Agriculture and the Survival of Private Enterprise
AUGUST 01, 1979 by ED GRADY
Mr. Grady, now manager of the information division of the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation, has for more than 30 years been professionally telling the story of freedom.
One of the most compelling problems we face, as a nation and as a people, is embodied in the question, "Can private enterprise survive in America?"
And my answer to that question is a qualified one: "Yes, private enterprise can, and shall, survive in America . . . providing":
· providing that as Americans we quit taking it for granted
· providing we understand what makes our system tick
· providing we learn how to make both an emotional and intellectual sale in behalf of freedom
· providing we care enough to make the good fight.
And what is agriculture’s role in the survival of free enterprise in America? Simply put, it is to demonstrate our ability, and our willingness, to measure up to the test provided by each of these provisos. This we are determined, and dedicated, to do.
If we demonstrate as much integrity in organizing support for freedom as its opponents have demonstrated in attacking it, then no question but that we shall win the battle.
If there is one lesson that history tells us again and again it is that concentration of power and authority in "big government" is, eventually and certainly, followed by the loss of personal freedom. And let us never forget that no man’s future is safe in the hands of a political philosophy that is willing to buy today’s popularity with tomorrow’s agony.
Economic freedom is the foundation of political freedom. The two are inseparable.
Make no mistake about it; every time we transfer responsibility and power to a central government, we transfer responsibility and power away from the people.
All of us the businessman on Main Street and the businessman on the farm included—need a basic understanding of what it is that makes private competitive enterprise go.
The mainsprings of the system are four in number:
(a) Most property privately owned;
(b) Most property privately managed;
(c) Most property operated for a profit, not necessarily at a profit; and
(d) All this under circumstances in which competition prevails.
All production—all civilization, in fact—rests on a recognition of and respect for property rights. A private enterprise system is impossible without security of property; it is possible only within a framework of law and order and morality.
When a man’s property rights are protected, he is able to retain and enjoy in peace the fruits of his labor. This security is his main incentive, if not his only incentive, to labor creatively. If anyone were free to confiscate what the farmer had sown, fertilized, cultivated and raised, he would no longer have any incentive to sow or to reap.
Profit is the life blood of a free economy. The opportunity to make a profit (or the opposite, the discipline of possible loss) is the invisible hand, as it were, that guides production and distribution. And in guiding the economy to the satisfaction of society’s needs, the profit system does what no central authority is capable of doing as well—even granting that the authority might be staffed by the most brilliant planners and the best able managers among us.
It is said at times that many are willing to trade freedom for security. Even if they were to receive that for which they traded, it would be a bad bargain. But the sad and frightening fact is that when a people seek to obtain security by turning over power and responsibility to government, they lose both freedom and security.
What we must recognize, of course, is that there simply is no real security in any form of society that rests upon centralized political and economic control.
Life in such societies is grim and drab and desperate. The opportunity of the individual to better himself is hamstrung by restrictions and frustrations and limitations which stifle initiative and suffocate progress. The individual in this kind of situation becomes a mere cog in a rusty, creaking, poorly-functioning machine.
Our form of society is being battered today by the most subtle and most dangerous threat possible—the destruction of the competitive market system. It is most subtle and most dangerous because it always is done with the avowed purpose of benefiting or protecting some segment of our population.
A Flexible Price System
In our economy, it is a flexible price system that serves as the balance wheel for the whole structure. The price system determines how much of any product we should produce; it adjusts consumption to use what is produced; and it guides the flow of investment to insure the production of what is needed.
Now, if we don’t permit the price system to perform these functions, we strike deep into the very lifeline, at the very heart, of our competitive economic system. And if the capacity of the price system to perform its function is destroyed, there remains only one alternative: assign the authority to fix prices to government or, put another way, to political management.
Political management of our price system is inevitably inefficient, cumbersome, backward-looking and costly. Even though the appointed fixers were all-intelligent supermen, it would be impossible for them to operate effectively in a situation in which every decision is affected by political considerations and political pressures. Personal ambitions and bureaucratic policies become major factors influencing every decision.
