better people? Here, too, the entrepreneurial economy, with all its imperfections, is still the best system humanity has ever discovered. Ancient economic systems had three basic principles: the little people exist to be slaves of the big people, don't trust outsiders, and anything your neighbor gains is a loss for you. More recently, socialist systems—whatever theories have been used to justify them—have always ended up doing little more in practice than reintroducing these evil, dehumanizing assumptions.
Open access to market exchange and secure property rights for the poor are not just good for growth, they're basic commitments of equal human dignity. And a culture of work, frugality, and opportunity is essential to teaching us how to love our neighbors. Above all, the entrepreneurial economy breaks down barriers of race, religion, and class; it teaches us to view people who are socially "other" as potential partners in fruitful work and exchange.
Yes, there are still important disagreements to be had. But we all want an economic system that respects equal human dignity. That means protecting everyone's rights and enforcing the rules of fair play. It means expanding opportunity by encouraging education and new job creation that give the poor a path from dependency to flourishing. Above all, however, it means teaching people that the economy is a place where we all work together in spite of our cultural differences to serve each other by creating value through our labor. That has not been a failure, but a resounding success.
Greg Forster is a program director at the Kern Family Foundation, where he directs the Oikonomia Network.