The United States broke away from mercantilist England and stood, though imperfectly, for liberty (including economic liberty) and for property rights. These two ideals are right not only for their economic and productive fruits and for the allowing of new ideas to be tried out, picked up, imitated, and modified, important though these be, but also they are right, important, and valuable in themselves. If we fail to stop the drift away from these ideals, the drift in which England has preceded us, the apparent dismal fate of the country we broke away from will become our own.
That’s the conclusion of a short piece by Robert Nozick on “Free Enterprise in America,” written for the Britannica Book of the Year, 1976.
I’d never seen this piece before, or even heard of it, until Eric Mack asked me about a reference to it a few days ago. After a bit of hunting, I was able to track down a copy, and the scanned version is posted above. So far as I know, this is the first time it has been made available electronically.
For Nozick scholars, the piece is interesting largely for the insight it gives us into Nozick’s non-philosophical views of capitalism. Almost all of the essay is about factual matters – the history of capitalism, the functioning of the price system and of property rights, and the effects of government intervention. Since there’s not a whole lot of that material in Anarchy, State and Utopia, and since what is there is widely dispersed throughout the book, it’s useful to have Nozick’s views on these matters summarized in a short, accessible way.
And for those who aren’t Nozick scholars, it’s still a nice short reference piece on free enterprise in America! Left-libertarians will, and properly I think, take issue with its idea that America is mostly a free-enterprise system with just some government distortions. But that qualification aside, it’s a good short read, and one that would make a nice accompaniment in the classroom to Nozick’s more substantial philosophical work on libertarianism.