Sixty years ago this September, 100 young conservatives launched Young Americans for Freedom at William F. Buckley’s home in Sharon, Connecticut. There they wrote the Sharon Statement, the new organization’s founding document, which has been described by the New York Times as the “seminal document” of the Conservative Movement. The principles that it puts forth still ring true 60 years later. Today, the Sharon Statement serves as the foundational document for more than 500 YAF chapters nationwide.
In this series, “We As Young Conservatives Believe”, we will break down the Sharon Statement and look more closely at how it continues to speak to young Americans today.
“We as young conservatives believe…”
“That the market economy, allocating resources by the free play of supply and demand, is the single economic system compatible with the requirements of personal freedom and constitutional government, and that it is at the same time the most productive supplier of human needs;”
Were he still alive, today would be Milton Friedman’s 108th birthday. The Nobel Prize recipient and YAF ally devoted much of his life to advocating for and defending the free market. During much of his life, there was an open question among many about whether or not a free market economy could compete with a centrally planned economy. When the Soviet Union fell in the early 1990s, most people assumed that the question was resolved. However, many Americans have lost their trust in free enterprise, and the calls for more government intervention and control have grown stronger.
One of the common complaints against capitalism is that it hurts the poor, but nothing could be further from the truth! Free markets have done more to end poverty worldwide than all the of the government bureaucrats’ planning put together. Historically, the vast majority of humans have lived in extreme poverty. This only began to change in the 1700s and 1800s as free enterprise began to take hold. Poverty began to plummet first in places that had strong markets, and as free enterprise spread poverty declined.
In 2015, for the first time in human history, less than 10% of people worldwide lived in extreme poverty (which is defined by the World Bank has living on less than $1.90 a day). While there is still a long way to go, that is an incredible achievement. Much of that reduction in extreme poverty can be traced to the fall of the Soviet Union and its centrally planned economies. As the Iron Curtain fell, so too did poverty in the countries previously trapped by it.
A great example of the difference in results of free enterprise versus centrally planned economies is that vast difference in standards of living between East and West Germany. Before the Berlin Wall fell down and the country was unified, there were two separate countries with the same language and the same culture but vastly different economic systems. In 1990, when Germany was reunified, West Germany’s GDP per capita was almost four times as high as East Germany’s. The disparity couldn’t be clearer.
Beyond free enterprise’s track record of improving people’s lives worldwide, there is another reason that it is preferable to a centrally planned economy: it recognizes and reinforces individuals’ rights. At the heart of the free market is each individual making their own choices and deciding what the best course of action is for them. Contrast this with a centrally planned economy, where the central planners get to dictate what their fellow citizens must do with their time and labor. Instead of protecting individual rights, centrally planned economies necessarily trample on individual liberty.
These two reasons, the practical and the philosophical, make up the core of Conservatives’ arguments for free enterprise. As markets have become freer, billions of people worldwide have been able to lift themselves out of poverty through the use of their God given talents. It would be foolish to discard the system that made it possible for them to do so.
To read the previous post in this series, click here.
Karl Stahlfeld is the associate director of YAF’s Center for Entrepreneurship & Free Enterprise.