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Tom Donohue: Free Enterprise Built on the Power of One, Not Power of Government

Our nation is confronted with the challenges of a slow economic recovery, persistent joblessness, stagnant incomes, a generation of students at risk of falling behind the world and the fear that the American Dream is out of reach for too many. Solutions to these challenges lie not in an all-powerful government, but in the ideas and efforts of individuals empowered by free enterprise.

The free enterprise system is built on the power of one. It enables individuals from all walks of life — regardless of their educational, financial or ethnic background — to take risks, work hard and make a better life for themselves. If at first they don’t succeed, they can dust themselves off and try again.

It’s a system that rewards personal responsibility and perseverance. It’s a system not concerned about who a person is, but by what he or she can accomplish. Though individuals may get help along the way from parents, teachers, mentors and investors, their achievements are based on their own ideas and initiative.

We see them at work around our country in the small businesses and startups that contribute richly to their communities and our economy. Their successes mean opportunity and success for others. It’s this virtuous cycle that has built the greatest economy in the world — and one that can thrive again if we let it.

If small businesses and entrepreneurs are given the freedom, flexibility and certainty to expand and hire, they can be the difference between a so-so recovery and a strong one. They can help drive down unemployment and put more jobs and opportunities within reach for more Americans.

The alternative is the power of government — it’s the view that a sweeping bureaucracy should distribute wealth, keep its hand around the throat of business through taxes and regulations, and exert a growing influence in the affairs of both individuals and employers through big government policies.

Few of us would argue with the need for government to provide a safety net for those who truly need help. And government must play a role in education, infrastructure and national defense. But government never has been — and never will be — a substitute for the millions of entrepreneurs and small businesses with the freedom to make their dreams a reality.

We should never think that the government is responsible for providing us with a living. We should go out there and make it on our own and tell government to get out of the way.

The answers to our nation’s problems can be found in our entrepreneurial spirit. As long as we remember that, there’s no obstacle or threat we can’t overcome.

— Tom Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The opinions expressed are his own.

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