TCS Daily


The Gospel of Freedom

By Arnold Kling - July 20, 2007 12:00 AM

"I am never sure how many people really yearn for liberty. I wish more of them did."
--Tyler Cowen

The Acton Institute has produced the most subversive movie I have ever seen. The Call of the Entrepreneur, which is being released on an agonizingly slow schedule, is a threat to tyranny everywhere, including here at home.

The movie's message is that entrepreneurs are creators of wealth, Wall Street financiers are enablers of economic progress, and the villains of the world are people like the Communist leaders in China and American religious leaders who rail against capitalism. It features three passionate champions of freedom:

--an American dairy farmer who literally created a successful small business out of cow manure. You see the man and his teenage children holding the manure in their hands and smelling it, as they demonstrate their process for turning it into marketable compost;

--a merchant banker, Frank Hanna III, who explains how financial institutions spread risk, lower the cost of borrowing, and enable businesses to expand. He explicitly contradicts the zero-sum, beggar-thy-neighbor view of finance as typically depicted in the Hollywood movie Wall Street.

--a Hong Kong entrepreneur, who tells the story of his escape from Communist China, including emotional accounts of his reactions to reading Friedrich Hayek's The Road to Serfdom and to seeing the Tiananmen square massacre. In light of our recent battles over immigration, it is interesting to see that his mother's sister paid for him to be smuggled from Communist China to Hong Kong in the early 1960's, and that Hong Kong granted him automatic citizenship as soon as he landed.

The G Word

When I was in elementary school in the early 1960's, public schools in America still taught the virtues of freedom and the American way of life. In those days, a movie like "Call of the Entrepreneur" might have been shown in high school.

Today, I can imagine "The Call of the Entrepreneur" being shown to people in other countries. It has already been viewed by a large preview audience in Africa. I would like to see it translated into Arabic and shown in the Middle East. But it has very little chance of being shown in public high schools in America. It is far too explicit. "Call of the Entrepreneur" features the Reverend Robert A. Sirico, including a full-frontal shot of his clerical collar. As producer Jay W. Richards points out, the movie uses "the G word."

As a Jew, I am certain that I missed a number of the religious aspects of the movie. There were subtle references to Christian doctrine that went right past me. Perhaps there are Christians who would be more aware of the context and, based on their knowledge, might even take offense at the film's stance. I imagine that passionate atheists would tend to be turned off. But I think that a typical high school student could be exposed to the religion in "Call of the Entrepreneur" without being permanently scarred or corrupted.

I would argue that "Call of the Entrepreneur" and "An Inconvenient Truth" are both religious films. However, unlike Al Gore's movie about global warming, "Call of the Entrepreneur" steers clear of sensationalism, dogma, and misleading half-truths. It is ironic that public teachers and parents are happy to see "An Inconvenient Truth" in the classroom, but "Call of the Entrepreneur" would probably be greeted with protests if it were shown.

Religion vs. Rationalism

Recently, David Brooks wrote a column contrasting the outlook of President Bush with that of Leo Tolstoy. He sees President Bush as emphasizing the importance of personal leadership.

Tolstoy had a very different theory of history. Tolstoy believed great leaders are puffed-up popinjays. They think their public decisions shape history, but really it is the everyday experiences of millions of people which organically and chaotically shape the destiny of nations — from the bottom up.

According to this view, societies are infinitely complex. They can't be understood or directed by a group of politicians in the White House or the Green Zone. Societies move and breathe on their own, through the jostling of mentalities and habits. Politics is a thin crust on the surface of culture.

If President Bush believes in the importance of individual leaders, then he is not alone. For example, Brad DeLong recently wrote,

in 1978 China had its first piece of great good luck in a long, long time--perhaps the first time some important chance broke right for China since the end of the Sung dynasty. China acquired as its paramount ruler one of the most devious and effective politicians of this or indeed any age, a man who was quite possibly the greatest human hero of the twentieth century: Deng Xiaoping.

The Chinese entrepreneur featured in "Call of the Entrepreneur" has a different view. Suffice to say, he would not use "Deng Xiapoing" and "human hero" in the same sentence.

I see President Bush as motivated by a passion to convert people in the underdeveloped world to the cause of freedom. However, I agree with Tolstoy that societies must be shaped from the bottom up, and I agree with Brooks' implication that Tolstoy would view the attempt to impose modern institutions on Iraq through the sheer will of our leadership as unrealistic. Finding the right balance between religion and rationalism is difficult. In my opinion, President Bush's good intentions concerning Iraq were not tempered by sufficient rationalism.

