U.S. free enterprise is best system 
to ensure healthy economic recovery

If writing a column and serving in public office have anything in common, it is that, in both lines of work (or whatever you call serving in elected office and writing a column), those people who agree with you tend to do so quietly. However, those people who disagree with you have this unmistakable tendency to scream it from the mountaintops, usually with colorful language that, even occasionally, includes an epithet or two.

That’s certainly been my experience, at least. I think it’s just human nature — agitation is a more powerful motivator to speak out than agreement. Or maybe it’s just me. Maybe my mouth provokes hostility more readily than warm-and-fuzzy-sentiments.

Whatever the reason, this much is certain — if the letters to the editor section were a scoreboard, my detractors are winning by a Seattle Seahawks-sized margin.

The part that might surprise you is that I generally enjoy reading the letters that critique, criticize or throw tomatoes at my columns.

I’ve always liked a good argument with a person who sees the world differently than I do.

It’s the reason that, while I find his continuing defense of Obamacare utterly inexplicable for a man of his education, I have always really liked The Daily Sentinel’s health care opinion writer, Dr. Michael Pramenko.

In a free society, an occasional screaming match over important matters of state is actually entirely healthy.

All of this is a bit of a meandering set-up to a letter that appeared earlier. Recall that recently I wrote about the sorry state of affairs at the Sochi Olympics, and the window that the ill-run Olympics provided into a failed Russian economy that left too many of its citizens behind. Russia’s continuing economic struggles, I argued, are a forceful reminder that the American system of free markets and free people, however imperfect, is still one helluva better system than that of the former Soviets.

But the letter writer subsequently took me to task for my Sochi observations, calling it peculiar “irony” that I would highlight the disparity between rich and poor and lack of social mobility for Russians, when the situation is similarly bleak for middle-class Americans, thanks to the market system I generally extol.

“I thought for a moment he was writing tongue-in-cheek, as the same might be said of our own middle class and the ever-widening gap between the super-rich and the poverty-stricken classes right here in the United States ...” she wrote. “But then I realized that Penry was entirely serious. I had to wonder that he didn’t recognize the irony of his own words.”

This, in fact, was an argument I was hoping to provoke.

President Barack Obama has made this question of economic inequality the centerpiece of his agenda for the year. Liberals across the country are dutifully answering the president’s battle cry. Together, they are demanding a hike in the minimum wage, even though study after study shows a one-size-fits-all mandatory wage bump will kill jobs. They are bent on turning the nation’s unemployment insurance program, a legitimate and important instrument to help people through jobless spells, into something it was never intended — a quasi-permanent entitlement, a hammock, not a safety net.

They want more Obamacare, not less.

But, as the plight of the Russian middle class shows (the so-called middle class in Russia earns a median income of about $500 a month), as the generation-long malaise of quasi-socialist western European economies irrefutably illuminates, as the languishing recovery of our own economy brings into real focus, excess government control of the economy is no recipe for economic prosperity.

The letter writer who took issue with my Sochi observations is correct on one point: There is a whiff of irony in all this talk of Russia that the Olympic Games have wrought. And the irony is, too many Americans have forgotten how and why we won the Cold War. More than anything else, it was a victory for an economic system — our system of free people and free enterprise.

A forceful return to those pro-growth principles, incidentally, is the single best thing we could do here and now to help the American middle class.

Josh Penry is a former minority leader of the Colorado Senate. He is a graduate of Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.


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