This article was originally published at ValuesandCapitalism.com on January 4, 2013.
Each year, almost 50 percent of Americans make New Year’s Resolutions. Most often, these include things like losing weight, working harder or spending less. Whatever they may be, the common thread among them is that they involve things we deeply care about—things we think deserve more of our time and effort.
In that light, it only makes sense that the free market should, in some form, be among our New Year’s Resolutions. And if this year is anything like last year, the free market will need all the support it can get. As critics of the free market grow stronger, it is up to liberty’s advocates to counter those attacks.
So this year, make defending the free market one of your resolutions. Commit yourself to discuss the ideas of liberty with friends and neighbors. Here are three tips to help you get started:
1. Raising questions is always better than giving answers.
Capitalism defends itself. It is logical, coherent and well-supported. The last thing it needs is your careless, back-of-the-napkin arguments that can sometimes do more harm than good.
Instead of arguing defensively with your friends, try raising some interesting questions. Ask them about their beliefs. Why do they think like they do? What do they think about our economic future? How do they propose the government deal with things like inflation, student loan debt and gun control?
If you’re like me, you’ll quickly find that questions build bridges and create mutual understanding. If you’re lucky, your friends will begin to seriously consider their own opinions, and will become more open to listening to alternative points of view. Helping others come to their own opinions will create more lasting change than asking them to adopt yours.
2. Everyone deserves respect, no matter how mistaken they may be (yes, even your crazy socialist uncle).
Granted, respecting your opponent can be difficult. How can someone be so educated, you might wonder—and yet wrong? How can that friend of yours be so blind to the harms of government debt when they have experienced the pains of bankruptcy in their own life? What makes your unemployed neighbor believe that investing more in the same government policies will help her get a job?
But the fact is, many people who are “hopelessly wrong” have the best of intentions in mind. Socialists believe their policies will bring economic fairness. Occupy Wall Streeters believe big banks harm the poorest of the poor. Progressives believe that more deficit spending will alleviate, not intensify, the current unemployment crisis. Only crazy people support ideas because they want to bring destruction and poverty to their fellow human beings.
So instead of snubbing your intellectual opponents, draw upon their good intentions for your noble purposes. Show them the free market is the solution they are looking for—not an oppressive, evil monster. Make sure they understand that you support the free market because you think it is fair, moral and wealth-generating—not because you are greedy and selfish. Most importantly, help them know that you are as concerned as they are about the plight of the poor, disadvantaged and unemployed—you simply believe the free market is the best solution.
In little to no time, you’ll find that your friends and neighbors will start to be more attentive to what you have to say. As in all areas of life, your respect for others will translate into their respect for you.
3. Use your resources.
Like it or not, no one is going to change their worldview because of a 30-second coffee break conversation. Even if they are proven totally wrong, most of us would rather continue to argue bad ideas than embarrassingly admit defeat.
So instead of arguing, point your friends to some of the thousands of liberty-related resources available in print and online. Email them an article and ask them to respond. Send them a book about an issue you know they care about.
In fact, this is precisely why organizations like the American Enterprise Institute exist. Their scholars have studied these issues for decades and have prepared arguments that—like it or not—are stronger than yours may ever be. Whether Ludwig von Mises on socialism, Charles Murray on welfare policy or Arthur Brooks on the morality of capitalism, scholars throughout the ages have advanced and defended the very arguments you are trying to make. Use them!
The ideas of liberty have been growing and evolving for centuries. You have no reason to fight the battle alone.