The Gift of Liberty

Every Christmas we celebrate the birth of Christ. That’s the point, isn’t it? It’s not to celebrate Santa Claus, or to worry about getting our child the latest Xbox 360 war game, or to rush to be the first in the mail with our Season’s Greetings card.

That doesn’t mean that Christmas is only for Christians.

We celebrate the birthday of our friends even if it’s not our own birthday. As Pope John Paul II said in his 1994 Christmas message Christmas is the time to recognize that Christ was born into a family – and that Christ’s message is that we are all of one family. No matter what religion you belong to – or if you are religious at all – that message is worth celebrating.

Many of the world’s problems would be resolved if everyone recognized the family of mankind. Christmas is a time to assist those less fortunate than ourselves. It’s a time to recognize our good fortune in living in a system based on market capitalism and limited government. As Ludwig von Mises pointed out nine decades ago: this is the only system that can produce wealth for all.

Not long ago I watched a news program about a woman living in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She was in her 30s and carried 100 pound sacks of grain on a two-mile uphill climb from a port to a mill. She made barely enough to feed her children casaba root porridge for dinner. I was struck by the dramatic difference in her lifestyle and mine.

She surely worked harder than I did (as my wife says about my position as a professor: “People retire to your job”). For all I know, she is as smart as I am. The fundamental reason that I am economically comfortable (as are most readers of this this column) is that I was fortunate enough to be born into an economic system that allows me to be very productive. By contrast, that woman was born into Congo’s system of central planning – a system of arbitrary government power where few can be productive.

The per capita income of the bottom 10 percent of income distribution in the countries that rank in the top quarter of the Fraser Institute’s Index of Economic Freedom is $8735. The per capita income of the bottom 10 percent of the income distribution of countries in the bottom quarter is $1061. In the most market-oriented countries, even the poor are more than eight times as wealthy as the poorest in centrally-planned economies.

Pick any country to be born in – but with the caveat that you will be the poorest person there. You would surely pick Australia, New Zealand, Canada, or the United States over North Korea, Cuba, Zimbabwe or the Congo.

Historical evidence tells the tale. I ask my students who would you rather be: King of England in 1263 or yourself? Not one student answers King of England. Why? Because the feudalistic economic system of the 13th century could not create wealth for the upper hierarchy – much less for the masses. In 1000 years of monarchy, mankind’s average income rose 50 percent.

Since market capitalism was adopted by the West (in the early 19th century), average income has risen by 1000 percent.

Christmas is a time to be grateful and to make every effort to help the family of mankind. This means private charity, giving of our own time, treasure, and talent to others. It does not mean asking our government to engage in what Frederic Bastiat called “legalized plunder” – that is, taking from some people to give to others.

But in the long run, we can best help our global family by winning the battle of ideas.

The massive poverty in Somalia, the Sudan, and elsewhere will not end until their citizens obtain limited government and an economic system based upon private ownership of the means of production. This requires a political system based upon individual liberty and responsibility. This Christmas we should not only engage in charitable donations, but also in the battle of ideas that will free the world from poverty and oppressive governance.

(Dr. Gary L. Wolfram is the William E. Simon Professor in Economics and Public Policy at Hillsdale College. This article was originally posted on The Michigan View.)

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