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Capitalism for the Little Guy

Introductory remarks delivered to the panel discussion “Capitalism for the Little Guy” at the recent Conservatives International: Americas conference

Good afternoon and welcome to this last panel of the first day of Conservatives International, entitled “Capitalism for the Little Guy.” My name is Iain Murray, and I’m a Vice President at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington D.C. Since 1984, CEI has been fighting for the little guy, who so often gets overlooked when big issues are decided at the political level. As a former boss of mine would say, when elephants fight, the grass gets trampled.

Yet, as another former boss of mine would say – and we’ve heard it said a few times today – you don’t need to teach the grass to grow; you just need to take the rocks off of it. It is capitalism that encourages that grass to grow. And grow tall it has.

One of the single greatest achievements in human history has been playing out almost unnoticed over the past few decades. As Daniel said in his speech earlier, hundreds of millions of people have raised the standard of living for themselves and their families – people who previously would have been living in hand-to-mouth poverty. And the reason for this explosion of human welfare is not the things that the left would have us believe – labor laws, welfare policies, the iron fist of government – but the reasons Adam Smith identified as responsible for the wealth of nations in 1776 – specialization, commerce, and the invisible hand of the market.

How do we know this? Because there is a clear correlation between increasing levels of economic freedom and increasing national wealth.

Because there is a clear causal pathway as to why that should be. And because countries that move away from economic liberalism see clear drops in their standard of living.

In other words, capitalism and free enterprise are achieving what government spending and development aid could not.

Yet despite this stunning achievement, we are regularly told by politicians and government bureaucrats that they know better than the aggregate wisdom of the web of voluntary exchange that makes up the market. A regulatory tweak here, a tax rise there, and they can achieve better results for us, we are told.

Or, they point to events like the recent banking crisis and say that capitalism can unleash greed or some other moral failings and must be constrained.

Millions of people, often the little guys, believe these arguments. How are we to respond? How are we to make the case that capitalism is the friend of the little guy?

To discuss this problem, we have a star-studded panel here today:

Gloria Álvarez of Movimiento Cívico Nacional in Guatemala and YouTube sensation

Bob Chitester, Chairman of President and CEO of Free To Choose Network 

Isabel Benjumea, Director of Floridablanca, a Spanish initiative promoting classical liberal policies in contemporary policy debates

Horace Chang, a Minister in the Jamaican government, and Secretary-General of the Jamaica Labour Party, which is Jamaica’s classical liberal party