ADA, Mich. — Free enterprise has been the foundation of America's economy and society for more than 200 years. It's been the platform for unprecedented prosperity, opportunity and advancement for generations. It's the reason our nation remains a beacon of hope for people around the world who wish for a better life.
That doesn't mean our economic picture is always perfect. Today, we're struggling with economic uncertainty that results in a lackluster recovery, a tepid labor market and stagnant incomes. Allowing economic freedom to prevail over government intervention is the best way to turn things around. How?
Economic freedom leads to personal freedom. When individuals are empowered under a free enterprise system, they have the opportunity to earn success based on their own hard work and potential.
That's why free enterprise fosters self-reliance, motivation, dignity and happiness. It inspires people to tap their potential to do more, be more, and provide for themselves and their families.
Economic freedom spreads prosperity. When employers and entrepreneurs are successful, they indirectly share that wealth by expanding opportunities and creating jobs for others. Businesses give billions to charity every year, offer retirement benefits and health care coverage, provide critical aid when disasters strike and generate the economic growth needed to help support government.
Economic freedom spurs healthy competition, which means that customers have access to the best products for the lowest prices. Businesses wanting to remain successful always strive to do better. They constantly innovate and improve our lives through technological advancements or cost savings.
Economic freedom is also a stabilizing force around the world. Individuals who have a say over their personal lives and businesses want strong voices in government.
Despite the economic, moral and global benefits of free enterprise, some Americans believe that government should have a more powerful role in our economy, our society and our lives.
The truth is that government doesn't create opportunity, equality or success — the private sector does. But the actions our leaders take can unleash the free enterprise system and allow the private sector to thrive — or they can hold back economic freedom, harming jobs and growth.
When our leaders attempt to reach deeper into the affairs of businesses and individuals — through overregulation and higher taxes — they breed uncertainty and stifle growth.
When they seek greater control over key sectors of our economy — such as the health-care system through Obamacare — they expand bureaucracy, reduce efficiency and raise costs.
When they try to engineer fairness or artificially spread wealth, they take away the fundamental American ideals of equality of opportunity and reward based on merit and hard work. These actions pose a threat to free enterprise and a strong economy.
I take the preservation of our free enterprise system personally. Without it my own company, Amway, would not be the successful, global organization it is today. It was started 54 years ago by my father and his best friend in a basement.
Now, because of the opportunities only possible through free enterprise, Amway has helped more than 3 million people start their own businesses and our more than 20,000 employees around the world support those entrepreneurs.
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In 2012, Amway sales reached $11.3 billion, supporting personal incomes, tax bases, community programs and capital investments. And 90 percent of our business is done overseas, allowing us to spread free enterprise and create opportunity in impoverished parts of the world.
Free enterprise isn't perfect, but it's the best system ever devised. When citizens and businesses are free to work hard and succeed, they contribute to a strong and dynamic economy. And that's good for everyone.
Steve Van Andel is co-CEO of Amway and chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce board of directors.