Our academics rail against business. Our government constantly seeks to control it. Our youth are propagandized to death about its evils. Popular culture refrains from painting Islamofascists as the villians in movies out of political correctness, but does not hesitate to make big businessmen evil and grandiose. Religions are almost universal in denouncing the evils of money and spending it, even as they ask you to give them some.
One harmful result of this sorry situation is that there are few people--even among those who stalwartly defend the free market, who understand and appreciate the essential morality of capitalism.
The foundation of capitalism is human freedom in its most classical, liberal tradition.
Contrary to the many articles and books written about it through history by economists and scholars, capitalism's incredible production of wealth is only a side-effect that occurs when political freedom is present. It has been argued, and I agree, that both captialism and freedom themselves are prerequisites for moral behavior.
The moral case for capitalism is not taught at our universities, nor is it argued much in our culture; and certainly not in our churches. In fact it has been more or less universally accepted that systems such as communism and socialism are morally superior to capitalism--even though in practice such systems have led to the death and enslavement of millions, and to those unlucky enough not to die from them, they have led to the most horrible shrinking and wasting of the human soul. Not to mention the pathetic economic conditions of the people unfortunate enought to live in those countries have to deal with.
The truth is that not socialism, communism nor any kind of religious fundamentalism is even compatible with morality.
If one's actions are coerced by the state or religion or both; if human activity is legislated and regulated or ordained down to the last minute detail--particularly to the degree we see in other countries of the world (e.g., Cuba, China, Saudi Arabia, etc.),then how can it be argued that one's arctions are moral? They are not voluntary, but coerced.
Morality, however, is a matter of choice, not mandate. One cannot hold a person responsible for actions that are coerced or forced from him. Morality can only exist when freedom of action exists. Moral actions in any field of human endeavor require freedom.
Conduct may only be thought of as moral or immoral when it is freely chosen by the individual. It is only then that the moral significance of the action can be assessed. It is only when we are free to act that we can exercise moral judgement.
Which brings us to a capitalist system. Only in a free economic system within a free political system is it possible to be moral, since true benevolence toward others, compassion, charity, and generosity cannot exist without freedom. Benevolence, generosity, charity, and compassion that are mandated by the state; or by a religion--on pain of death or other consequence; or by any regulations on behavior; or by force--are meaningless insofar as individual morality is concerned.
In a previous series of posts on Narcissism and Society, I stated:
We have seen that the development of a Cohesive Self is dependent on two separate, equal and parallel developmental lines that arise originally from the biological and psychological fusion of the Infant and Mother early in life. If each of these lines are not interrupted in their normal evolution the Infant will eventually become an Adult with both narcissistic poles adequately developed and be able to function in the world in a healthy way—both in his attitude toward his own physical and psychic self; and in his attitude toward other human beings.
In some ways, the rise of human civilization from the cave to the present day has resulted because of attempts through the Rule of Law and social controls to set limits on the unrestrained Grandiose Self. This is primarily due to the destructiveness of the Narcissistic Rage generally associated with that part of the Self.
Because of this, the Grandiose Self has received a bad reputation philosophically, morally, and politically. The natural development of Governments and Religions (which ultimately are an expression of the Idealized Parent Image/Omnipotent Other side of the Self)have all too often attempted to ruthlessly suppress the Grandiose Self--much to the detriment of the individual AND the success of the particular society or religion.
In fact, despite the obvious truth that governments, nations, and religions are in a much better position to wreak far more systemized misery and death on human populations, it is almost always the Grandiose Self that gets the blame. As Wretchard at The Belmont Club pointed out in a recent post, a review of the 20th century, for example, shows that all the "people's revolutions" supported by the Left and purportedly for the purpose of "freeing" large populations of people; resulted instead in enslaving them and increasing authoritarian rule.
Without a political or economic framework that is able to incorporate what we refer to as "human nature" into its calculations, all so-called "perfect" societies and ideologies will at best simply fail in the real world; and at worse cause untold human suffering. With the best of intentions (this is perhaps debatable), the social engineers of philosophy, political science, and economics have caused so much more slavery, misery and death on a grand scale--that the grandiose CEO's of the largest corporations can be considered mere pikers by comparison.
When we talk about the individual versus society; or the individual versus the state; or indeed any discussion of individual rights versus the rights of a group, we are also referring to the psychological tension between the two poles of the Self. Any political or economic system that expects to succeed in the real world will have to accommodate that tension, and find a way to optimally negotiate the needs of BOTH sides of the Self--that is, they will have to take into account human nature.
A perusal of any list of economic systems will demonstrate that ALMOST ALL OF THEM are relatively extreme expressions of the Idealized Parent Image/Omnipotent Object. Almost all emphasize the group, the community, the collective, the nation, the state, or god at the expense of the individual. Examples are numerous. Socialism and Communism; fascism and religious fundamentalism.
The major exception is Capitalism, where the individual and the individual's needs are emphasized over the the group.
All other economic systems besides capitalism routinely mouth moral platitudes about ending poverty; bringing justice etc. etc. But, the only economic system that is capable of doing just that is the one constantly accused of causing poverty and injustice--capitalism.
The WSJ put it thusly (from a previous post of mine):
Policy makers who pay lip service to fighting poverty would do well to grasp the link between economic freedom and prosperity. This year the Index finds that the freest economies have a per-capita income of $29,219, more than twice that of the "mostly free" at $12,839, and more than four times that of the "mostly unfree." Put simply, misery has a cure and its name is economic freedom.
The reason that systems such as socialism and communism don't work in the real world and are ultimately destructive of the individual self; and of the human soul, is that they remove moral action and judgement from the individual and place it in the collective. The individual is not permitted to make his/her own moral judgements, and must obey the mandates of the collective. This can only work when the individual is stripped of all freedom to act independently and fears reprisals for doing so.
Thus political freedom and economic freedom go hand in hand. Capitalism cannot exist for long inside an oppressive regime. Since it is more compatible with human nature than any other economic system, it will cause any totalitarian regime that permits it to some degree to last longer (China is a good example), but that can only be a temporary state. Without true political freedom, economic freedom cannot last and will either wither away slowly; or, alternatively cause individuals living under the oppression to demand more political freedom.
You can't be a "little bit" free because human nature will always demand more and more freedom once it has had a taste of it; until the despot who rules is finally deposed, or he totally crushes those who oppose him. In situations where the latter happens, you will always find the worse scenarios of poverty, oppression,misery, death, genocide and/or human degredation.
Likewise, true political freedom cannot last, and in the end is meaningless, where there is no economic freedom. Think for a minute about what money really is. Anti-capitalist intellectuals are rather fond of the phrase "money is the root of all evil", but, in truth, money is the most efficient method of allowing individuals to make moral judgements. The phrase "put your money where your mouth is" is actually a more meaningful insight for understanding the importance of money and its relationship to freedom.
This is, of course not to say that everyone will make good and/or moral decisions. Nor do all people necessarily spend or even earn their money wisely. They clearly don't. But that is neither here nor there. That is why political freedom demands a rule of law, and the protection of individual and property rights from other individuals and from the state.
Capitalism is good for the soul. It is the only system where the soul and the self can flourish, where individuals have a right to their own life and liberty, and can make the specific choices in the pursuit their own particular happiness. A system where every human exchange is a win-win situation.
So, this Christmas season, don't feel guilty about buying and giving gifts--either humble or extravagant-- for those you love. Don't agonize about the "reason for the season". Didn't the Three Wise Men bring riches to complement their adoration of the child? Didn't the little drummer boy sing his heart out? He gave the best within himself. And that is what capitalism and freedom together encourage.