Last week, the American Enterprise Institute welcomed His Holiness the Dalai Lama to join Arthur Brooks and a number of esteemed panelists in a discussion of free enterprise, happiness and the means of human flourishing.
The event highlighted the incredible accomplishments of the free enterprise system in alleviating poverty and advancing human flourishing around the world, and then examined how to secure these blessings of free enterprise for more individuals, particularly the poor and the most vulnerable in society.
“No other economic system can create the prosperity we have today,” Daniel Loebb of Third Point LLC said of the free enterprise system. Free enterprise, which according to Glenn Hubbard of Columbia Business School is the most moral economic system, has proven to be the most effective means of promoting human flourishing and economic prosperity. Indeed, the speakers agreed that free enterprise is responsible for achieving not only incredible economic prosperity but also significant social goals as well.
However, while free enterprise has been a tremendously effective means of fostering human happiness, the system is not by itself perfect. Jonathan Haidt of New York University noted that, due to the market’s remarkable capacity for alleviating poverty and advancing economic prosperity, some individuals might be led to idolize free enterprise. On the other hand, the abuses and exploitations by some in the capitalist system have caused others to demonize it.
Haidt proposes a “third story” of capitalism: one that honors the free enterprise system’s praiseworthy achievements, while simultaneously acknowledging the need to secure these blessings for all our brothers and sisters around the globe.
“Free enterprise is predicated on moral living from each one of us,” Arthur Brooks reminded us. Similarly, the Dalai Lama emphasized the importance of personal virtue, including love, tolerance and compassion as the essential building blocks for cultivating a flourishing society. Our common humanity should foster concern for the well-being of others, in our local communities and beyond. Because God our Creator is compassionate, the Dalai Lama stated that we too should display sincere compassion toward one another. As understood within the Biblical narrative, the imago dei—the fact that we are God’s image-bearers—means that to be fully human is to reflect his character to the world.
However, a concern for others’ wellbeing need not arise from purely altruistic motives, or selfless impulses. Rather, the Dalai Lama proposed, “The best thing for your future is to care about others.” We are mutually dependent upon one another, even for our individual happiness. So if we seek first the well-being of others, we advance our own happiness.
In a sense, this echoes God’s call in Jeremiah 29 to his people Israel, in which He states:
Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile…because if it prospers, you too will prosper.
Arthur Brooks concluded the event by arguing that free enterprise can and should be a blessing in the lives of people—especially the poor. But to truly endure, free enterprise must be practiced as brotherhood, with compassion and in a basic spirit of personal moral responsibility: