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What The Media Tell Americans About Free Enterprise

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Friday, March 10, 2000

Volume 8, Number 5

Freedom vs. Rollerblades

On Sunday, March 5, Washington Post business columnist Michelle Singletary weighed in with her own observations of the case of Elian Gonzalez, the youngster who has lived in the United States since late November, when his mother and nine other people died while fleeing Cuba. Her column, written after a visit to the Communist-controlled island, is noteworthy for the completeness with which she missed the point of the entire controversy.

Singletary reported that she visited Cuba "under the auspices of an organization of black columnists. We wanted to see for ourselves, among other things, how bad things might be for 6-year Elian Gonzalez if he were sent home to his father and communist Cuba."

She wrote of meeting Alicia and her 8-year-old daughter Patricia, a "charming little girl" who likes butterscotch candy, popcorn and snuggling, and whose smile "seems to stretch from ear to ear."

The visit appears to have been something of a revelation to Singletary. "When I think about this controversy over Elian," she wrote, "I now think of the faces of Patricia and all the other Cuban children I met or saw while in Havana.

"What I see are sweet-faced children — and intangibles that transcend all foolish materialistic arguments about who’s better off where.

"I could see no reason why Patricia would be happier anywhere else than with her mother, even though her mommy doesn’t have many ‘worldly’ possessions."

Singletary then recited a list of the luxuries that are available to American children but that are scarce in Cuba, such as Barbie dolls, aerodynamic skateboards and sparkling Rollerblades.

"Now, I’m not naive about Cuba," Singletary assured readers. "Riding and walking around Havana, with its dilapidated apartment buildings and treacherously pothole-ridden streets, it would be easy to pity the people.

"But I’m not naive about poverty either. I’ve been there.

"And I can tell you that it is just as wrong to equate deprivation with misery as it is to equate prosperity with contentment."

Singletary conveniently defined the dispute as about whether a child is better off in a rich society or a poor one, concluding that "as I watch Patricia and her 2-year-old cousin, Anna, hug, kiss and tickle each other, with not a single toy in sight, that question wasn’t so hard to answer."

But that’s not the main question, or even an important question in this case. Elian Gonzalez’s mother risked her life and her son’s life to flee Cuba not to provide her child with expensive toys, but to give him the opportunity to grow to manhood in a free society where he could speak his own mind, choose his own destiny and raise his own family as he saw fit.

It’s true that free societies such as the United States are wealthier than totalitarian societies such as Cuba. But Singletary seems not to grasp that the poorest person in the U.S. is still better off than the richest person in Cuba, since the free person enjoys unlimited opportunities to improve their situation while those living under dictatorship are in constant risk of having their futures snatched from them if they run afoul of the government.

Ultimately, capitalism and free markets aren’t about maximizing profits; they’re about the fact that each individual deserves the freedom to make their own decisions and control their own lives. The creation of wealth is merely one of many benefits that societies gain when they recognize this basic fact of human nature.

Business writers such as Singletary do their readers a great disservice when they wrongly equate free markets and capitalism with profit-seeking and materialism.

Rich Noyes


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