2012 ERC Scholarship Essay Program $1,000 Recipient
Corbin Poppe, Auburn (Auburn Mountainview High School)

At America’s core exists one value that overpowers all others: freedom. Our nation was founded on the idea that individuals should create their own future, not a king, despot, or government bureaucrat. Herein lies the power of free market capitalism, which has thrived and made our nation the “Land of Opportunity.”

In his book Capitalism and Freedom, celebrated economist Milton Friedman explained the fundamental importance of economic freedom and individual liberty. Rather than coercion and central planning seen in totalitarian regimes and socialist states, free markets facilitate voluntary transactions between individuals. Consumers choose what to purchase and how to allocate resources.

Central to the function of free markets is competition. While often framed as destructive by critics on the left, capitalism actually benefits consumers. Companies selling similar products must compete through lower prices, higher quality or incremental features that favor buyers.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of capitalism is its ability to harness the profit motive. Businesses exist for one reason: to generate a return for their owners. Advocates call this wealth creation.  Detractors call this greed.  The notion that society runs on greed might shock philosophy professors, but despite its negative connotation, greed produces technological advances. Henry Ford revolutionized the car industry with his assembly line.  This generated handsome profits, but also drove down costs so families could afford an automobile. Apple, today’s most successful company as measured by market capitalization, originated with two guys in a garage building a computer they could sell for profit.

Despite its overwhelming success, capitalism is not perfect. The financial market collapse in 2008, illustrates the cycle of “booms” and “busts.” Politicians are inevitably called to spur economic growth. If faced with the same economic situation as President Obama, I would encourage legislation to lower taxes. Following the logic of supply-side economics and the Laffer curve, lower taxes allow citizens to keep more of their money, incentivizing them to increase productivity. As President Reagan demonstrated when he inherited economic chaos, decreasing taxes creates economic growth.

I would also promote pro-business legislation. Government regulations have grown exponentially under the current administration, costing businesses more than forty billion dollars annually. At a time when our economy needs more jobs, these regulatory hurdles block our path to recovery. We must celebrate job-creators, not vilify them. With the popularity of the Occupy Movement, class warfare is at an all time high. We should thank successful entrepreneurs for creating jobs, not curse them for their achievements.

With an ever-expanding welfare state and no plan to curb the growth of government, headlines today often parallel actions in Ayn Rand’s famous novel Atlas Shrugged. Americans must remember that the capitalist system that is too often criticized is responsible for the most successful nation in history and the wealthy citizens from whom more taxes are being demanded are often the innovators and creators of society. Imagine if they went on strike. We must preserve the free market as a lasting symbol of individual freedom and choice that defines the American Dream.