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Key Idea: On Becoming Economically Independent

Michael Novak explains why he believes that capitalism, not socialism, is the only proven path from poverty to prosperity.    Homepage

Key Question:


Business ownership has been the path for millions.

Q:  Why has the United States of America accomplished so much more in economic development in a few hundred years than countries with a civilization history of literally thousands of years?

A: Some would say it's the natural resources of our great nation, which are indeed plentiful. Others would credit "Yankee ingenuity" and we've certainly all seen many examples of that. Michael Novak makes the argument, powerfully, that it is our democratic capitalism that is the basis for our economic success. He calls the death of socialism the "most unreported fact in the 20th century."

J. C. Penney once said that everyone's life is a suitcase and our differences are related to what we pack in it. Our form of government, our society, our culture, all nurture the entrepreneurial spirit and foster an environment where each of us can live our dreams. America truly is the land of opportunity and our challenge is to take advantage of that opportunity.

Think about it

Where are there pockets of poverty in your community and what can you do to have a positive impact on them?

Clip from: Capitalism: Path to Prosperity

Washington, DC:   What are the essential foundations of life, liberty, freedom, and human rights?   The USA as a working experiment is a good model to study.  Here we can study the earliest documents and concepts and see how these also became the foundations for American capitalism.  Within this structure, we can see how just about any family can get on a path to economic independence.

Meet Michael Novak, a man whose life study is of the foundations of government systems that work. And here he discovered small business has the heart and spirit that sustains and nurtures democratic capitalism.   Michael Novak strikes deep into the heart of public debate about what works and what doesn't work within economic systems, and he says that small business owners are demonstrators. They're on the front lines, risking and fighting the good fight every day. Small business owners take lofty principles and reduce them to nitty-gritty practice.

As a people, the debate about capitalism should no longer be the domain of economists. We all need to grapple with the first principles of ethics, economics, and government. Virtually overnight globalization is a reality and belief systems are butting against one another, often shredding civility and undermining any inherent ethics and morality.

Each of us needs to engage in the historic debate about economic models. What works? What is good for people? Is this singular focus on "Return to Shareholders" a truncation of capitalism? Do we need to be looking at a more balanced model that includes more than the growth of the bottom line?

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American Enterprise Institute

Michael Novak, Author

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On Becoming Economically Independent

HATTIE: (In the Studio) Hi, I'm Hattie Bryant. This series began airing on PBS member stations in 1994 and at that time we just assumed that everybody understood how important entrepreneurs and small business owners are in creating the standard of living we all enjoy today.

We quickly discovered how wrong we were. Yet, it is only recently that we found someone to articulate the deep truth about the prosperity of this nation and the relations between human freedom, government, capital and business.

In every one of our weekly case studies we look at the anatomy of prosperity. And while we have plenty of anecdotal evidence about the real well-springs of value and wealth, we turn to one of America's great thinkers and writers to provide the intellectual context.

You meet Michael Novak, the author of over 25 books translated into most major languages. He holds the George Frederick Jewett chair of religion, philosophy and public policy at the American Enterprise Institute. In 1994 he received the million dollar Templeton prize for progress in religion.

Consider this our primer, an apologetic for democratic capitalism. The bedrock of our economy, the sustainer of our government, and the only proven system that lifts people from poverty to prosperity.

MICHAEL: People still had until 1989 extraordinary expectations about socialism which were clearly, plainly flaws. I said in The Spirit Of Democratic Capitalism, "... the most unreported fact of the 20th Century is the death of socialism." And so a great miracle was wrought here.

We've moved a lot of people out of poverty, but we still have in this hemisphere 200 million who haven't shared in that and we've got to find those new entrepreneurs and we've got to teach the skill. We've got to tell people how valid and important it is; and it's the only hope of the poor.

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