Remarks from TFAS President Roger Ream at the 2021 Bradley Prize awards ceremony hosted by the Lynde & Harry Bradley Foundation at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 13.
Let me begin with a sincere thank you to the unknown individuals who nominated me for a Bradley Prize. Thank you to whomever you are and thank you also to members of the Bradley Prizes selection committee. I am so very grateful and deeply humbled to receive this honor.
We Americans are blessed to live in an exceptional country. We must never – even for a minute – take this for granted. For centuries people risked everything to come to America to live in freedom. Millions of men, women and children of all races and religions still yearn to come here for a better life in our land of opportunity.
My grandfather was born on a farm in central Wisconsin in 1885, the grandson of immigrants from Germany. Like most Americans of his generation, he never attended school after 8th grade. When he turned 18, he left the farm in pursuit of his American dream. He settled in Salt Lake City, where he became a capitalist by opening the Titan Battery Service Company. My grandparents raised two boys. The youngest, my father, Rev. Norman Ream, returned to Wisconsin to serve churches in downtown Milwaukee, Neenah, and Wauwatosa.
In one of those interesting coincidences in life, my older sister, brother and I all worked summer jobs at the Allen Bradley Company. Brothers Harry and Lynde Bradley, who with Dr. Stanton Allen founded and built Allen-Bradley, were risk-takers who created tremendous value in an America that still enjoyed significant economic freedom in 1901.
One Bradley brothers’ legacy, of course, is the Bradley Foundation, which has remained steadfast in its support of free market capitalism and American exceptionalism.
We Americans are blessed to live in an exceptional country. We must never – even for a minute – take this for granted. For centuries people risked everything to come to America to live in freedom. Millions of men, women and children of all races and religions still yearn to come here for a better life in our land of opportunity.” – TFAS President Roger Ream
There are many things that make our country exceptional, but among the most consequential is economic freedom. By crafting a constitution that “binds down those in government from mischief with the chains of the Constitution,” as Jefferson wrote, we left men free to pursue their happiness. And wow did they ever pursue it.
Secure in their liberty and property, and imbued with a spirit of self-reliance and rugged individualism, Americans created unimaginable wealth and material abundance. Over time, as women and blacks gained increasing degrees of freedom, wealth spread ever more widely.
If allotted more time, I would share stories of the extraordinary transformation that took place in all areas of American life over our history, including in agriculture, transportation, manufacturing, health care, consumer goods, and technology. Most of you know these stories.
Free market capitalism became history’s greatest anti-poverty program. Notably, its record is one of virtually uninterrupted falling prices and rising wages. It has enabled philanthropy on a previously unthinkable scale. Arts, entertainment, sports and recreation flourished.
This economic success story is one reason we put such emphasis on teaching economics and the “economic way of thinking” at TFAS programs. With socialism, progressivism, and the administrative state threatening to smoother our economic liberty, it is imperative we equip the rising generation with the tools needed to defend free market capitalism.
Taught properly, economics provides a lens to understand the way the world works. It is about how humans interact and make choices, and how an undirected market process unleashes the forces of invention, innovation, imagination, and improvement. The result is nothing short of miraculous.
We ignite a spark in the minds of students when we show them how Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand motivates a self-interested individual to “promote an end which was no part of his intention” and thereby serve the needs of others. This seemingly simple concept explains why there was someone at your neighborhood coffee shop early this morning ready to serve you hot coffee, why a pilot spent years in training to fly you safely to Washington for this ceremony, and how something as simple as an ordinary lead pencil is the result of the peaceful cooperation of thousands upon thousands of individuals who will never meet.
Taught properly, economics provides a lens to understand the way the world works. It is about how humans interact and make choices, and how an undirected market process unleashes the forces of invention, innovation, imagination, and improvement. The result is nothing short of miraculous.” – TFAS President Roger Ream
Ambassador Rick Graber will appreciate me sharing the words of Czech dissent-turned-President Vaclav Havel, from his book, “Summer Meditations.” I particularly like Havel’s description because he once considered himself a socialist. He wrote:
Though my heart be left of centre, I have always known that the only economic system that works is a market economy, in which everything belongs to someone – which means that someone is responsible for everything. …. [I]ts workings are guided chiefly by the laws of the marketplace. This is the only natural economy, the only kind that makes sense, the only one that can lead to prosperity, because it is the only one that reflects the nature of life itself. The essence of life is infinitely and mysteriously multiform, and therefore it cannot be contained or planned for, in its fullness and variability, by any central intelligence.
As a man of the left, Havel was understandably slow to fully comprehend that free markets are consistent with the goals of prosperity and “the nature of life itself.”
He concludes by calling attempts to “direct all economic entities under a single monstrous owner, the state,” “hubris,” “an attempt against life itself,” and a “lack of humility before the mysterious order of Being.”
Havel understood this hubris because he lived in the deprivation caused by central planning in Czechoslovakia. Unlike Havel, those who advocate for socialism in the U.S. are blessed to enjoy the comforts of capitalism while doing so.
Is it too much to think that Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, AOC, and the like would come to agree with Havel if they lived for even one week without all that capitalism has provided: appliances, air conditioning, antibiotics and aspirin, and, of course, the computers and cell phones they use to peddle their dangerous ideas? Or does the desire for power create a hubris that blinds them to the truth about economic freedom? Of course, as F.A. Hayek noted, “If socialists understood economics, they wouldn’t be socialists.”
Today some conservatives question the benefits of free markets and free trade. They suggest its record is mixed at best. They worry about the moral and spiritual condition of our culture.
I won’t debate whether or not our cultural condition has deteriorated. But the source of any deterioration is not to be found in our material progress. While capitalism was improving things beyond our imaginations, our families, schools and churches were not adequately attending to the moral and spiritual needs of people.
Let me be clear. It is mark of progress, not decadence, that free markets, free trade and advances in productivity and technology have raised living standards, and that real poverty, according to the World Bank, will disappear within a decade. It is a good thing that dirty and dangerous factory jobs are more than replaced by higher paying, safer and more desirable employment.
Our challenge is to remain resolute in championing the economic system that has lifted billions up from subsistence in less than a century. We must not succumb to hubris. Rather, we must heed Daniel Webster’s warning that “God grants liberty only to those who love it and are always ready to guard and defend it.”
Let us all – together – be the people who resolve to guard and defend individual liberty and the ideas of the American founding for our children and our children’s children.