The Case For Capitalism

One Saturday morning, as I was sitting listening to the weekly Torah (bible) portion, I had an astounding revelation -- a revelation that there is a human compulsion towards capitalism that goes as far back as biblical times. The portion, Numbers 11: 4-9, told the story of manna from heaven.

 ... and the children of Israel also wept on their part and said: "Would that we were given flesh to eat! We remember the fish, which we were wont to eat in Egypt; ... the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic; but now our soul is dried away; there is nothing at all; we have naught save this manna to look to[.]

What a tale of woe. But why? Manna tasted like rich cream. It was supposed to be delicious. When the dew fell at night, the manna fell with it. There was an unlimited supply. Everyone received it. No one had to work for it. Yet, as in a socialist economy, there was a mutinous rejection of this never-ending supply. There was even a desire for the good old days in Egypt, where all Jews were slaves.

Humans have an innate predilection for a life they make for themselves. That means acquiring private property in a free market. No matter how fancy the dressing for what is given by the state, there is dissatisfaction, because there is no reason to go it alone when the state provides everything. We want our own rewards earned by our own labor.

John Locke believed in the "sacred nature of property," and that nature gives the power to preserve property to each man. There are those who refuse to acknowledge the power of private property. A prestigious professor at the University of Arizona once remarked that there would be no wars if there was no private property. Really?

Our Pilgrim fathers used the commons system, where each worked to supply food for the whole colony. There was much malingering and therefore resentment among those who worked. Starvation loomed. Eventually, no one wanted to contribute his work. The solution to the problem was simple. Governor Bradford decided to give each family his own plot of land, and the human desire to enjoy the fruits of one's own labor was rewarded. This reliance upon one's own ability to provide for himself was the engine for a productive community.

Feudal societies were fixed at birth into class strata. Those who were "in trade" or other occupations not tied to the land were scorned by the upper class. Work was anathema to the aristocracy.

Margaret Thatcher's father was "in trade." She said that for her critics, capitalism was alien and harsh. For her, it was familiar and creative. In a speech given in 1978, she said:, "We have been ruled by men who live by illusions ... the illusion that there is some other way of creating wealth than hard work and satisfying your customers."

In Lynne Olson's book, Troublesome Young Men, Harold Macmillan marries a woman of the upper class, Lady Dorothy Cavandish. He is a scion of Macmillan and Company, the great publishing house, and later becomes Prime Minister. Despite this, he is snubbed by much of Cavandish's family. After all, he was "in trade" and therefore inferior.

Wherever people are dependent and unable to work for themselves, the human spark that desires private property is killed, and life is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short." Enough time as a dependent, and the human becomes degraded and abased. After the fall of the Soviet Union, CNN filmed what had happened in one of the Soviet collective farms. Anyone there was offered a farm of his own. Only one family, who must have had some distant memory of what private property meant, took them up on the offer. They worked from dawn to dusk. The rest of the collective farm members were often drunk and slept until noon while the tractors rusted in the field. The motivation to work collectively vanished. The expectation in these communities to share everything went against human nature.

Our Civil War was fought between the capitalist North and the feudal South. The North had railroads connecting the major cities. The South had railroads going only to the sea to deliver cotton. The slave economy was beginning to break down, and slaves were being "sold down the river." The major crop sold to Britain was not cotton, but wheat. The invention of the McCormick reaper made it possible for the free farmers of the North to produce and harvest large amounts of wheat. That may be one of reasons the British did not enter the war. In the end, the South was bereft of supplies and manpower and forced to surrender. In this case, capitalism trumped the alternative, a feudal plantation system.

Abraham Lincoln  understood the concept that capitalism works.

You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich. ... You cannot lift the wage earner up by pulling the wage payer down ... you cannot build character and courage by taking away people's initiative and independence. You cannot help people permanently by doing for them, what they could and should do for themselves.

Max Weber's "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism" showed that Protestants have a religious reason for participating in capitalism. Since almost everyone is preordained to be doomed because of original sin, the only way could know if one was select (not doomed) was to be a successful capitalist. No one who was select could possibly be a failure -- a fundamental reason to work and succeed. Weber said that Jews and the Chinese also have the spirit of capitalism. This spirit is simply to work and reap the benefits.

It is my theory that the French Revolution might not have occurred if Louis XIV had not killed or deported the Protestants, who were the capitalists of that time, thus abrogating the Treaty of Nantes. By the time Louis XVI came along, he was without funds and had an immense court of aristocratic parasites. He called the Estates General to get funds, and the rest is history. The Protestants would have come in handy.

The socialist communities like Robert Owens' New Landmark in Scotland and New Harmony in Indiana, and Nashoba in Tennessee and others, all failed. Sharing everything goes against human nature.

Ralph Peters says that capitalism is the most effective system in bringing the best quality of life and the greatest amount of human freedom. It is the best system humanity has devised for sharing wealth and producing happiness.

Immanuel Kant reasons that happiness should not be an ultimate goal of  mankind. He said that cows chewing their cud in the field are happy. There is a moral goal (a categorical imperative) for human beings way beyond being happy. I would say that without  happiness, man cannot aspire toward ethical behavior. A miserable person does not have much incentive to do the right thing. Happiness is a corollary of capitalism.

Winston Churchill said, "The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of its blessings.  The inherent blessing of socialism is the equal sharing of its miseries."

Friedrich Von Hayek discredited socialist planning as not working because "the information encapsulated in market prices, was too complex for even the most sophisticated planner to know." A price developed in the marketplace is the best communication device for capitalist success.

As we have seen, private property brings prosperity to society. Public sharing of property brings failure and degradation.

A market economy based on private property, buttressed by the rule of law, is truly the best environment for mankind. People will work harder and with ingenuity if they know they have earned rewards from that labor. When the rewards are given to them for nothing, there is frustration and despair, much as the ancient Israelites evinced over the manna. Capitalism benefits more people than any other economic system. To work for oneself and reap the rewards is a basic human aspiration.