Generally speaking, however, I think that our own society could use a rekindling of the passion for freedom and fewer attempts to rationalize expansion of the state. I hope that "The Call of the Entrepreneur" is seen by enough people here and around the world to realize its subversive potential. I hope that it can stimulate more of us to yearn for liberty.


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32 Comments

No Subject
While I have not seen the movie, it sounds like something that Ayn Rand would embrace. When will it be available for us common folk to see?

Al Luttrell

Ayn Rand
Actually, the producer is not an Ayn Rand fan. He takes the view that Rand celebrated selfishness, but that entrepreneurialism is not about selfishness. So he thinks that Rand promoted the very anti-capitalist stereotype that the movie tries to debunk.

The DVD will be available to anyone in November. Meanwhile, you just have to keep an eye out for screenings in your area.

What the free nations can do
A great, now retired Business 101 teacher at Weber State College converted me to the free market in the late 80's. Wish I could remember his name. In any case, he reiterated the role of government is to create the framework allowing efficient economic activity.

How can countries like Cuba, DPRK or Zimbabwe become economically free when the state oppresses the masses and what should the free nations do about it?

When such oppression spills out and threatens those free nations, force is appropriate either to contain or eliminate the threat.

Elimination of the threat also entails helping those masses establish a government framework that will promote free market activity.

It was no longer in the best interest of the free world to contain the totalitarian states of the middle east after they attacked their neighbor, Kuwait or they harbored those who attacked the USA. The governments of Iraq and Afghanistan had to be modernized after they threatened the free world.

Sudan, Iran, Zimbabwe, DPRK, Cuba, Venezuela, Russia, China all need to be pulled to liberty and free markets. If they threaten the security of the free world, then force is justified to change the leadership and allow the masses to build their lives under liberty instead of tyranny.

The successful entrepreneur can't be selfish.
He must persuade others to buy his product or service by practicuing self interest.
By doing so, he helps others NOT be selfish.

A quick example of that was demonstrated by the Pilgrims. When all land was held in common and all the crops were held in common, it was in everyone's 'self interest' to be selfish, put in as little work as possible in the land to get an equal share of the crops.
The modern equivalent are open ranges and open seas fishing.
When people were allowed to keep the 'fruits of their labor', and to own the means of production, it was in everyone's self interest to work hard and raise has much as they could using their capital.
Those that were good farmers could farm. Others might be good at making tools and could trade with the farmers for food. The beginnings of a free market economy.
Since the Pilgrims were Christian, they had a moral obligation to ensure those who could not take care of themselves were provided for.
It was said the reason Brigham Young has 28 wives was to provide for their welfare as many of them were widows.
Successful entrepreneurs understand where their talents lie and seek to maximize those talents. Since they can't be good at everything they are willing to purchase from other entrepreneurs the goods and services they need to maximize their talent.
And they also know that competition forces the entrepreneur to maximize efficiency.
Some entrepreneurs who can't or won't compete resort to the selfish behavior of using their own force or government force to stifle competition. Such force is NOT a characteristic of successful free markets.

Revolucion!
"How can countries like Cuba, DPRK or Zimbabwe become economically free when the state oppresses the masses and what should the free nations do about it?"

To answer your first question, they can do it the way we did: by revolting against their tyrannical masters. Once they've done that, free nations like ours can recognize the new states, engage with them diplomatically and (most importantly) trade with them freely.

Based on the rest of your post, though, you obviously buy into the top-down model of change, and believe that countries like "Venezuela, Russia, China all need to be pulled to liberty and free markets." And all that's required to do that is for us to "change the leadership." Hey, how's that working out for us in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Acton
You're correct, Rand wouldn't have liked it precisely because it was made by the Acton Institute, a pro-Capitalist Catholic organization. Rand was too much of an ideologist to pragmatically embrace a group like the Acton Institute.

Leaders vs. Rulers
We need to differentiate between leaders and rulers. Leaders come out of the masses and lead them through ideas and examples. They may get punished for it, as many tragic heroes do, but eventually the people come around to emulating them. This is how societies move into greater levels of complexity.

Rulers are those who try to make people do what they want. They believe in a top-down world and that they are the only ones competent enough to provide good governance.

