When I was a child in 1970, global poverty seemed like an indelible fact of life. Sad photographs in National Geographic commanded our attention, but everyone understood that even the most ambitious relief efforts were like trying to drain an ocean with an eyedropper.
Fast-forward forty years. The percentage of people worldwide who live on a dollar a day or less has plummeted by 80 percent since 1970, according to inflation-adjusted figures from Columbia University economist Xavier Sala-i-Martin. A genuine global miracle has taken place in our own lifetimes. And these souls were not plucked from poverty through top-down philanthropy or foreign aid. They were empowered to pull themselves up by the spread of globalization, free trade, and entrepreneurship. Through free enterprise, the talents and ambitions of billions who will never meet combine to build a better world.
Truly, free enterprise is more than just an economic alternative. It is a moral imperative. But as recent years have made painfully clear, free enterprise cannot champion itself. Leaders in business and government cannot simply master the “how” of capitalism. Profits, products, and policy proposals are mere instruments, not ends in themselves. As John Mackey argues in his work on conscious capitalism, those who preach and practice free enterprise must also remember the “why.” What is the real purpose that animates our efforts?