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September 30, 2001

Traders on the Frontline Like it or not, traders are now in the front line of the war to protect de

By Gregory Bresiger

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  • Traders on the Frontline Like it or not, traders are now in the front line of the war to protect de
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Nothing has changed. Wall Street will and must dust itself off and begin again after the Sept. 11 attack.

"Is this not just another one of those moments when America has been challenged, and will rise again?" asked Richard Grasso, chairman of the New York Stock Exchange.

It is.

Why is it so important to "rise again?" For our free society to remain free it must protect and nurture certain vital characteristics: the rule of law, the right to dissent and the freedom of anyone and everyone to improve themselves, what many call the spirit of democratic capitalism that is the apotheosis of modern markets. It is a triumph of enterprise that, in its least important aspect, has made the rich richer. Its crowning glory is that it has fed the hopes of millions of people. It has enriched generations of Americans who never could have believed it would happen to them, but now hope for the same for their children.

You expect your children to be the beneficiaries of this vibrant spirit that takes formerly impoverished groups and leads them to unexpected wealth through an entrepreneurial philosophy that touches tens of millions. This wondrous democratic capitalism is hated by so-called Islamic fanatics, we are told by major media.

But the media, despite their heroic efforts, are not sufficient in explaining this evil. The terrorists have nothing to do with Islam. They are nihilists. Pace Dan Rather and the rest of the media heavyweights who are working overtime to assemble facts and film stories, they are little help in understanding the essence of these devils, who would trample democratic capitalism and burn the great books of Adam Smith and Ludwig von Mises.

Rich Nihilists

The great Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky is a much better guide than modern media: Says one of his characters in "The Devils," a novel, "If God doesn't exist, then I am God." That means these devils - these modern Lenins and Stalins - stand beyond norms of morality. For devils, "everything is permitted," Dostoevsky wrote. These devils, these rich nihilists (like Lenin, the terrorists are anything but poor people) who reject everything, can destroy anything, especially those economic institutions that generate wealth. But the devils can and must fail.

Democratic capitalism is an idea that has conquered socialism. It has conquered evil. It conquered the idea that the only way for human beings to advance was through war, bloodlust and pillage. The discovery of the benefits of markets and capitalism advanced the human race. Even in the midst of our nation's greatest economic crisis in the 1930s, when markets were despised by millions of disgusted former investors, Walter Lippmann would write of the discovery of markets: "For the first time in human history men had come upon a way of producing wealth in which the good fortune of others multiplied their own."

Dark Ages

Democratic capitalism elevated the world out of the dark ages over the last three centuries. Writes Michael Novack, one of the friends of democratic capitalism, "In the year 1800, only 900 million persons inhabited this entire planet. Nearly all lived in poverty, suffered precarious health, were illiterate and under tyranny. The average age at death was about 18."