History books tend to concentrate more on rulers than leaders (which may explain the tendency of historians to be Leftists), but the truly important people of history have been the leaders.

the call of the entrepreneur
It is very timely to make a film on this topic, and the Acton Institute should be commended.
However, the title seems not to be calculated to appeal to a younger audience. Could we not have the name of one of the heros as the title, so that young people can more easily identify with the rather abstract themes?
ag

Absolutely
That is a very important distinction, and one I agree with wholeheartedly. I would only add that whereas rulers are almost without exception heads of state, leaders do not have to be involved with politics whatsoever. In this country, Steve Jobs and Warren Buffet could be considered leaders.

In other words, "leadership" thusly defined doesn't have to be political. In fact, it's probably better if it's not.

The American Revolution
The colonists all had weapons and a king which could exert little control from thousands of miles away.

If you try to cross lil Kim, all your family will be brutally tortured and murdered before your eyes.

How can any people who have been defanged, and declawed and beaten into submission have any hope to start a grassroots rebellion?

Don't forget the French

France provided critical support against the British during the Revolutionary War.

Another question is...
...why is any of that our problem?

If Kim's a legitimate threat to us, take him out. But if not, I wouldn't support a war for the sole purpose of making the people under him free.

And the North Koreans could overthrow him, if they united to fight him. If a few thousand uneducated Iraqis can give the mightiest military force in history fits with some IEDs they built in their backyards, then the dissatisfied residents of North Koreans should be able to come up with some kind of strategy for resisting their tin-pot dictator.

That's what I said.
We get involved when they threaten us.

DPRK has threated the USA and Japan with its ballistic missile program and its nuclear weapons development.

Korea was a tough battle field in the 50s and it has not changed. DPRK has buried much of its army into solid rock.

The USA has surrounded DPRK with missile defense systems to knock down any nuclear missiles they might decide to launch.

As for Iraq, the materials for the IEDs they build in their backyards are being supplied from outside Iraq.

How can a disarmed, defanged people have any hope to resist or overthrow any viscous military?

American colonists all had weapons and the British had relatively few soldiers in the colonies.

Dissidents in DPRK risk having their entire families murdered and tortured by the state. How do you suggest they organize and fight back?

IEDs are mostly made from...
...artillery shells, which the Iraqi army had in spades. When we invaded and disbanded it, most of those soldiers hoarded that stuff. They don't need anyone from outside Iraq to supply them with IED materials. That's not to say they're not getting that stuff from outside the country, but it's probably minimal.
It's not my job to figure out how they organize a resistance, and it would be presumptuous of me to try. I've never been there, and don't have a deep understanding of the culture. I'll leave that up to a Korean. My point was that it's not our job to liberate them, and that any sea changes in the North Korean political and social milieus will come from the Koreans themselves, not some outside power. (And a few countries -- China, Russia, Japan -- have tried and failed throughout the history of the Korean people.)
As to whether they really pose a threat to us, let's just say I'm extremely skeptical.

If Iraq had not threatened US national security, they would still be suffering under Saddam.

Entrepreneurs are most essiental for progress of mankind.
No doubt, without freedom entrepreneur will not florish,but we must remember that every culture have different conceptof freedom why China is making progress without western idea of freedom because their concept of freddom is quite different then west.
Take exemple of India, when India borrowed western democricy they did not consider real Psyche of Indian culture so though Indian are running with democratical government they failed to successful govern.
My point is every culture must follow their trend and not intimate with other culture

How is Indian libety different than USA liberty?
Many Indians in USA are doing quite well with USA liberty.

Why must so many Indians emigrate to find liberty?

At the Center
Our society confuses being selfish with being self-centered.

People who are truly selfish are never self-centered.

What Marjon calls "acting in self-interest" is what Rand meant by "selfishness".

Rand Cult
For all the advocacy of free markets and rugged individualism inherent in Rand's writings and philosophies that is admirable-incorporating her hostility to charity in social organization would not only make a society savage as people, it violates my property rights to dispose of my wealth as I see fit. (Ultimately we ALL dispose of our wealth).

I simply don't get the cult of personality that surrounds her-its the kind of hagiography I expect from the left.

Acton is "Faith Based", but not Catholic
It is certainly identified with its public face, Fr. Robert Sirico, but its publication "Journal of Markets and Morality" are written by people of many faiths, traditions and perspectives.

The American Revolution
Was also "top down", in that the individuals who pledged their lives, their honor and fortune-had honor and fortune to pledge. They were not populists or anarchists.

Governments are much smarter today at exhausting, dividing and suppressing the types of folks that replaced the English crown with republican self rule.

