ST. GEORGE — A free market and civil society that isn’t bogged down by an excess of regulation creates the perfect environment for business, innovation, competition and overall individual and community improvement, Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee told the St. George Chamber of Commerce during it’s “Salute to America” luncheon on Wednesday.
Held at the Vasion tech company on Tech Ridge in St. George, Lee headlined the event which was the chamber’s nod to the upcoming Fourth of July holiday.
“We’re proud to run our businesses in the greatest country in the world,” Don Willie, the president and CEO of the St. George Chamber, said as he welcomed the assembled crowd of chamber members and others.
There’s nowhere else on Earth where people can incubate, innovate and launch a business like they can in America, he said.
“The key to unlocking entrepreneurs is American capitalism and where you have the choice and ability to innovate and make a life for yourself and others,” Willie said.
Being able to improve the lives of others through business in its various forms and the freedom that can create was a theme of Lee’s speech at the luncheon.
“Nowhere, anywhere, has the concept of freedom been more important or no less relevant than in the realm of business,” the senator said. “The chief business of the people is business. It’s not government. Our government does not define us.”
Businesses in America are able to thrive thanks to a twin bedrock of a free enterprise economy and a voluntary civil society, Lee said. These institutions work because they are good and help compel people to work together for the common good, he said.
Thanks to the opportunities the free market presents, people who may have been born in poverty can also end up retiring comfortably or even wealthy if they take hold of those opportunities, the senator said, adding that in other countries many people do not have that chance.
While the free market can provide someone with upward mobility, it can also be a source for societal improvement as entrepreneurs seek to improve their own lives and the lives of those around them.
Lee said people in a free market tend to ask, “How can I help?” This attitude also benefits a voluntary civil society where people volunteer to run for public office so they might find ways to serve and improve their communities.
The senator also spoke of social entrepreneurs and how they, like regular business people, must compete for support in the marketplace of ideas and services. Places like homeless shelters, soup kitchens and similar operations have to regularly compete for volunteers and funding.
That competition, when in the arena of nonprofit or for-profit business, can promote beneficial innovations all around, Lee said.
“Your success always depends on the quality of your service,” he said, adding that nonprofits and others “succeed only to the extent that they serve the needs of the individuals and community around them.”
Critics of the free market may take to class warfare, he said, claiming it only helps the rich get richer at the expense of the poor.
“Our history proves precisely the opposite,” Lee said. Free enterprise allows the poor to be successful if they are willing to work for it. Free enterprise also helped create the middle class, he said.
“The free market created wealth that has liberated millions of American families and provides opportunities for the pursuit of happiness,” he said.
Lee noted that the economy took a hit during the pandemic and negatively impacted many businesses. While he said there is a path forward to aid in a rebound, that path can’t be found in centralizing power in Washington, D.C.
“I believe its my job in Washington to fight to keep government out of the way so you can do your job,” he said. “Government needs to get out of the way so you can do your best.”
The free market is also at its best when people follow the founding-era principles found in the Constitution, Lee added.
“These principles are not outdated. They are not old fashioned. They are not outmoded. They stand true. They stand the test of time, and they recognize the inherent dignity and infinite worth of the immortal human soul,” he said. “That’s why they work.”
Lee also had a discussion with Vasion CEO Ryan Wedig on matters related to the minimum wage, protecting Utah’s claim to water from the Colorado River, generational wealth and concerns over the influence held by Big Tech companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter.
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