Capitalism is Freedom

This is part of a series called Capitalism Is. It is not meant to be persuasive; I just want to look at how capitalism in practice works and affects society.

I was born a few months after the violent revolution in Romania in 1989. My birth certificate is a scribbled out form from the previous regime. It still says “Socialist Republic of Romania” but a nurse crossed out “socialist” everywhere she could see it.

My parents didn’t remember much before communism. They grew up and lived most of their lives in a world few of us can imagine. Religion was banned, commerce was controlled and state-owned. My mother notes to me, there were a few good things: Blind people could get jobs sewing the bindings of books. Those with disabilities were no longer ignored or abandoned. Industries popped up very quickly in the beginning. The good things end here.

I can’t imagine what it must have been for my parents to see their second child born in a free world. My father’s life was constantly under threat because he smuggled books – believing the power of the written word could free others. My parents conspired and fought to bring and end to communism. And they won. Winning, after a life of trauma and abuse, was not as sweet as they had hoped.

I grew up in a confusing, lost world. Despite minor recoveries, there were still times when food was hard to come by. Because of this, most of my childhood was gray and I don’t think back to it often. The best moments were spent in rural Romania where I herded sheep and chased cats. I could forage food and catch fish. I was the master of my destiny. When I’d go back to the city, the world became a little gray again. After an entire generation living only in communism, people do not naturally spring back up, recover, and start businesses.

But as early as I can think back to, I remember that there was always a glimmer of hope. That hope was called America. For others it was Germany. Still, others wanted to go to Austria or France. My father always told me that America was the land of opportunity. He told me in America anyone can succeed. He was a fan of American self-help get rich quick type books. My parents encouraged me to have dreams and dream big because they believed there was a a place in the world where my dreams wouldn’t be a disappointment like theirs had been. They believed – more than you can imagine, in the most naive way – in the promise of America. They believed it so much they risked their lives to come here.

At that time, I believed America was a store. I had seen pictures of stores where you couldn’t see the end – WalMart – and believed this was America. I was impressed.

I know many people think America being the land of opportunity is a farce or exaggeration. I can guarantee you, it is not. Twenty years after my mother and father made good on their promise and brought me here, I am still enamored with the freedom I have to create value and sell it. I can turn my creativity into a nice house, or food, or anything I want. No, America isn’t perfect. But it is free, in a way many other places are not. A famine could happen, but I wouldn’t feel helpless. It is a very very different experience and approach to life.

One last point I want to make. My mother was a child laborer in a rural village. She picked plants on a farm as a child. She had no toys growing up – she would make dolls out of corn husks. She can remember in detail every single time she got new fabric to make herself and her sisters new clothes. My mother worked very hard in Romania to be educated. She would have been a doctor but was not accepted to the school because she was pregnant – despite being top in her class. She then worked tenfold in America to build a life for her family. There is no other country on earth where she could have had this type of social mobility. Every time I feel like complaining, I think back to my mother showing me her corn-husk dolls. Every time I think there’s too much work to do, I remember that I was raised by a woman who increased her net worth more than a million-fold by sheer will and positivity. When we first moved to America, things were hard, so my mom always tried to keep things positive. She hung up posters around the house that would say stuff like “Success is 1% luck and 99% attitude.”

Stuff like this makes me feel like my mother, accent and all, is one of the most American people you will ever meet. The freedom a capitalist system gives its members should not be ignored. Sometimes you need to hear the story from the other side to really feel the gratitude and the freedom.

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