Socialism and communism combined to kill over 100 million human beings, by some estimates,
which vary because of the complexity of the data as well as the difficulty involved
in counting deaths caused not only by direct murder, but also by the indirect effects
of government repression such as hunger or famine. Despite their brutal and bloody
history, socialism and communism continue to attract young, impressionable adherents
who are deceived by ideological appeal and charismatic leaders into believing that
their economic paradigm benefits the poor, redresses the excesses of colonialism and
imperialism, or contributes to the general wellbeing of society by opposing the powers
of big business or corporations. Students on campuses across the United States proudly
display t-shirts featuring the image of Che Guevara, but could you imagine their clothing
celebrating other proponents of state violence like Adolf Hitler or Pol Pot?
A more humane political economy than socialism or communism places the dignity and bodily integrity of every human person--regardless of race, class, age, religion, or gender--at the center of its concerns. Supporters of free markets have little to nothing in common with crude caricatures of callous magnates who prioritize avarice or materialism above interpersonal relationships. Rather, champions of a market economy celebrate the mutual respect and voluntary exchanges that bring people together and improve lives and institutions without undue force or coercion, facilitating human cooperation and coordination on a grand scale even in a climate of competition. Free-market economics is predicated on the virtue of humility, acknowledging the diversity of disparate peoples and groups and the inability of a dominant person or group constructively to calculate prices or the subjective values that ordinary consumers place on everyday goods or services. Human knowledge is, according to market economists, decentralized and dispersed and thus incapable of expression in certain or absolute terms. Society's leaders must accept their limited competency to calculate how best to allocate resources or centrally design efficient systems. Free markets represent, conceptually, the sum of knowledge or the aggregate of information, providing signals and data that exceed the capacity of any one mind fully to comprehend. We need free markets because without them we could not make adequately informed decisions about policy, among other things. Sometimes, perhaps often, markets reveal that the optimal policy is, simply, to leave matters to people at the local level who are intimately familiar with the specific benefits or challenges that are immediately involved.
As oppressed people living under authoritarian regimes struggle to attain their freedom, often risking their lives to do so, too many Americans take for granted the liberty and prosperity that set the United States apart during the violent and tumultuous 20th Century. Worse still are those who, from a position of power and privilege, advocate policies or programs that would diminish that liberty and prosperity for the gain of an elite few. Young people who recognize that, in some settings and circumstances, the economy is, in fact, rigged in favor of influential persons or businesses may not realize that the actual object of their ire is not the free market but cronyism, which is at odds with free markets. Popular, telegenic spokespeople for socialism enrich themselves and magnify their reputation by spreading false or deceitful claims to appeal to those who, in good faith, worry about the conditions of the poor or marginalized in society. For instance, politicians and propagandists point to Scandinavia to assert the purported viability of allegedly socialist policies despite contrary evidence that these countries in fact enjoy more economic freedom, and in some respects more capitalism, than the United States. In short, misinformation and misunderstanding lead too many people away from the path that would take them where they truly wish to go.
The scholars and research of the Manuel H. Johnson Center emphasize the moral and ethical imperatives of a free-market economy. Although focused on Alabama and the Southeast United States, the questions we pursue have been broad in scope with vast implications for politics and government more generally. We hope to show both our neighbors and the world that free markets yield peace, wealth, civility, happiness, friendship, collaboration, health, innovation, arts, literature, and commerce. We invite you to browse our website to learn more about us and our work.