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Speaking Up for American Capitalism

Amid all the anticapitalist rhetoric espoused by policy and opinion makers alike, few businessmen dare rise up to the challenge and defend the free market outright. Gregg Sherrill, Chairman and CEO of Tenneco, Inc. is a notable exception.

With capitalism under persecution worldwide, the business community has in part itself to blame. As accusations of greed and selfishness are thrown around, renowned bankers and captains of industry appease, apologize and compromise, but to no avail.

Businessmen attempt to appease the loudest of their opponents who will never relinquish the struggle. They apologize for their very existence, denouncing “inhuman capitalism” as much as the most collectivist of commentators. And they compromise on the free market, relying on lobbying instead, on private manipulation and on pull in order to extract momentary favors from government.

Because they never stood up and said, “Wait a minute!” businessmen undermined the market and let it take the fall for faults that were not its own. As it is, defenders of capitalism have become scarce and capitalism itself, a forgotten ideal.

Gregg Sherrill, fortunately, is not afraid to make the case for American capitalism—and he urges his colleagues to do the same. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Sherill, who has been with Tenneco since January 2007, attests that, “other than those companies that were a part of the system of easy credit and disguised risk that so spectacularly collapsed, American business as a whole has nothing whatsoever to apologize for.” The good news, he believes, is that, “despite the political cacophony, and our silence, most Americans still instinctively understand this.”

Sherill quotes a Pew Research Center poll which found that 70 percent of Americans still rather live in a free market than a socialist economy, “even though there may be severe ups and downs from time to time” in the former. So why are the 30 percent in charge of the rest, he wonders.

According to American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks, the “game changer” was the economic crisis. As he writes in his book The Battle, “the opportunity to expand the 30 percent coalition was not the Democratic sweep in 2008. It was the financial crisis of 2008-2009, which was used as a tool to attack the free enterprise system.

The alternative, promoted by the current administration, is a vast expansion of government. It sincerely believes that regulated markets work best. This is a “profound mistake,” writes Sherrill. “Other countries have tried this strategy in various ways, especially over the last century. The results have often been negative, and at times disastrous. None has come close to the levels of growth and individual prosperity driven by the American free enterprise system.”

Yet as Washington prepares for the November midterm elections and the specter of losing numerous seats, perhaps even their majority in either house of Congress, looms over Democrats scrambling for every vote, “the danger,” according to Sherrill, “is that people will buy into the false perception that government can fix our current crisis, which will lead to policies making our economic recovery more difficult.”

I’m proud to be part of an economic system that still offers the greatest opportunity for individual prosperity and quality of life. I believe my colleagues in all segments of American business and industry share that pride. It’s time we find our voices and speak up. We have a powerful story to tell.

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