Review of the documentary “The Pursuit”

August 3, 2020 3:42PM

Written by Beacon intern Karrington Ward

The documentary, The Pursuit, by Economist and former think tank President, Arthur Brooks, has been on Netflix for almost a year now. However, it feels more relevant watching it now more than ever. What Brooks calls the great irony of our times is how many of the countries that have benefited from the free-market system for so long have begun to turn on it. Arthur Brooks travels across the world in pursuit of answering the question: “How can we lift up the world, starting with those at the margins of society?” As he points out in, The Pursuit, over 2 billion people have risen out of poverty since 1970; Brooks searches for what made that possible. He concludes that a free-market system combined with good morals is the solution. Click here to watch the trailer. 

When Brooks visits India, his discoveries are astonishing. For many years, India, like other places, was torn between socialism and capitalism. Eventually, India chose capitalism and adopted core elements of the system: a combination of globalism, free trade, private property rights, the rule of law, and entrepreneurial competition. Currently, its economic growth has overtaken China’s. The free-market changed the entire trajectory of India. Had India not adopted this system, Brooks believes there would be about 375 million more poor people. As Brooks points out, life is getting better, not worse, for the people of India.

In places like Inez, Kentucky, the government is dictating how people should live, via the welfare system. However, the system has failed and life is not improving for many. Welfare was designed to give people a helping hand in time of need, but the reality for too many is generational poverty and dependency. More common than not, government dependency strips people of their purpose, good intentions are not good enough. A free-market system creates opportunity and enables the right tools to build a successful life—full of purpose and dignity. People are happier when they create their own hard-earned success.

The free market sometimes receives a bad reputation, which I believe is unfair, largely due to misunderstanding on the part of its critics. I value this system because it provides many people with opportunity and empowerment. If one believes all humans are created equal, then we should be “warriors for opportunity.” According to Brooks,  “under our Constitution and system of free enterprise, the American people managed to build the most successful, most innovative, and most charitable upwardly mobile society in all of human history.” It is a system where the least of us can rise and make a living for ourselves. It is a system that “champions hope and opportunity”. Many negative opinions expressed are not accurate representations of capitalism but are referring to incidents of cronyism. Exploitation and discrimination exist, but as Brooks highlights, that is not capitalism and capitalism is not evil. Conflating capitalism with cronyism is not accurate. Ideally, a free-market system is an aspirationally based system rather than a greed-based system. People are responsible for bringing selfishness and greed to a system, not the system. At its best, free enterprise can create abundant opportunities for compassion and justice to thrive. I strongly recommend this documentary as a resource for learning about the strengths of free enterprise. While we can improve much within the workings of capitalism, abandonment of its virtues and capabilities is not the answer.