2012: Embrace Capitalism!

2011 was not a good year for capitalism. Multi-millionaire filmmaker and one-percenter Michael Moore declared it a failure. Protestors occupied Wall Street and dozens of other cities and towns to demonstrate … well, I'm still not sure what, but some of them seemed unsatisfied with our current economic system. And, our president, during a speech from Texas, er … Kansas, or one of those states out there, said the free-market system has never worked. Lots of complaints, but I haven't heard any proposed alternatives to our free-enterprise system other than taking more money from earners and giving it to low and non-earners.

Yeah, that'll work.

I hope 2012 is a year that we can celebrate capitalism and the free market system. Sure, it's had failures – usually after interference from government policy makers.

Our current economic problems were caused largely in part by government policy that strived to increase homeownership amongst minorities and low-income earners. Lenders were forced to provide mortgages to borrowers who could not pay back the loans, which eventually caused a housing market crash. That left Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (taxpayers) and large banks with a lot of worthless IOUs. The market didn't fail, it simply reacted to outside interference.

Capitalism, in the eyes of critics, is a failure because it does not provide equal outcomes. It is not designed to do so, and no economic system ever was. We need to be steadfast to insure equal opportunity for all citizens while recognizing that a diverse citizenry will make thousands of different choices leading to thousands of different outcomes. It is not the role of the free-market system to guarantee free college for everyone, nor does it guarantee high-paying jobs for all college graduates, or the guarantee of lifetime jobs and lifetime benefits. While some participants earn more money than others, they are not guaranteed a higher degree of happiness or satisfaction with their lives.

For those limited by physical or mental handicaps, or without family to rely on, we offer generous benefits through the public and private sector. For those from disadvantaged backgrounds with a desire to help themselves, there are plenty of individuals, groups, and businesses standing by to provide mentoring and opportunities.

All in all, it's a pretty good deal. It beats having to hunt your own food and build shelter out of trees, or work with oxen in the field for 18 hours a day. In this capitalistic society the next big thing is around the corner – that is, if people embrace and appreciate the freedoms we have. Any one of us, or our children, can create the next big electronic gizmo, blockbuster movie, new service or hot trend. Let's not tell our children that the system stinks, is overrun by corrupt capitalists, and they have no chance of succeeding. Let's teach them how to flourish, to seize opportunity, to be all they can be!

One group devoted to this philosophy is Junior Achievement USA (JA). JA is the nation's largest organization dedicated to giving young people the knowledge and skills they need to own their economic success, plan for their future, and make smart academic and economic choices. JA values include a belief in the boundless potential of young people; a commitment to the principles of market-based economics and entrepreneurship; a conviction in the educational and motivational impact of relevant, hands-on learning; and respect for talents, creativity, perspectives and backgrounds of all individuals.

Thankfully, JA is active in northern Michigan. It provides volunteer instructors at the request of local schools all over northwest Michigan. The volunteers teach work-readiness skills, financial literacy, economics, business ethics, entrepreneurship and other lessons to prepare the students for the realities of work and life in the 21st century.

JA is a non-profit organization that relies on fundraising, grants and donations to accomplish its mission. Full disclosure: I sit on the board of the local JA. If you support the values of JA, I invite you to volunteer, make a donation, sponsor one of our events, or join us for Snow Glow, January 21 at Timber Ridge. We'll provide cross-country skis and snowshoes on lit trails, along with great food. Think of it as a combination of physical and fiscal fitness to ring in 2012. Cheers!