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Dr. Meredith Belbin

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Capitalism and the Right to Rise
J. Bush; Wall Street Journal; 12/19/2011

Congressman Paul Ryan recently coined a smart phrase to illustrate the core principle of fiscal liberty: "The right to rise."

Think about it. We speak about the right to free speech, the right to bear arms, the right to assembly. The right to rise doesn't seem like something we should have to defend.

But we do. We have to make it less difficult for people to do the things that enable them to rise. We have to let them compete. We need to let individuals fight for business. We need to let people take challenges. We need to let people fail. We need to let people endure the consequences of bad decisions. And we need to let people enjoy the fruits of good decisions, even good fortune.

That is what economic liberty looks like. Freedom to succeed as well as to fail, freedom to do anything or nothing. People understand this. Freedom of speech, for instance, implies that we put up with a lot of verbal and visual nonsense in order to make certain that people have the right to point out what needs to be said, even when it is inconvenient or unpopular. We forgive the sacrifices of free speech because we value its blessings.

But when it comes to economic independence, we are less forgiving of the cycles of expansion and reduction, of trial and error, and of failure and accomplishment that are part of the realities of the marketplace and life itself.

More and more, we have let our elected officials abridge our own fiscal freedoms through the yearly passing of countless numbers of regulations and their associated rules. We see human misfortune and we demand a regulation to avert it. We see a criminal scam and we demand more laws. We see an industry perishing and we demand it be preserved. Each time, we demand "Do something... anything."

As Florida's governor for eight years, I was asked to "do something" almost every day. Several times I resisted through vetoes but many times I succumbed. And I wasn't alone. Mayors, local chairs, governors and presidents never believe their laws will damage the free market. But cumulatively, they do, and we have now imperiled the right to rise.

Woe to the elected leader who is not able to deliver a multipoint plan for economic accomplishment, driven by precise government actions. "Trust in the dynamism of the marketplace" is not a phrase in modern political lexicon.

Have we lost faith in the free-market system of entrepreneurial capitalism? Are we no longer willing to put our confidence in the innovative chaos let loose by millions of individuals pursuing their own best economic pursuits?

The right to rise does not require a libertarian utopia to exist. Rather, it requires fewer, simpler and more outcome-driven guidelines. Rules for which an honest cost-benefit evaluation is done before their imposition. Rules that sunset so they can be eradicated or adjusted as conditions change. Protocols that have disputes resolved more quickly and less expensively through arbitration than litigation.

In Washington, D. C., rules are heading in the other direction. They are overflowing in reach and complication. They are produced under a cloud of doubt, and years after their passage nobody really knows how they will work.

We either can go down the road we are on, a road where the individual is permitted to do well only so much prior to being punished with ruinous taxation, where business ignores government action at its own peril, and where the state establishes how a considerable share of the economy's resources should be expended.

Or we can return to the path we once knew and which has served us well: a road where individuals acting freely and with little restraint are in a position to go after fortune and success as they see fit, a path where the government's role is not to shape the marketplace but to help prepare its citizens to prosper from it.

In brief, we must decide between the straight line guaranteed by the statists and the jagged line of economic freedom. The straight line of progressive and managed growth is what the statists promise but can never deliver. The jagged line offers no guarantees but has a potent track record of offering the most success and the most opportunity to the most persons. We can't possibly know in advance what freedom promises for 312 million people. But unless we are willing to explore the jagged line of freedom, we will be stuck with the straight line. And the straight line, it turns out, is a flat line.