Essay Read By Constituting America Founder, Actress Janine Turner
The essence of the American Dream lies in the belief that every individual, irrespective of their background, has the opportunity to succeed based on their talents, abilities, and hard work. A central driver of this dream is the principle of individual free enterprise, a system where businesses are free from excessive government interference, and individuals have the right to use their resources to create, innovate, and grow.
The beauty of individual free enterprise is that it unleashes the inherent potential within each of us. It allows an individual with a great idea to take that concept, build upon it, and bring it to the marketplace. It encourages creativity, fosters competition, and drives innovation. In this arena, an entrepreneur’s vision can be actualized, and dreams can truly come alive.
The American Dream, therefore, can be aptly described as the Entrepreneur’s Dream. It is a dream that does not discriminate based on race, color, or creed, but instead extols the resilience, tenacity, and spirit of individuals who are willing to take risks and work hard to realize their visions. It is the dream of creating something that can not only change an individual’s life but potentially impact the world.
The cornerstone of the American dream, the pursuit of happiness, is intrinsically linked to the principles of private property rights and individual free enterprise. Rooted in the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights, these tenets have been the lifeblood of our nation’s prosperity and ingenuity for centuries. Understanding the interconnectedness of these concepts and their critical importance is paramount to preserving the spirit of liberty that fuels American progress.
The right to “pursue happiness” is not merely a poetic phrase; it is the Declaration of Independence’s embodiment of the American dream, anchoring the pursuit of personal fulfillment and prosperity to the soul of the nation. Rooted in the Enlightenment philosophy of John Locke, the Founding Fathers believed that government’s primary role was to safeguard the natural rights of its citizens, granting them the autonomy to seek their own path to happiness. This novel notion freed the American people from the chains of monarchical rule and ushered in a new era of self-determination, where individuals were encouraged to chart their destinies with vigor and determination.
Yet, for this dream to thrive, we must create and maintain an environment conducive to entrepreneurial growth. An essential ingredient of this environment is a regulatory and policy framework that facilitates rather than hinders enterprise. The government’s role should be to provide a stable, predictable legal framework that protects property rights, upholds the rule of law, and maintains a level playing field.
The concept of individual free enterprise, which underpins the American economic system, complements the right to pursue happiness perfectly. Free enterprise embodies the principles of economic freedom, private property rights, and voluntary exchange. By unleashing the entrepreneurial spirit of the American people, it facilitates the pursuit of happiness on an unprecedented scale. Indeed, the Founding Fathers understood that the realizations of one’s dreams and aspirations were inextricably tied to the freedom to engage in commerce and create wealth.
At the core of the Constitution’s protection of private property rights is the Fifth Amendment, which states, “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” The Founding Fathers understood that private property is the bedrock of personal liberty and economic growth. It is a tangible manifestation of an individual’s labor, ingenuity, and ambition; it fuels motivation and contributes to societal development. Moreover, the right to private property extends beyond the mere possession of physical goods to encompass intellectual property, businesses, and even ideas.
Inextricably linked to the notion of private property rights is the concept of individual free enterprise. This principle is the foundation upon which America’s economic success has been built. Free enterprise allows individuals to use their private property—whether it be their labor, capital, or ideas—to create value, compete in the marketplace, and achieve their own version of the American dream.
These concepts are not separate entities, but rather two sides of the same coin, each strengthening and reinforcing the other. The security of private property rights fosters an environment conducive to free enterprise, where individuals are more inclined to take risks, innovate, and invest, knowing that their efforts and resources are safeguarded. Similarly, free enterprise, through its production of wealth and opportunities, allows for the further accumulation and managing of private property.
Another critical factor is the societal attitude towards failure. In a true free enterprise system, failure is not a stigma but a stepping stone toward success. It is through trial and error that entrepreneurs refine their ideas, hone their skills, and ultimately succeed. A culture that encourages risk-taking, celebrates entrepreneurial spirit, and sees failure as a learning opportunity is one that will generate more innovation and prosperity.
