Thursdays with John Hayward

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, who describes himself as a political independent, wrote a powerful tribute to economic liberty in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.  He credited “the success of economic freedom” with “increasing human prosperity, extending our life spans and improving the quality of our lives in countless ways,” but worried that America’s slide from third to ninth place on the Index of Economic Freedom would continue, unless we set about “radically cutting the size and cost of government.”

Risk and innovation are the key ingredients of prosperity, and they require liberty.  At this very moment, you are surrounded by the impossible: technologies that would have been all but unimaginable only twenty or thirty years ago.  From smart phones to tablet computers, these things were created by the drive to offer something new, creating opportunity along the way.  None of them would exist if the quest for excellence ended at “good enough.”

Perhaps the best way to assess wealth is to look at the value of time.  The amount of time average people must invest in taking care of basic necessities, like food and shelter, has declined steadily over the past century, and the value of their leisure time has increased.  This is true for both frivolous and constructive activities.  If you’re old enough to remember the pre-Internet era, think about what you had to do in order to research and write a school report, compared to how quickly kids today could do it.

And yet, the scholastic performance of our children has declined, even as an unbelievable quantity of information has been placed at their fingers.  This is due, in no small part, to the hermetic insulation of public education from the forces of competition.  Schools are filled with technology that simply would not exist, if the companies that produced those machines were run like public schools.

Competition is an aspect of liberty.  The two are inseparable.  The Obama disaster has been all about the fantastically expensive, and utterly doomed, attempt to gain the fruits of competition without freedom and risk.  Central control is a poor substitute for consumer demand, because government is concerned with the acceptable, and has no energy for exploring the boundaries of possibility.  No one thinks outside the box in a re-distributive State.  Why would they?

Do you agree?