who we fight for

I have a moral question to ask you:

A family buys a new puppy. It’s an adorable little Labrador retriever. One day, the small puppy runs out of the house, into the street, gets run over and dies. The father picks up the dog, says he heard dog tastes delicious, and the family decides to eat their dog. Nobody saw them do it.

Did they do anything morally wrong?

If you are like most well-educated and non-psychopathic people, you had an initial feeling of disgust. And you probably have a nuanced answer that although it may not be morally wrong, it’s disgusting and that family is a bunch of monsters – and you would be right for thinking that.

No amount of logical argument about the taste of dog (barf!), about other cultures eating their dogs, or about not wasting potential food would ever change your mind, right?

Of course not! Eating Lucy will always be disgusting and wrong.

And this is similar to debates we are having in public policy today. Once our brains decide something is immoral or unfair, almost no amount of logic will change our minds.

So why, when we argue for the free market, do we rely strictly on logic?

We know the free market has lifted more people out of poverty than anything else in human history.

In fact, in your and my lifetime, more people have grown out of poverty worldwide than ever before in human history. Mountains of research and evidence points to the free market as the reason.

You know what the research never points to? Socialism.

Yet in America today, it feels like there is a growing rise of young people rallying around “Democratic Socialism.” Their enemy is capitalism and the free market.

There is an endless supply of sad stories of sick kids and abandoned elderly the socialists can prop up to make the moral case for wealth redistribution.

The result: we are playing defense, even though we are right.

So what do we do about it?

As in the case of the family dog, we need to reclaim the moral high ground.

Instead of discussing the debates of Friedrich Hayek and John Maynard Keynes (which I’m guilty of) and instead of drawing macroeconomic charts (which doesn’t work that well with family members – who knew?), we need to focus our efforts on the moral case and WHO we are fighting for.

We need to lead with our hearts.

For example: In America, if you work hard and play by the rules, I believe you should be able to lift yourself out of poverty.

Even someone who has reached the depths of despair, such as Steven Blake.

Steven served our country in the U.S. Army. But for the past decade of his adult life, Steven has been homeless twice. He lived on the streets of Chicago. He endured minus-20 degree temperatures without shelter. He stood in line at a soup kitchen to survive.

Despite government programs with good intentions, nothing changed.

The problem with socialism is it just pulls all people down to poverty for longer. What we want is to lift people up, to allow them to find dignity through work and achieve earned success.

Steven says one day there was a man selling fruit. “He invited me to join him and showed me how it all works. I [realized] I was capable of running my own business, so I took all I learned and started my own fruit stand.”

Steven is no longer homeless. His fruit stand is expanding and he’s looking to hire people to work for him. Every Monday morning he delivers the best fresh fruit in Chicago to the Illinois Policy Institute office.

I asked him what pulled him out of poverty. His answer: “A job.”

All of a sudden, instead of socialists saying we are fighting on behalf of Wall Street billionaires, we show them whose side we are really on: the poor, the marginalized, people such as Steven Blake.

And if we are being honest with ourselves, all of us in America come from ancestors who were in poverty. Every one of us is only a few generations removed. There is a reason our families immigrated to America: because they were poor. They lacked opportunity. But because of jobs and the free market, we have escaped the misery of poverty.

If we want to change the direction of our state and our country, we need to change how we speak. We need to speak what is in our hearts. We need to make the moral argument for the free market, not the logical one.

Because if we don’t, we will sound like we are making the logical argument for why it’s OK to eat our dog.



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Matt Paprocki

President @illinoispolicy the nation’s leading state-based think tank.