“Before God and a billion hungry neighbors, we must rethink our values regarding our present standard of living,” proclaims the document. The document goes on to lament the “materialism of our culture and the maldistribution of the nation’s wealth and services.”
According to these leaders, the United States holds a “crucial role in the balance and injustice of international trade and development.” To secure an “abundant life for all of God’s children,” these activists propose “a more just acquisition and redistribution of the world’s resources.”
Good intentions notwithstanding, enactment of their economic agenda would actually stifle the widespread abundance produced by free market capitalism.
This thinly veiled embrace of Marxism initially occurred at the height of the Cold War. In the half-century prior to 1973, many governments elsewhere forcefully enacted a “more just” redistribution. The Soviets outright confiscated private farmland upon coming to power in Russia in 1917. Likewise, China’s communist regime under Mao Zedong began redistributing private land holdings upon coming to power in 1949. In 1959, the regime of Cuba’s Fidel Castro nationalized private businesses and property in the aftermath of the revolution.
Far from being an abstract dispute, the physical and intellectual war between free market capitalism and socialism was intensely raging by 1973.
To affirm the economic pronouncements in the Chicago Declaration would be to reject the reality of the last 45 years. Consider the turnaround the United Kingdom has made following broad privatization in the 1980s, or the booms that came to Vietnam and China as capitalism was adopted. Look at the wealth of Hong Kong, Singapore, and South Korea—some of the freest economies in the world.
Meanwhile, the socialist economies of Spain and Greece continue to flounder while Venezuela degenerates under the burden of Bolivarian revolution.
Far from perpetuating injustice, the expansion of international trade has coincided with a surge in the quality of life for many millions of people. In the words of World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, “Over the last 25 years, more than a billion people have lifted themselves out of extreme poverty, and the global poverty rate is now lower than it has ever been in recorded history. This is one of the greatest human achievements of our time.”
Of course, wages in the developing world remain lower than those in more advanced economies. But these wages represent a marked improvement from yesteryear. The transformation in living standards today is eclipsing even the rapid pace of improvement that the West experienced during the Industrial Revolution two centuries ago.
The signatories of this statement decry “a national pathology of war and violence which victimizes our neighbors at home and abroad.”
Yet the United States has sacrificed greatly to defeat Nazism, communism, fascism, terrorism, and imperialism over the past century. We’ve rebuilt war-ravaged countries—including those of former enemies such as Germany and Japan. We’ve made seas across the globe safe for trade. Our investments overseas in countries that welcome foreign capital have directly expanded prosperity across the globe.
And beyond this, our nation liberally shares the concepts that continue to make us an economic powerhouse—notions such as private property rights and the rule of law.
Central planning, a capping of consumer demand, and a redistribution of resources are not the keys to economic “justice.” After years of travelling to impoverished parts of the globe, U2’s Bono bravely shared his altered take on capitalism:
“Rock star preaches capitalism—wow. Sometimes I hear myself and I just cannot believe it. But commerce is real … aid is just a stop-gap. Commerce, entrepreneurial capitalism takes more people out of poverty than aid—of course, we know that.”
In light of recent history, perhaps now is the time for the heirs of the 1973 declaration to graciously admit their misdiagnosis.
Joel Griffith is a research fellow in the Roe Institute at The Heritage Foundation.
Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by The Daily Signal.