The recent passing of Steve Jobs, while sad, is a good reminder that the freedom to innovate is, after all, one of the things that make this country so great.
Those who criticize free-market economies fail to remember that this system has always made people free to dream big and equipped with the resources to make it happen. The U.S. rose to international prominence in large part thanks to its entrepreneurial spirit, and its economic recovery depends upon the rediscovery of what made it great in the first place.
The lion’s share of humanity’s modern technological progress took place in the U.S. Nearly half of all Nobel Prize winners were American. The United States’ GDP soars nearly $5 trillion above its nearest competitor, China—a country with over four times as many people. The per-capita GDP of the U.S. is a whopping $47,200, giving it by all estimates the largest middle class of any country on earth.
America’s entrepreneurial spirit has considerably raised the standard of living for billions of people all over the world. After all, what foreign country does not benefit from light bulbs, automobiles, airplanes, cell phones, personal computers, or digital cameras? What would the classic middle-class household be without a dishwasher, washing machine, microwave, toaster, air conditioner, or electric fan? Who has never marveled at skyscrapers, global positioning systems, or manned missions to the moon?
Whatever else may be said of the American free-enterprise economy, it spurs creativity like no other system can. Even its critics miss the main point: Individuals who use their freedom to work hard and get ahead in life have always been the drive train powering America’s prosperity. Steve Jobs, though an exceptional American and entrepreneur, built his success on the same foundation as millions of other industrious, honest, and forward-thinking Americans.
The government has not, for it does not create wealth (it provides for its consumption!). Increased regulation and higher taxes are beginning to stifle Americans’ entrepreneurial spirit. This is understandable. After all, the certainty of being able to enjoy the fruits of one’s creativity and labor is one of the main motivations to be creative and work hard in the first place. Government’s primary role in economics is to preserve the conditions necessary to entrepreneurship and professional self-reliance. It does this by ensuring the rule of law—property rights in particular.
It does not do this by entitling itself to ever greater shares of American workers’ incomes, nor by furthering the welfare state. By all estimates, the size of America’s middle class is shrinking, unemployment is rising, and public confidence in the economy is at a low.
Steve Jobs’s death reminds us of his life—a life that captured our imaginations by showing us what is still possible in the United States. His death also gives us a moment to reflect and remember that true progress—technological, economic, or otherwise—comes from individuals who work hard and have a vision. And not from big government.
Daniel Kettinger currently is a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/internships-young-leaders/the-heritage-foundation-internship-program