Listening to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton repeat stories they claim to have been told by the poor and the unemployed, who are unable to pay for food and medicine and feel miserable about it, is enough to make one think we are living in a Third World dictatorship and not the United States of America. But victimhood and a "can't do" spirit is what the Democratic Party has mostly been about since the Great Depression.
A more positive narrative comes from a new book, "Lessons from the Poor: Triumph of the Entrepreneurial Spirit," edited by Alvaro Vargas Llosa and published by the Independent Institute. The book is an optimistic triumph and a lesson about the unlimited capacity of the human spirit, properly inspired and unencumbered.
In the introduction, Llosa writes, "Entrepreneurial ability and energy are present almost everywhere. But in those countries that still languish in backwardness, the labyrinth intervention of the state and the absence of adequate institutions have kept that ability and energy from translating into full development." He writes of nations that used to be poor but are no longer, detailing how their people climbed out of poverty. He blames political, legal (and I would add in some cases, religious) systems for stifling prosperity.
Llosa is about creating wealth and his inspirational stories about real people and how they did it ought to be read in every school and in every home that has accepted inevitable failure.
In 1988, the Ananos family of Ayacucho, Peru - the cradle of the Maoist terrorist organization known as Shining Path - founded the Kola Real Company. Coca Cola and Pepsi had pulled out due to the unstable political situation. In just 20 years the Ananos family has transformed a mom and pop operation into the biggest transnational manufacturer of nonalcoholic beverages in Latin America. They now have subsidiaries in Mexico, Venezuela, Ecuador, four Central American countries and Thailand. By 2005, they had more than 8 million customers and employed 8,000 workers. Their sales totaled US$1 billion.
The Ananos family overcame years of socialist and populist experiments that hurt Peru's economy. They demonstrate what can be done when obstacles are overcome by the power of optimism.
Aquilino Flores is another Peruvian who started out washing cars 40 years ago. He had no capital. Today, Flores is the most important textile businessman in Peru, heading a company called Topy Top with annual sales of more than US$100 million. As Daniel Cordova writes in his contribution to the book, "Šthe story of the Flores family and Topy Top is one of tenacity, determination and intuition." Didn't we used to teach such things in American schools before class warfare, envy and penalizing the successful?
The story behind Nakumatt, Kenya's largest supermarket chain, could have been written in America. Google Nakumatt for details.
In Nigeria, a clothing design industry has been created to produce and sell adire attire, traditional in the Yoruba culture. There are thousands of adire workers, most of them women with little or no education, but they have "an entrepreneurial drive to make a living and create wealth where there was previously only misery," writes Thompson Ayodele in his essay. "These entrepreneurs receive no government aid. In fact, through action or omission, the government has placed and continues to place many obstacles in their way. Yet they have been able to combat poverty much more effectively than foreign aid and official poverty-reduction programs."
Please re-read that last sentence. Government aid impedes success and creates dependence, while entrepreneurs create success and independence.
In countries with far less capital and opportunity than America, people haven't sung songs about overcoming. They have overcome through tenacity, risk-taking and self-reliance.
During the presidential campaign, each time Barack Obama focuses on misery and the need for more government spending, John McCain should trot-out American stories of the formerly poor and let them tell how they made it so that others can too.
Llosa says Spain is "particularly interesting and instructive for those who think that certain nations are doomed forever by virtue of their culture. In the past two decades, Spain, whose culture was once inimical to notions such as self-reliance and individual initiative, has experienced an economic and social transformation."
If Spain and the poor in Peru and Africa can do it, what's stopping America and poor Americans?
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