What can mobilize and energize Americans in a weak economy?

Americans faced a stark choice on Election Day when they were presented with an opportunity to decide between staying the present course with a known leader and taking a new path with a relatively unknown leader.

In spite of the fact that our economy has stagnated and the future is increasingly overshadowed by enormous debt for our children, they chose to endorse President Obama’s handling of the economy and give him the reins for four more years.

If their reluctance to side with Gov. Mitt Romney was due to the fact that his principles were unknown, they made a grave mistake.

While the change in course seemed like an unknown, it’s important to be reminded that the vision Romney championed has formed the backbone of America’s economic supremacy for decades. Readers get just such a reminder from Steve Forbes’ latest book, Freedom Manifesto: Why Free Markets are Moral and Big Government Isn’t. In it, Forbes not only makes a compelling case for free-market capitalism, he also shows in gruesome detail just how entrenched government has become in so many sectors of the U.S. economy – and our daily lives.  

In fact, a central theme throughout Forbes’ book is the destructive nature of government intervention. Although "Freedom Manifesto" takes an expansive view of government policies going back decades, it pays particular attention to recent events. Names like Solyndra, Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae and the auto industry evoke images of squandered taxpayer money and trillion-dollar bailouts. And most of it came because of government’s efforts to pick winners and losers in the marketplace, instead of letting consumer demand driving the success of these entities.
Government is expanding its reach now more than ever. Consider America’s current path to fiscal disaster: a debt exceeding $16 trillion, record amounts of government spending and deficits, and a looming fiscal cliff that further threatens our economic freedom. As Forbes notes, the so-called “misery index,” which equals the unemployment rate plus the inflation rate, is at it highest level in three decades. America cannot sustain itself on its current path.

The sustainability problem becomes even more obvious when looking at our ever-expanding entitlement state. Our entitlement programs are not only breeding government dependence; they are collectively the single biggest factor bankrupting our nation. Forbes cites that 70 percent of federal spending now goes to individual assistance programs and over half of Americans pay no federal income taxes at all. The entitlement state crushes the entrepreneurial spirit, transforming our society from a society that creates, to a society that takes.

As Forbes asks: “Aren’t people better off developing their talents and learning how to help themselves rather than being trapped in dependency on government?”

So what can uplift and mobilize Americans – from the CEO to the entrepreneur to the assembly line mechanic -- from our current economic downturn? We need to pursue policies that champion risk, freedom and innovation. In other words, as Forbes writes, “Free markets enable people to channel their creative energies into meeting the wants and needs of others, improving living standards and making life better by turning scarcity into abundance.” When the market is left to its own devices and government gets out of the way, individuals create jobs and wealth.


But today we are seeing the direct opposite of that free society. Government is expanding its reach into nearly every sector of our lives, from health care to the type of energy we consume to the way we run our businesses.

Where has this gotten us?

Our country is experiencing the longest recession since the Great Depression. President Obama often reminds us that he inherited a big mess – and he did. Because of this, our expectations have never been unreasonable.

As "Freedom Manifesto" makes clear even through its chapter titles – “FedEx or The Post Office?” “Silicon Valley or Detroit?” “Apple or Solyndra?” – this election really came down to what kind of society we want to be. Do we want an America that grants government the power to control our lives, or an America that champions individualism, innovation and liberty?

We missed an opportunity to correct our course in 2012. I can only hope more people will have read "Freedom Manifesto" by the next election.