(CNSNews.com) - "Free enterprise, as we know, has done more to bless humanity than any other economic system, not only because it's the only system that creates a prosperous middle class, but also because it's the only system where the individual enjoys the freedom to guide and build his or her life," Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney told the Clinton Global Initiative on Tuesday.
"Free enterprise cannot only make us better off financially, it can make us better people," Romney said.
Calling the U.S. a "very compassionate nation," Romney noted that although the Americans comprise only 4.5% of the world's population, Americans donate nearly a quarter of all global foreign aid, more than twice as much as any nation.
"But too often our passion for charity as a people is tempered by our sense that our aid is not always effective," Romney said.
While foreign aid should fill humanitarian needs and advance U.S. strategic interests, it must also bring "lasting change in communities and nations," he said.
Romney said he often hears from Americans who "somehow feel that we are at the mercy of events rather than shaping events. I'm often asked why -- and what can we do about it -- to lead the Middle East to stability, to ease the suffering and the anger and the hate there, and the violence."
Romney explained that while religious extremism is part of the problem, so are demographics: The Middle Eastern population is very young -- "and typically these young people don't have a lot of job prospects," Romney said.
Moreover, their access to the Internet means they can now organize across vast regions: "Idle, humiliated by poverty, and crushed by government corruption, their frustration and their anger grows."
"Work -- that has to be at the heart of our effort to help people build economies that can create jobs (for) young and old alike," Romney said. "Work builds self-esteem. It transforms minds from fantasy and fanaticism to reality and grounding. Work does not long tolerate corruption, nor will it quietly endure the brazen theft by government (from) hardworking men and women."
To foster work and enterprise in the Middle East and in other developing countries, Romney said he would initiate a program that will work with the private sector to remove trade barriers and open markets in developing nations to U.S. markets and trade.