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  • Is Capitalism Good for You?

    Most politicians and political commentators insist that this year’s election rests on economic concerns, not “social values” (contraception, abortion, gay marriage, and the like). But in America’s free market system, economics and values are in fact closely joined. Not only is capitalism the most successful system for generating wealth, but it does so in large part by reinforcing virtues that make individuals good and societies strong: self-reliance, initiative, personal responsibility, productivity, honesty. This connection between economics and moral virtues should not be neglected.

    The eminent political scientist James Q. Wilson, who died  last week, recognized that restoring faith in the fundamental morality of capitalism is essential to today’s economic debate. Capitalism would survive or fail not on its material successes but on its moral justification.

    There was no dispute, Wilson wrote in “Capitalism and Morality,” that capitalism produced “greater material abundance for more people than any other economic system ever invented.” Furthermore, democratic governments flourish only in conjunction with capitalist societies.

    Despite these achievements, the image of capitalism has long suffered from focus on its failings. Critics of capitalism see it as promoting mostly avarice and selfishness, rationalized on the grounds of material gains. One personification is the fictional character in Oliver Stone’s movie Wall Street, Gordon Gekko, who believes that however unsavory the means might be, capitalism’s unrivaled success in producing wealth justifies them. “Greed,” as Gekko put it, “is good. Greed is right. Greed works.” From this view, capitalism is at best amoral and at worst corrupting.

    Wilson translated this attitude among capitalism’s intellectual and academic critics as follows:

    To liberals, the failure of capitalism lies in its production of unjustifiable inequalities of wealth and its reckless destruction of the natural environment. Capitalism may produce material abundance, the argument goes, but at too high a price in human suffering and social injustice.

    Many thinkers have defended the morality of capitalism, of course. As Wilson himself wrote, “the intellectual founder of capitalism, Adam Smith, was first and foremost a moral philosopher.” He noted that Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments established the foundation for all his work, including The Wealth of Nations 17 years later.

    Another example is Michael Novak, whose 1982 book The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism explores in depth the philosophical underpinnings of capitalism, even arguing that in cultivating the world’s resources, humans could be seen as “co-creators with God, bringing forth the potentialities the Creator has hidden.”

    But Wilson brought his own unique and clarifying voice to the debate. While not denying capitalism’s inequities and temptations, Wilson sought to answer the charge by reiterating the system’s moral virtues:

    All economic systems rest on greed, but capitalism, because it depends on profit, is the one that disciplines greed. In the process of imposing that discipline, capitalism contributes to self-discipline. It encourages civility, trust, self-command, and cosmopolitanism by first making these traits useful and then making them habitual.

    Capitalism also requires trust, he wrote: “In any economic system, buying and selling occurs, but voluntary buying and selling on a large scale among strangers requires confidence in fair dealing that cannot depend on one party having much detailed knowledge about the other.”

    Wilson’s arguments are especially critical now, with confidence in American capitalism uncertain in some quarters and a public becoming increasingly dependent on government and demanding politicians do more to manage the economy. Today, American capitalism will thrive or fail not solely on its material gains but through a reawakening to the moral virtues inextricably linked to it.

    Posted in Featured, First Principles [slideshow_deploy]

    4 Responses to Is Capitalism Good for You?

    1. Wingnut says:

      Hi
      In my opinion, its the use of economies (money, ownership, price tags) that causes all the problems. Not one other living creature on the entire planet… uses economies. Why do capitalists? Are economies really needed? Are systems that promote competing… wanted/needed?

      Think about competitive systems as racing, for a moment, if you will. There's the old stale adage… "It takes money to make money". Now apply it to racing/competing systems such as capitalism/car racing. It takes a big motor… to win races. It takes winning races… to afford big motors. In other words, in capitalism and car racing, the folks who are good at racing… will always win at racing. The folks who are not good at racing, will rarely win. Now what if… the race was to see who could be the most cooperative (opposite of competitive)? First off, cooperators HATE racing… and its against everything they stand for. I should know… I'm a proud cooperator… and I abhor racing. A big-dog cooperator is altruist. They/we always look out for the others' needs/wants FIRST, and always place themselves last. Cooperators want to make sure that everyone crosses the finish line at the same time… and often, before THEY do. That's fairness/love. Although cooperators never compete, IF they did, it would be a competition to see which could put forth more effort to help others cross the finish line ahead of them. In other words, cooperators might compete to see who could be the most cooperative. Love competing. Altruism (and Christianity/other love-based religions).

