Some time ago I received a newsletter that stated the following as part of a defense of capitalism:
“The capitalist system is messy, imperfect, and does need constraints to enforce contracts impartially, to protect individuals, the weak from the strong and it requires the rule of law to make it work. While the rule of law is not always perfect, the rule of the central planner is subjective and is subject to more corruption. This makes it more unfair to more people.”
Clearly, the gang hanging out doing the Occupy Wall Street shuffle not only believe the above but suspect and decry far far worse of capitalism. Indeed, these folks seem to be implicitly and in most cases tacitly demanding that capitalism either be “perfect,” or utterly abandoned. This is not all too different from the sustainability crowd who argues along the same thesis, if it cannot be sustained it must be untouchable; both views demonstrate abject moral depravity.
I would argue, and I believe it is no small point, that the concept of “perfection” is misplaced in any discussion of the merits of capitalism. In fact, I would take it one step further to suggest that those who have an overt anti-capitalist worldview have worked very hard to implant this notion. A notion that is almost reflexively adopted by those who contend capitalism is preferable, yet begin by conceding this point of imperfection to those who have a diametric worldview. All these defenders are left with then is an argument based upon shades of gray or degrees, and not absolutes.
Perfection implies comparison therefore imperfection implies (or in the minimum suggests) external controls are necessary to re-orient or “fix” the perceived flaws. Once that cat is out of the bag, then that which is imperfect is also subject to fundamental review ergo a direct assault upon capitalism itself. Whichever route is taken then, it is premised upon a desire to achieve some arbitrary standard of value which is “perfection,” or a movement towards perfection, which is always, it seems, defined in altruistic, self-sacrificial, terms.
Capitalism is not a social system that concerns itself with “perfection,” rather it is merely but profoundly a process. And it is the process of how the movement of goods and services between entities (individuals, business, governments) is conducted. Capitalism, per-se, is simply external to qualitative measures in the macro, collective, sense. Profoundly, it is focused entirely on the individual trader and premised upon arm’s length transactions whereby one gives up something of value in trade for what another possesses because both parties value what the other has more than what each is giving up. There is no coercion; trades are entered into by virtue of free will. Is this what is deemed to be “messy and imperfect?”
To say that capitalism is imperfect has some profound implications and means, firstly, that capitalism has been tried in earnest and the results have been compared to something else which is either empirically “better,” or theoretically preferable. Such a contention is patently false. Laissez faire capitalism has not been tried in its fullest form, but has almost always been subject to one degree of control or another. Please note, capitalism is relatively new as a social system and its philosophical antecedents are found in the same places as the philosophical antecedents of this country’s founding ideas.
Secondly, if capitalism is “imperfect” what, specifically, is “perfect?” What is it against which capitalism is being compared that renders it less than completely desirable? What is it that allocates to individuals those things that they want, need or desire in their pursuit of happiness and living life that is better than the individual’s own ability to look around and in the context of their own life decide for himself or herself, given there own stock of wealth (however great or small), how much to trade and for which goods and or services? Moreover, if capitalism is “imperfect” then its premise of private property ownership, arm’s length transactions, the division of labor, free will, free minds, individual autonomy and a free society are also suspect and must be managed – and this is where tyranny begins, liberty is lost, and governments grow to unmanagable size and of leviathan scope! All we are left with to surmise is that those great attributes of capitalism, its premises, are “messy and imperfect.”
Could it be, simply, that it is government intervention into the realm of trading beyond the protection of private property from violent attack which causes the “capitalist system” to appear to have faults? Could it be that when government prints fiat currency leading to mis-allocations and mal-investments of capital that the “capitalist system” appears to be failing and is faulty. Could it be that when when the government moves from being a guarantor of man’s individual rights and a protector of private property to the ultimate inversion whereby the government is free to do anything it pleases and the individual citizen may act only by permission that the “capitalist system” appears to have faults?
Those who would slap the label of “imperfect” on a social system which, if pursued in its purest form and its fundamental intent, brings to the surface and demonstrates man’s greatest virtues need to question their premise, their view of man, and take a good hard look in the mirror – their premise is flawed, and the government they have sanctioned is the problem. Could it be, simply, that it is government intervention that is “messy and imperfect?”
The bloodiest, most demeaning, and most troublesome social system imposed upon man is clearly collectivism and its variants (socialism, communism, Marxism, fascism, statism). It is fundamentally flawed because it, and its variants, are a direct assault upon the mind of man; requiring man to live as an indentured servant to a cause he cannot ever fully enjoy for a price he can never fully pay. Pursuit of the social system which has only partially been tried, capitalism, has resulted in the development of the greatest economic well being in the history of the world and the greatest amount of individual liberty and freedom. It is also premised upon non-violence and as a result inherently peaceful. How anyone who takes a long view of history can conclude that moving away from capitalism is a progressive social step cannot possibly be living in the real world. Rather, such an individual is an evil ideologue with a very dim view of man.
A mixed economic approach, as we have today, is now showing it too is seriously flawed and simply leads towards what we know clearly does not work – incremental collectivism. As Conan Doyle has written in his Sherlock Holmes Mysteries: “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however unlikely, is the truth.” Such deduction not only gives a method for perceiving and revealing the truth, but it also speaks to the issues of being open-minded, truly progressive, and honest enough to accept the conclusion regardless of the implications.
The impossible is government overtly or tacitly allowed to operate outside of its constitutionally, and originally intended, limited role. Fundamentally, the impossible is the inversion of any government from being logically subordinated to the rights of the individual to being the sovereign over the individual. What remains is the truth of the matter; you and I, as individuals, acting in our own rational self-interest in the pursuit of our own individual life, liberty and happiness must not be subordinated, period! That here on earth there is no power higher than the mind of man, that every man is an end in himself and that we deal with others as free, independent individuals and not as the property of the tribe, with each member regarding you and me as the means to their ends (and to the perceived needs of the tribe). Capitalism is the only system premised upon government subordinated to the individual, and it is the only system upon which a free society as envisioned by our Founders can survive.
In short it IS rather elementary my dear Watson, and the Occupy crowd, to the extent they emit a coherent message, has it profoundly, immorally, wrong.