- August 29, 2019
Capitalists, Believers in Capitalism, Defenders of Capitalism, it's OK.
It's OK to say the word. It's OK to say “capitalism.” It's OK to wear the badge. It's OK to tout its virtues. It's OK to practice “self-interest.” It's OK to be one of its evangelists.
Speak up. Don't be afraid.
This should be one of every capitalist's resolutions in 2012. To stand up and defend its honor.
Someone needs to do it. Because the mainstream political spokesmen and women of the day — Obama, Romney, Gingrich, Perry, et al, and the commentarists, Krauthammer, Noonan, Kristol, Gigot, et al, and the leading icons of business, Buffett, Gates, Google's Page and Brin, Bezos, Dell, Allen, Icahn — all avoid the word. They avoid it because the energumens — the statists in Washington, the altruists, newspaper editorialists and Occupy Wall Streeters — have successfully cast capitalism and capitalists as evil, the destructive enemy.
Even though those hoping to replace Obama know without a doubt that capitalism is and has been “our great national wealth machine,” as as Carl Icahn called it, they avoid the word as if it is among the worst of mortal sins. As if it has leprosy.
Indeed, while urging last month a renewed commitment nationwide to economic freedom in “Capitalism and the Right to Rise” in The Wall Street Journal, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush used the word “capitalism” only once in his text.
“Have we lost faith in the free-market system of entrepreneurial capitalism (italics added)? Are we no longer willing to place our trust in the creative chaos unleashed by millions of people pursuing their own best economic interests?”
Bush's words, in fact his entire essay, were a call for the nation to return to and embrace capitalism. He argued cogently and concisely for it when he said:
“We have to make it easier for people to do the things that allow them to rise. We have to let them compete. We need to let people fight for business. We need to let people take risks. We need to let people fail. We need to let people suffer the consequences of bad decisions. And we need to let people enjoy the fruits of good decisions, even good luck ... That is what economic freedom looks like. Freedom to succeed as well as to fail, freedom to do something or nothing.”
That is what capitalism looks like. It is what Adam Smith, Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman and many, many others have defined as the elementary economic system of two individuals agreeing voluntarily to trade for the mutual benefit of each other. Rand called it “the virtue of selfishness,” acting in one's self-interest, the freedom of individuals to use their rational faculties in their own best interests.
When Smith wrote in the “Wealth of Nations” about the baker baking, he noted the baker didn't bake out of an altruistic love of his neighbor. He baked because he wanted to feed his family. And the trucker who delivers the baked goods didn't deliver them because of his fondness for the baker. He too performed a service out of self-interest — all the while benefiting others. He charged a delivery price that the baker and consumer considered fair, and he profited for his effort.
This is capitalism, the dirty little word our leaders are afraid to utter.
Markets: Pursuing self-interest
When Yaron Brook, president of the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights, lectured in November on the moral defense of capitalism, he cited Apple's late co-founder Steve Jobs. Jobs, Brook said, used his free will and his mind to invent products that he loved; he didn't do it for altruism.
Holding an iPhone, Brook said, “(Jobs) did not wake up asking how he can maximize social utility.” And when Brook bought his iPhone in 2008 he said he didn't do it out of a desire to help stimulate the economy.
“We consume to make whose life better?” Brook said. “We're trying to enhance our own lives. Markets are about the pursuit of people pursuing their own self interests. They're about being selfish.”
Not selfish in the accepted cultural mores, where “selfish” is equated with Bernie Madoff, with lying, stealing, callous cheats and money grubbers who have no qualms about taking others' money.
In the moral and capitalistic world of self-interest, the results of entrepreneurs' pursuits are astonishing. Think of the value we all have received from Steve Jobs, Microsoft's Bill Gates, Amazon's Jeff Bezos and Nike's Phil Knight, as well as the benefits from the thousands and thousands of other entrepreneurs and inventors who have produced goods and services for which we are willing to trade. These are people acting in their own self-interest whose labors benefit those on the lowest rungs. Were it not for Jobs, the Occupy Wall Street slackers wouldn't have iPhones. In short, no other political-economic system in the world has benefited mankind as much as and as economically as capitalism.
And yet capitalism's opponents — Barack Obama, the OWS mobs, the political class and the altruists — slap capitalism as the cause of all of our nation's economic maladies. Sheldon Richman, editor of Freeman magazine, recently quoted one of the Occupy Wall Streeters saying, “We are the 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. The enemy is the big business leaders of Wall Street, the big oil company leaders, the coal company leaders, the big military industrial leaders.”
What that OWS protester missed in his tirade is the essential co-conspirator with each of those “big-business” groups — the government. As Richman aptly put it: “They are in cahoots, dependent on a system that constrains regular people's honest economic activities and benefits an exploitative elite.”