      So, when the USA and many other parts of the world… have decided that a competing/racing system is the proper way, then guess what. The folks who are best at racing/competing, will consistently be way out front. And since the folks with all these monetary and property winnings… are stern competers… they are unlikely to give away "their" (ownership) earnings to late finishers and to folks who hate/refuse racing… because that's not the way of a stern competer.

      In pyramid systems such as capitalism and even in playground pyramids (both always collapse and hurt those on the bottom)… the strife is to get a leg UP, not a leg down. Competer folks tend not to seek the nobility and pride of being a strong bottom-layer foundation member of a pyramid. They instead tend to seek the "heads in the clouds" monetary powers and luxuries of climbing high. And when many are racing to climb high, the tops of pyramids get top heavy, and put enormous excess strain on the bottom layer foundation people. The weight of the world's knees is on/in their backs, and they get crushed, and the racing pyramid collapses, just like capitalism's pyramid is doing. Wise mothers everywhere know that the kids should NEVER be allowed to build pyramids of people… its exploitive upon the strong foundation layers. Yet childhood pyramids are seen all the time, including in cheerleading… and rarely does a parent stand up and say STOP IT RIGHT NOW like we all know should be done.

      I've been anti-capitalism, and moreover, anti-economy-usage for over 20 years, and I have been saying STOP PYRAMIDING the whole time. The Columbian Freemason pyramid scheme symbol is right there on the back of the USA dollar, and the USA gov is located in a district of COLUMBIA and not even part of the USA proper. Its the USE of economies, that causes racing systems, and its the use of racing systems, that causes sure-to-collapse pyramiding. Its racing systems that are to blame, and economies (and luxuries/empowerments gotten there-from) are the devices which cause racing. The occupiers are grumbling about unfairness… but they don't know the reasons unfairness happens. I do. I have a better idea, and I know how to implement it. When the USA and world are ready, we can begin the short or long trip to make it happen. Meanwhile, everyone needs to study pyramiding and do their best to shake off the blind faith and wellbeing dependency on a little green piece of paper from a single organization. If we must use racing papers as survival coupons, open up the competition for OTHER orgs to use THEIR version of racing coupons (money). We have free marketeer greenbacks, but where's the Amish bluebacks and the Mennonite Redbacks and the Lutheran yellowstamps, etc? Alllow competition in THAT realm, capitalists! We'll all quickly see/lean, why racing over coupons and titles of ownership, in a giant servitude-infested pyramid scheme… is about the dumbest and most monetary-discriminatingly IMMORAL system ever devised. Get off the addiction to it, and hurry.

      Best regards!
      Larry "Wingnut" Wendlandt
      MaStars – Mothers Against Stuff That Ain't Right
      (anti-capitalism-ists) (anti-economy usage)
      Bessemer MI USA

      • Ronbo says:

        I'm not sure if my/our head is spinning/turning because of the mixed metaphors and/or the complete/all encompassing ignorance.

    2. Bobbie says:

      is capitalism good for me? well, we're not capitalists but capitalists provide services and products within merit, leaving the decisions and freedom of choice to the consumer. Without unconstitutional government overreach the free market capitalists provide services and products that sustain and grow more businesses and livelihoods for the American purpose to live lives freely independent from government dependency.

      Power to the people! Let it be done for the sake of all good principles and putting government in it's place and out of our personal lives that's constantly being focused and infringed upon by this government!!!!

    3. Stirling says:

      Capitialism is fundementally good (provide a good or service for a negotiated price). It is curious that as our society has declined in morals, that capitalism is being attacked. I personally blame government for being heavy handed in corrupting capitalism to what it is today by wealth redistribution and the welfare safety net. These corruptions have caused people to think of captitalism more of a piggy bank for a socialist society rather then it's main purpose to provide individual financial freedom for those who work their lives to provide for their family and decendants.

      The problem is as long as the entitlement/socialist tenacles from government continue to squeeze the life out of capitalism the less incentive job creators will have to see their hard work and money siphoned off.

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