A cynical view is that government interferes with markets because doing so allows it to retain power.

Socialist FDR was master at divide and conquer politics.

What is YOUR concept of freedom?
And what you think is the concept of the Indian Man's freedom and the China Man's freedom?

Absolutely
Why else do schools teach anti-market concepts and politicians preach anti-market policies.

After dumbing down the average populace the leftist establishment seeks to create class envy and essentially abolish those of us who know what freedom really is.

In fact, I predict that even advocating freedom in the true sense will become a crime. How else can the paranoid state advocate cameras and microphones to spy on citizens.

The UK is the ultimate example of the nanny state. Always thru the guise of freedom thay take freedom away a bit at a time. They care for you, they coddle you and they monitor you all in the name of the state and you are free as long as you play by the rules.

Freedom mean just that. The ability to live and die, fail and suceed on your own. Not any more. Now you are wards of the almighty state to be guided like sheep to the slaughter.

if you don't think China has entrepreneur's, then you haven't known any Chinese.
Ditto for India.

The reason India failed to "successful govern", was becaused they tried to force socialism down the throats of the people.

When they stopped that, and allowed entrepreneur's to florish, so did their economy.

Chinese bureaucrat
For centuries, the most prestigious postion in the Chinese empire was a bureaucrat.
Merchants were very low class.

Don't disagree about Chinese people being great entrepreneurs, in spite of a culture that denigrated it.

Iranian IEDs
"U.S. officials say roadside bomb attacks against American forces in Iraq have become much more deadly as more and more of the Iran-designed and Iran-produced bombs have been smuggled in from the country since last October.

"I think the evidence is strong that the Iranian government is making these IEDs, and the Iranian government is sending them across the border and they are killing U.S. troops once they get there," says Richard Clarke, former White House counterterrorism chief and an ABC News consultant. "I think it's very hard to escape the conclusion that, in all probability, the Iranian government is knowingly killing U.S. troops." "

http://abcnews.go.com/International/IraqCoverage/story?id=1692347

Who is "the state"?
I can't imagine Kim visiting every dissenting household and personally killing families. There are people working for Kim that do these horrible things. Perhaps the people could raise some doubt in the fruitfulness of such jobs rising against the state's agents...? Might thin the ranks or discourage new recruits, eh?

Maybe you should pop into DPRK and show them.
Or maybe you could read up on Stalinist regimes and how they operate.

Saddam didn't personally do all those horrible things either, yet no one tried too hard to stop him.

Hitler was able to convince many of his fellows to kill millions in concentration camps. How did he do that?

Why do you follow many unconstitutional laws in the USA?

Chinese Merchants
Maybe that's why Chinese merchants got so good.
They had to, to get around the Chinese Bureaucrats?

History
Actually, Sirico is a big fan and advocate of Ayn Rand.

http://www.theadvocates.org/Merchant2/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=LS&Product_Code=A90&Category_Code=CLE

He's also a very colourful character, with a history of being on all sides of all issues.

http://www.riteofsodomy.com/vnbarr/Sirico.htm
http://romancatholicreport.com/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderfiles/RobertSiricoAndSinsCryingToHeaven.mp3

The Acton Institute was on the forefront of seeking to legalize street drugs in the name of "compassion." Then sought to de-criminalize pornography, sodomy, prostitution, and other vice crimes under the name of "morality." Sirico testified before congress that a preferential option for the poor was an "opinion" of "some bishops" (instead of rightly presenting it as the teaching of the Christian Church.) This caught the eye of big business and Republicans and was turned into "Welfare Reform."

Acton represents a melding of Libertarianism with Catholicism and Calvinism -- I suppose it could be called economic-Jansenism, or maybe Sirico-ism. But it certainly isn't orthodox Christianity.

Get clear on the threat
DPRK's blustering with a few technologically inferior missiles is not a threat. The US threat of annihilation of the DPRK is a threat, and the US has the means to back up the threat.

One could argue that the US is a threat to any other country in the world since our nuclear missiles could reach anywhere. Using your argument about the DPRK, any other nation is justified in considering the US a real threat and attacking. That is a very slippery slope.

I suggest they fight back by getting organized and determining if overthrowing their government is worth the sacrifice. I suspect that, with the DPRK's ownership of the information, the masses think that their way of life is just the way of the world - that is, I bet the masses are not ideologically tied to their way of government. International pressure to open communications for the people with the outside world would start getting them ready for living in that world. I would plainly argue that the North Korean populace is not ready for replacement of their government.

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