Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-59), a young Frenchman, took a famous nine-month tour of America in 1831 (during his historic journey he stayed in John Spencer’s house in Canandaigua, now Elm Manor on Main Street). He wrote a legendary book about this young democracy, “Democracy in America,” that has become an important document about America and democracy. He also wrote of socialism, individual freedom, liberty and equality. Three brief quotes capture in capsule form Tocqueville’s insight and opinion regarding these issues:
“Democracy extends the sphere of individual freedom, socialism restricts it.”
“Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.”
“There is, in fact, a manly and legitimate passion for equity that spurs all men to rush to be strong and esteemed. This passion tends to elevate the lesser to the rank of the greater. But one also finds in the human heart a depraved taste for equity which impels the weak to want to bring down the strong to their level and which reduces men to preferring equity in servitude to inequity in freedom.”
The 40th president of the U.S., Ronald Reagan (1911-2004), captured his opinion of socialism by his succinct quote: “Socialism works in only two places. Heaven, where they don’t need it, and hell, where they already have it.”
Adam Smith (1723-90), one of the founding fathers of capitalism, introduced the term “invisible hand” in his book “Wealth of Nations” (1776). The term is descriptive of how a free market economy will function well if the government does not interfere in the markets and let the people buy and sell freely. The markets forces will work well for the benefit of the whole guided by the “invisible hand.”
Smith wrote, “Every individual intends only his own gain, but he is led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.”
Smith’s “invisible hand” theory is one of the primary reasons for the success of free market economies.
A remarkable essay was written in 1958 by Leonard Read called “I, Pencil” about the complexities of making an ordinary lead pencil. Many have acclaimed it; one example would be Walter Williams, professor of economics at George Mason University, when he said, “There is no better, more easily understood and more fun explanation of the complexity of markets than Leonard Read’s ‘I, Pencil.’” Milton Friedman used the essay in his 1980 PBS show “Free to Choose” and the accompanying book of the same name.
The closing lines of the pencil speaking include “The lesson I have to teach is this: leave all creative energies uninhibited. Let society’s legal apparatus remove all obstacles the best it can. Have faith that free men and women will respond to the invisible hand.”
Joe Fitzgerald is a Canandaigua resident.