Milton Friedman wrote in his famous book, “Free to Choose,” that whenever government favors are sought, big business is always first in line. Today's words for that are “crony capitalism” — paid-for legislation. Indeed, it's tough to find any segment of the economy that can claim to be a “free market,” where there isn't some government fiat regulating what you can and cannot do. The U.S. economy doesn't even come close to the “free-market” capitalism that our president derides.
Obama blames all of our economic ills on free-market capitalism. Which is a malicious lie.
“This is a make or break moment for the middle class, and all those who are fighting to get into the middle class,” Obama said in his Osawatomie, Kan., speech. “At stake is whether this will be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home and secure their retirement.
“Now, in the midst of this debate, there are some who seem to be suffering from a kind of collective amnesia. After all that's happened, after the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, they want to return to the same practices that got us into this mess. In fact, they want to go back to the same policies that have stacked the deck against middle-class Americans for too many years. Their philosophy is simple: We are better off when everyone is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules.
“Well, I'm here to say they are wrong. I'm here to reaffirm my deep conviction that we are greater together than we are on our own. I believe that this country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone does their fair share and when everyone plays by the same rules.”
He says practicing economic “self-interest,” or free-market capitalism, “got us into this mess.” But it did nothing of the kind. He ignores the overpowering role of the state intervening in the economy. Think about it: Congress, the Federal Reserve Bank, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Wall Street and mortgage lending. The state controls all of it. And yet Obama advocates for expanding the state's role, for an All-Powerful Government to dispense and ensure equality for all.
'Isaiah's Job': Care for Remnants
And yet after this speech, there was nary a peep from any of the Republican presidential candidates to refute Obama and set the record straight about free-market capitalism. The only national political spokesman for capitalism is Ron Paul, the libertarian, Tea Party favorite. True Believers in Capitalism cheer him on his economics, but sadly Paul loses many of those voters when he starts railing in his high-pitched voice about foreign policy. He doesn't sound presidential and is dismissed.
The other national spokesmen for capitalism are Steve Forbes and Rush Limbaugh. They are eloquent and logical on the subject. They make it understandable for everyone. And they are not afraid to say the word and explain it over and over. And yet, in spite of their advocacy and followings, they have been unable to turn the tide, to win over the masses.
It is unlikely the masses can be won.
Albert Nock, an influential American author and social critic in the 1930s, wrote in a 1936 Atlantic monthly essay, “Isaiah's Job,” that in attempting to win over the masses “the prophetic message is so heavily adulterated with trivialities, in every instance, that its effect on the masses is merely to harden them in their sins.”
In Nock's essay, he recalls a conversation with a European friend who is dejected by the world's economic state of affairs at the time. His friend felt the urge to try to spread his economic doctrine to the masses. He asked Nock what he thought of his mission. This is when Nock explained “Isaiah's Job”:
“In the year of Uzziah's death, the Lord commissioned the prophet to go out and warn the people of the wrath to come. 'Tell them what a worthless lot they are.' He said, 'Tell them what is wrong, and why and what is going to happen unless they have a change of heart and straighten up. Don't mince matters. Make it clear that they are positively down to their last chance. Give it to them good and strong and keep on giving it to them. I suppose perhaps I ought to tell you,' the Lord added, 'that it won't do any good.
“'The official class and their intelligentsia will turn up their noses at you, and the masses will not even listen. They will all keep on in their own ways until they carry everything down to destruction, and you will probably be lucky if you get out with your life.'
“Isaiah had been very willing to take on the job — in fact, he had asked for it — but the prospect put a new face on the situation. It raised the obvious question: Why, if all that were so — if the enterprise were to be a failure from the start — was there any sense in starting it?
“'Ah,' the Lord said, 'you do not get the point. There is a Remnant there that you know nothing about. They are obscure, unorganized, inarticulate, each one rubbing along as best he can. They need to be encouraged and braced up because when everything has gone completely to the dogs, they are the ones who will come back and build up a new society; and meanwhile, your preaching will reassure them and keep them hanging on. Your job is to take care of the Remnant, so be off now and set about it.'”
If you are a believer in capitalism, in the goodness and morality of acting in “self-interest,” with the government's only roles as that of the protector against violence, the arbiter of disputes and the protector of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, you are a Remnant.
Nock was convinced Remnants would remain just as the Lord explained to Isaiah — unorganized but always there. “You will never know more than two things about them,” Nock wrote. “... You do not know, and will never know, who the Remnant are, nor what they are doing or will do.
But Nock also said: “Two things you do know, and no more: First, that they exist; second, that they will find you.”
It's disheartening to think real free-market capitalism is unlikely to emerge. It certainly feels that way. But the Remnants must not remain quiet. Don't be afraid to say the word — capitalism — and proclaim its virtues. Someone has to do it.