Don't 'Misunderestimate' the Importance of Risk

From Main Street to Wall Street, Americans understand that risk is an inherent part of freedom.   And we — at least those of us who work for a living — recognize that real risk provides not only the opportunity for failure but also for greatness, and that where there is no chance of failure, no true greatness can be achieved. This is why we must accept a certain degree of risk in our society if we want freedom, strength, and wealth.

Freedom is inherently risky. Whether you consider free speech, which carries with it the possibility that someone will say things others don’t want to hear, or the right to keep and bear arms, which brings with it the reality that some who bear arms may kill others unlawfully, the risks of freedom are demonstrable. But our Founders believed the benefits of freedom far outweighed the risks associated with it.

Therefore, our Founders pursued freedom for themselves and their posterity — us — and faced risk with courage. Not knowing whether they would be captured and hung, or shot as traitors, they signed a Declaration of Independence that ended with these words: “With a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor.”

Just as now, in colonial times there were politicians who wanted to avoid the risk freedom required and accept the yoke that government (then old King George) would place on them. Just one month before the American Revolution started, various members of Virginia’s House of Burgesses argued that those who wanted to fight for independence needed to think about how good the colonies had it under the King. In response to them, Patrick Henry arose and said, “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

These are the words of a free man, recognized and cherished by free men everywhere. They are the words of a man who refused to see his freedom diminished in the face of even the greatest odds, a man for whom failure was not an option.

The freedom our Founders secured is guaranteed by our strength, and our strength by our military rather than our government. It is our military which even now faces down the risks posed by evil men to perpetuate freedom.  In the 20th century alone, millions of Americans spilled their blood and met their deaths at battlefronts in France, Germany, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and the Middle East.

Just as there were men during the American Revolution who found the risk too great and preferred to trade their freedom for a false security, there were those throughout the 20th century willing to subjugate themselves to tyrants in the name of a peace that didn’t exist. In 1964, Ronald Reagan spoke of those who refused to confront the Soviet Union, expressing his unbelief that they wanted “peace at any price,” would rather be “Red than dead,” or preferred to ‘live on [their] knees [rather] than die on [their] feet.’”

With conviction reminiscent of that which Henry modeled in Virginia almost two centuries before, Reagan told his audience that “there is…risk in any course we follow…but every lesson in history tells us that the greater risk lies in appeasement, and this is the specter our well-meaning liberal friends refuse to face.” Reagan knew that peace came through strength, and that strength came at a cost that demanded us to overcome risks instead of being overcome by them.

Our freedom and our strength are ideally to be complimented by an economy that makes the accumulation of wealth feasible for all Americans who are willing to take risks in the free market. Consequently, we expect our government to do its part and stay out of the way so that building wealth is feasible. Yet one of our greatest problems currently is a government that is dead set on removing the risks associated with the market to provide us with “security.”

When has the government ever been successful in providing financial security for the people? Social Security is barely solvent, and those who are fortunate enough to be getting checks now should realize that there’s been no accumulation of wealth from this program. (The people who truly benefit from social security are the politicians who treat it as a slush fund into which they can dip their paws to make ends meet on other failing aspects of their welfare-state policies.)

Anytime I hear a politician talk about broadening the scope of “congressional oversight” in an effort to reduce market risk, I think of Reagan’s quip that the nine scariest words he ever heard were “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” Contrary to Democrat claims, the government harms us by reducing risk because a lack of risk portends less opportunity for large returns on our personal investments.

Right now, members of our government on both sides of the aisle are seeking to lessen the effects of market fluctuation by way of government sponsored bail-outs, and the bail-outs are subsequently putting our freedom at risk. This is not the kind of risk are Founders hoped we’d overcome — it’s the kind they assumed we’d never face because ours was to be a limited government.

In the past, we conservatives have upheld the constitution, fought off every attempt to ban guns in the name of “safety,” and volunteered (or whole-heartedly supported those who’ve volunteered) to risk their lives in our military in order to keep this nation strong and free. It now falls to us to stand up for the opportunities for success afforded us by a free and risk-laden market by telling even politicians of our own party to stand down.

We don’t need government in our portfolio; we need government out of our way.