UTC lecture to feature economist on advantages of capitalism, free markets

Contributed Photo / Peter Boettke

Responding to Democratic concerns about income inequality from American capitalism and Republican opposition to greater immigration and international trade from a free market trading system, conservative economist Peter Boettke will highlight the virtues of capitalism and free trade during the annual Burkett Miller lecture at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga on Thursday night.

Boettke, a professor of economics and philosophy at George Mason University, will speak at a free and public event at 5:30 p.m. at the UC Auditorium. In his first-ever visit to Chattanooga, Boettke said he will discuss the current conversations around capitalism and socialism.

"It's time for us to re-evaluate many of the criticisms that have been leveled against the free enterprise system in recent years," Boettke said in an interview with the Chattanooga Times Free Press. "We need a stronger defense of those ideas that have generated the kind of innovation and growth that we need to address the social problems that we have today."

Boettke, who serves as the BB&T Professor for the Study of Capitalism and the director of the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, said free markets and global trade have boosted economic growth around the world.

"In 2015, for the first time in human history, less than 10% of the world's population was living on $2 a day, which is only a fraction of the share of those living in such extreme poverty a half century ago," Boettke said. "What generated that improvement was not government largesse, it was the expansion of trade, innovation and opportunity for people throughout the world. I fear we've now lost faith in that."

Capitalism is under attack by many Americans, Boettke said.

"We have politicians that are in positions of power today who have more favorable attitudes about big government and are highly critical of globalization and free trade," he said.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Democratic socialist who finished second in the Democratic presidential primary contests in 2020, is out with a new book claiming "It's OK to be Angry About Capitalism."

"The people on top, the billionaires, are doing phenomenally well," Sanders said this week in an interview on CBS News about his new book. "Meanwhile, the middle class in America continues to shrink, and in the richest country in the world today, over 60% of the people are living paycheck to paycheck. We are the only major country in the world not to guarantee health care as a human right."

But Boettke said basic economics still remain in place and need to be adhered to in order to avoid costly mistakes in labor and capital markets.

Increased government spending is escalating deficit spending and, unless unchecked, will ultimately lead to a government default on U.S. debt, Bottke said.

Raising the minimum wage may sound like a way to help low-income workers, but artificially raising wages for low-skilled workers is likely to lead to more automation and other labor-saving measures that will take away many low-skilled jobs altogether, Boettke said.

Criticism of free markets, free immigration and trade policies is also coming from some nationalist conservatives who want to limit immigration and free trade.

Former President Donald Trump took steps while in the White House to limit the number of immigrants coming across the Southern border because he said immigration was boosting crime and stealing jobs away from Americans. Both of Tennessee's U.S. senators have urged tougher measures be implemented to reduce the number of immigrants coming across the Mexican border.

"Until our border is secure, our entire nation's security is at risk," U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, has said.

But Boettke said free trade and globalization helped boost U.S. companies in the global export market while also allowing American consumers to buy lower-cost imports. Promoting more immigration will also allow more people wanting a better life in the United States to come here and offer their talents to the U.S. economy, Bottke said.

"The ultimate resource for an economy are human beings, so we should be welcoming people who want to come to this country with open arms for them to bring their dynamism, energy and ideas," Boettke said. "Just take a look at the Nobel laureates teaching at universities in the United States and their country of origin. The minds and ideas that are attracted to our economy are amazing."

Since 1901, there have been 148 Nobel laureates who were foreign-born individuals who either immigrated permanently to the United States or were at a U.S. institution of higher learning at the time they received the award.

Boettke said lower-skilled workers also help provide needed workers to fill job vacancies and promote economic growth that benefits all Americans.

Boettke is the latest among a long list of top economic scholars who have spoken at the Burkett Miller lecture series at UTC in defense of free market capitalism. The lecture is funded by the Probasco Distinguished Chair of Free Enterprise at UTC, which is headed by Claudia R. Williamson.

Persons interested in attending Thursday's lecture are encouraged to register at bit.ly/3YSYXnI.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6340.