Friday, April 18, 2008

The Moral Case for Capitalism

In the comments at PW, Ric Locke does a good job of making the practical case for capitalism, but I again find myself wishing that conservatives would focus on the moral case for capitalism. I wonder how far abolitionists would have gotten by arguing against slavery on the grounds that it is inefficient? Probably as far as conservatives have gotten in reestablishing a capitalist system.

Every year we move further and further away from capitalism and freedom. Why? It's not because the case for socialism is so compelling, it's because the argument from efficiency is so weak. People care about morality first, and practicality second. It doesn't matter if we all starve under a socialist system, we will all starve together in a magnificent act of self-sacrifice. So long as people believe that self-sacrifice is the moral ideal, they will continue voting for the system that enshrines it in law; and if it leads to our collective self-destruction, so be it. It wouldn't be self-sacrifice if it didn't.

Ric accuses socialists of demonizing the rich, but the reason they can do that successfully is because accumulating wealth is a selfish act. There is no way to accept the premise that self-sacrice is the standard of morality without accepting the conclusion that rich people are evil. By that moral standard, anyone who refuses to hand over his surplus earnings to those less fortunate is immoral, and the greater the surplus, the greater the immorality. That standard of virtue must be completely rejected in order to make the moral case for capitalism.

How can conservatives do that, though, if they remain committed to Christianity? How can they do it when even a conservative who claims to be non-religious remains committed to the ethical framework of Christianity? I don't see it happening.

And so we'll continue to drift towards totalitarian socialism with the conservatives occasionally complaining about inefficiencies yet consistently voting for ever-increasing levels of sacrifice for the good of all.

UPDATE: I missed this earlier article in the Wall Street Journal Online edition. I love the way the author attempts a six-degrees-of-separation style jump from Ayn Rand to Bill Clinton via Walt Whitman. You see, Rand wrote about selfishness, and Walt Whitman wrote a poem called "Song of Myself," and Bill Clinton used to hand out Leaves of Grass to impressionable young females. ("Hey, little girl... want a book of poetry?") So obviously Rand would have admired Clinton.

Is this what passes for reasoning at the WSJ? Was she too chicken to attempt a connection with Hitler or Stalin? Or does she consider Clinton worse?

The entire article is just one long smear, including all the obligatory references to cultish followers, Gordon Gekko's greed speech in Wall Street, and moral absolutism. (I love the way that Rand gets pinned with the amoralism of Gekko, while also being accused of moral absolutism. Which is it?) I knew what I was in for at the beginning, though, when she referred to Rand's writings as "individualist screeds." Hurrah for objectivity in the media.

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