An amazing coincidence happened in 1776 that changed the world. Two different documents on two separate continents each published that year made the case for individual freedom, each in its own way. The ideas in both documents have had a huge impact on the world, one in terms of the spread of political freedom; the other in terms of the advancement of economic freedom – and prosperity.
In one document, the Declaration of Independence, the American colonists declared the right to “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” and their God-given right to govern themselves. The day after the delegates approved the document, John Adams, one of the Founding Fathers and later President, wrote this to his wife, Abigail, “The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfire and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.” And so we do to this day.
In the other document, “The Wealth of Nations”, also published in 1776, the Scot Adam Smith argued that when people are free to take economic actions that benefit themselves individually, then they not only increase their own economic wellbeing, but also (through a kind of “Invisible Hand”) the overall wealth of their countries.
Freedom within COUNTRIES
In the mid-1990’s, the Heritage Foundation created an index of economic freedom based on ten dimensions. Tracking about 180 countries, including not only their economic freedom, but also their relative economic success, they see an advancement of freedom in recent years. www.heritage.org/Index/About.aspx.
Their research also shows that countries with a high index of economic freedom have higher economic standards of living and higher growth rates, as explained in a press release earlier this year: “Economic Freedom Still Key to Growth and Prosperity, 15th Index of Economic Freedom Shows. Freer Economies Lead in Income, Poverty Reduction and Protection of the Environment’ – www.heritage.org/press/newsreleases/Index09f.cfm.
Despite the overall advancement of economic freedom, some countries have slipped last year in their economic freedom score, including the U.S., which dropped to sixth, behind Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand.
Freedom within COMPANIES
While we accept the importance of freedom in the market place, we don’t normally think of freedom within companies as an important quality for increasing prosperity. In fact, many managers recoil at the very thought. But we have found that when employees have some freedom to make decisions and implement them, they are more motivated, more innovative – and often more successful than when merely following procedures. Perhaps that’s what Thomas Edison, the great inventor, was driving at when he exclaimed, “There ain’t no rules around here! We’re trying to accomplish something!”
“Individual Freedom within Structure” is one of the five Pillars of a Noble Enterprise – a company that generates success by honoring and empowering its people and serving all its stakeholders – as described in my book NOBLE ENTERPRISE: The Commonsense Guide to Uplifting People and Profits – www.noble-enterprise.com.
Freedom within INDIVIDUAL Hearts and Minds
We know that those who claim and act from their own sense of freedom can accomplish miracles. But what about those people who have never known freedom, who lack the sense of their own power and who have lived in fear their whole lives? Can they claim their freedom and act from it?
In our recent newsletter Leading in a New Light, we interviewed one entrepreneur, Amber Chand, who is helping women in war-torn areas of the world become entrepreneurs themselves, claiming and exercising their economic freedom in the process to create prosperity for themselves and their families.
Let us celebrate freedom this week – both political and economic!
And let us ask: How am I fostering freedom – in myself, my enterprise, my children – and my country?