Education also plays a significant role. Equipping individuals with the knowledge and skills to start and manage businesses, understand market dynamics, and adapt to changing economic landscapes is vital. This isn’t merely about promoting business education but encouraging a mindset of creativity and problem solving.
However, it is essential to note that these principles do not exist in a vacuum. The government plays a crucial role in ensuring their existence and efficacy, providing a stable legal framework and enforcing the rules of the game. Nevertheless, the balance is delicate. Overreaching government intervention can stifle creativity, disrupt the natural mechanisms of the free market, and erode private property rights. Thus, the principle of limited government—another pillar of our constitutional order—is central to this discussion.
The government should avoid policies that stifle ingenuity or add unnecessary burdens to entrepreneurs. High taxes, excessive regulations, and restrictive labor laws can serve as barriers to entry, preventing new ventures from getting off the ground and stifling the creativity and dynamism that drive economic growth and job creation.
The connection between the Constitution’s protection of private property rights and individual free enterprise is a testament to the profound wisdom of our Founding Fathers. Their understanding of human nature, individual freedom, and economic principles enabled them to construct a system that has fostered unprecedented prosperity and liberty.
Today, as we face the challenges of an increasingly globalized and digital world, these principles are more important than ever. Protecting private property rights and promoting free enterprise will enable us to preserve individual liberty, spur economic growth, and maintain America’s position as a bastion of invention.
The success of free enterprise in America is rooted in the belief that individuals, not government, are best suited to determine their needs and aspirations. This laissez-faire approach to economic governance has unleashed an unparalleled era of prosperity, creating the world’s largest economy and improving the lives of countless citizens. The unyielding spirit of entrepreneurship, driven by the pursuit of happiness, has fostered a culture of risk-taking and relentless ambition that has propelled America to greatness.
Individual free enterprise embodies the principles of meritocracy, rewarding hard work and creativity while fostering competition. It allows individuals to utilize their unique talents and skills to create value for others and, in turn, realize their own dreams. By removing bureaucratic barriers, free enterprise empowers citizens to participate in an ever-changing economic landscape, ensuring that success is not predestined but earned through dedication and effort.
The right to pursue happiness, as written in the Declaration of Independence, and the ideal of individual free enterprise are intrinsically linked. Together, they form the bedrock of the American dream, empowering individuals to chart their own destinies, create prosperity, and leave a lasting impact on society. Embracing the principles of liberty and free enterprise ensures that the pursuit of happiness remains not just a mere aspiration, but a tangible reality for all American citizens, as it has been for centuries since the nation’s founding.
Andrew Langer is President of the Institute for Liberty, a Fellow with Constituting America, as well as Chairman and Founder of the Institute for Regulatory Analysis and Engagement. IFL is a non-profit advocacy organization focused on advancing free-market and limited government principles into public policy at all levels. IRAE is a non-profit academic and activist organization whose mission is to examine regulations and regulatory proposals, assess their economic and societal impacts, and offer expert commentary in order to create better public policies. Andrew has been involved in free-market and limited-government causes for more than 25 years, has testified before Congress nearly two dozen times, spoken to audiences across the United States, and has taught at the collegiate level.
A globally-recognized expert on the impact of regulation on business, Andrew is regularly called on to offer innovative solutions to the challenges of squaring public policy priorities with the impact and efficacy of those policies, as well as their unintended consequences. Prior to becoming President of IFL and founding IRAE, he was the principal regulatory affairs lobbyist for the National Federation of Independent Business, the nation’s largest small business association. As President of the Institute for Liberty, he became recognized as an expert on the Constitution, especially issues surrounding private property rights, free speech, abuse of power, and the concentration of power in the federal executive branch.
Andrew has had an extensive career in media—having appeared on television programs around the world. From 2017 to 2021, he hosted a highly-rated weekly program on WBAL NewsRadio 1090 in Baltimore (as well as serving as their principal fill-in host from 2011 until 2021), and has filled in for both nationally-syndicated and satellite radio programs. He also created and hosted several different podcasts—currently hosting Andrew and Jerry Save The World, with long-time colleague, Jerry Rogers.
He holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Troy University and his degree from William & Mary is in International Relations.