For a physician, the least profitable patient is a dead one. The next least profitable is the well one. The gold mine is the patient who continues sick, or continues to think himself sick. The nobility of the medical profession is the fact that few of us have ever had an encounter with doctors who exploit this obvious truth.
But not always so with politicians. Many of them parade as physicians to doctor the economic ills of their constituents. Our need for protection from exploitation in this instance is less obvious—but far more necessary.
Government farm policy dating back some 40 years has been so long on promises and so lean on performance because it is borrowed from the strategy and tactics of the coercive society and its centrally-directed and centrally-controlled economy. It serves well neither producers nor consumers.
Thus the all-consuming importance of choices, and how it is that one of our continuing challenges is to discover in advance the eventual consequences of the choices we are called upon to make. This is an absolute prerequisite not only of successful self-government but essential also to the survival of private enterprise.
The discussion over the years with regard to compensatory payments (target prices, in the current government farm program glossary) illustrates well what it is one or another choice involves.
Basically, what is wrong with the payment approach?
It is not, as advocates even today claim, a device to control production; it is a scheme to control farmers. Nor is it, as some contend, a plan to establish a free market; it is a proposal to wreck markets. Simply put, it provides an engraved invitation for politically-determined limitations on the farm incomes of individual producers—and it’s ideally suited to implement the concept of rationing the right to earn on the basis of the politics of equal shares. Instead of easing the cost-price squeeze which plagues farmers in Minnesota and throughout the country, it makes matters worse.
Some years ago, the late Aneurin Bevan and his British Labor Party colleagues published in a pamphlet the basic tenets of their political philosophy. If there is one phrase more than any other that appears time and again in this document, it is the term "fair shares."
Reduced to its most common denominator, fair shares is nothing more and nothing less than a political device for leveling and putting a ceiling on opportunity. This is not the American way; this is the other way!
A moment’s reflection on the fair-shares doctrine should make us aware that it is time for individual citizens to reaffirm their faith in capitalism, American style.
Curbing the Intervention
Authoritarian liberals delude themselves into believing they are champions of liberty while favoring creeping coercion as long as they can be authors of the coercion. While they are trying to cure injustice by piling on more government, they lose sight of the fact that all the great struggles for freedom have been directed against the overblown force of government.
There isn’t a one of us—in town or in the country—who isn’t a target of the propaganda campaign being waged by what I call the "cult of the positive." The conviction of people who make up this breed is that you don’t have a "positive" program for solving problems unless you have a program that calls for government intervention, or government involvement—preferably national—and the more widespread the better. These economic meddlers and political peddlers are determined to be positive—even if it means being positively wrong.
All of which causes me to suggest that if you really know what you’re for you won’t hesitate to be against anything that is inconsistent with it. If you’re for good, solid, juicy crunchy apples, you just have to be against worms. The chaos and confusion arises when people don’t know what they’re for.
So if you’re for the private competitive enterprise system, it won’t disturb you to oppose proposals that would wreck the market system. If you’re for the voluntary method of solving problems, you’ll not hesitate to fight efforts to substitute compulsion or coercion. And if you’re for individual responsibility, freedom and opportunity, you’ll forthrightly and vigorously oppose anything inconsistent with this fundamental concept.
That’s the logic, and the rationale, of liberty.
Dr. Norman Vincent Peale didn’t allow himself to be pressed into serving the positive cult. He says that he is a firm believer in affirmative attitudes and is convinced that they are "supremely important in successful living." But he is quick to add: "Affirmatives alone are not enough. This world is full of hope and joy, but it is also beset by evil, immorality and sin. You can’t say `Yes’ to these things, or even `Maybe.’ You have to say ‘No!’ and you have to make it stick."
Happily, most farmers—and most rural Americans—haven’t succumbed to the myth that there is a magical way by which governments can create prosperity and high standards of living by either ignoring or flouting economic laws.
Instead of embarking on a political safari in search of the pot of gold that is supposed to be found at the end of the socialist rainbow, we favor building a greater nation, a more appreciative and productive people, and a more responsive community on the rock-ribbed foundation of unparalleled success thus far.
And we do so with an abiding faith that God didn’t intend the light of human freedom, nor the private enterprise system so much a part of it, to perish from the earth.