Why Sneer at Capitalism?
By Olivia Pierson
“We're at war with the most dangerous enemy that has ever faced mankind in his long climb from the swamp to the stars, and it's been said if we lose that war, and in so doing lose this way of freedom of ours, history will record with the greatest astonishment that those who had the most to lose did the least to prevent its happening.”
When United States President Ronald Reagan spoke these words to the world he had in mind an enemy not dissimilar to the one we face today, though now it’s even more entrenched. No, I’m not referring to Islamofascism (though if the cap fits), I’m referring to the war of social systems; Capitalism versus Everything Else.
It seems that wherever I turn my attention these days capitalism is spoken about in a sneering, pejorative tone - as mindless as it is disheartening.
Before capitalism’s meteoric rise in America and Europe during the 19th Century, the living standard for most citizens of the world was something very akin to what we would now call poor, unless you were born into inherited riches. Capitalism was a new social and economic system in line with the new political ideology of individual rights. This meant that any human being, regardless of creed, race or family position could pit herself against the odds and rise or fall on the basis of nothing but her own efforts, and sometimes in the process achieve unimaginable wealth, creating employment all around her. Did poverty still exist? Yes, of course it did and does, but capitalism inherited poverty, it did not create it, as many would now have us believe. It has been poverty’s most significant widespread cure.
Capitalism recognises the self as one’s own highest value, and the freedom to trade with another person or not, to be a purely voluntary step. But its greatest achievement is the unchained creative mind, without which innovation and technology are not possible. The degree to which any land is truly flourishing is the degree of its economic freedom.
People often make the mistake of thinking that morality has little to do with economics, but nothing could be further from the truth. If morality is defined as “the right and wrong of things as pertaining to human conduct”, consider that the ability to voluntarily choose the depth and breadth of one’s livelihood in accordance with one’s own personal goals, is a deeply moral affair. If we again cast our minds back to the 19th Century, before capitalism had become America’s only form of social system, the feudal South dogmatically held on - and was even fighting to extend – the dehumanising stain of black-slavery for the sake of their farming economy. It was the industrialised, capitalist North which completely obliterated that method of turning a dollar, and it took only four years once they had made up their minds that it was war. Thank you President Lincoln!
During the 20th Century, the story of capitalism in the free world lies in direct contrast to the Bolshevik Revolution of Russia, which brought communism into power for the following eight decades. Communism flatly rejected individual rights as a moral concept, and the Soviet Union nationalised all private business and all private capital, plummeting the totality of its citizenry into homogenised poverty. Collectivism was its binding code, subjugating the individual to the group (euphemistically called “the common good”) which meant that any individual had to sacrifice personal advantage and personal freedom to the State – upon the pain of death or the gulag. A totalitarian, miserable, human poverty-pen was the result.
Meanwhile back in the free world, new phenomena began to emerge; the businessman, the businesswoman and the well-heeled middleclass. This in turn, and by default, helped those still on the breadline. Instead of a lowly laundress having one client who paid her 25 cents per day for a family’s washing to be cleaned and ironed, she now had multiple clients looking for her services resulting in a jump to earning $1.50 per day. This was the difference between her putting bread or putting beef on the family dinner table. It was also the difference between her being able to keep her children in school or not. These were not small differences, neither were they rare.
If we are to keep this “way of freedom of ours” we must be able to defend its case against those who curse it so self-confidently. Fortunately, it’s not that hard to do considering capitalism’s benefits, though not perfect, are obvious, but it seems to have accepted a guilty conscience along the way for being far too successful.