A Still-Unknown Ideal

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Two writers (one of whom is an academic) at Fast Company take Nancy Pelosi's misleading description of our mixed economy as "capitalism" and run with it in an article titled, "Are You Ready To Consider That Capitalism Is The Real Problem?" As an advocate of capitalism, let me first concede that I might -- if I also accepted this assertion as my idea of "capitalism." But my scholarship -- hell, my mental hygiene -- is better than that. (Do note that this description comes from the same woman who urged us to pass ObamaCare unread so we could "find out what is in it.")

I am not going to waste my time on a point-by point rebuttal of this smear piece, which, for example, uses a deadly fire -- in a government-operated housing block -- in London as part of its fact-free indictment. (Oddly enough, the article at the link repeatedly cites the higher-than-government fire safety standards of an American organization funded in large part by insurance companies strangely interested in not having to pay out fire claims. To read the Fast Company article, you'd think those fat cats would fry their customers after collecting their premiums, if only they could get away with it.)

That said, what Jason Hickel and Martin Kirk take as the "prime directive" of capitalism is simply ridiculous:

[T]here's something fundamentally flawed about a system that has a prime directive to churn nature and humans into capital, and do it more and more each year, regardless of the costs to human well-being and to the environment we depend on.

Because let's be clear: That's what capitalism is, at its root. That is the sum total of the plan. We can see this embodied in the imperative to grow GDP, everywhere, year on year, at a compound rate, even though we know that GDP growth, on its own, does nothing to reduce poverty or to make people happier or healthier. Global GDP has grown 630% since 1980, and in that same time, by some measures, inequality, poverty, and hunger have all risen. [links omitted]
Really. This might describe the end-result of the less-capitalistic aspects of Pelosi's status quo, but that's not what I got from Ayn Rand's Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, which at least offers a definition of the term:
Capitalism is a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned.
She and others argue at length why a system that protects individual rights is actually the best protection against people being taken advantage of (as alluded to above) or being made into cogs of some sort of GDP machine. But it was the mention of GDP that triggered my memory of another excellent book on capitalism, by Yaron Brook and Don Watkins of the Ayn Rand Institute. Within that book, Brook and Watkins demolish what they call the "argument from greed," an attack on the ethical base of capitalism that implicitly motivates much of the Fast Company piece. Towards the end of Free Market Revolution, they note:
The attack on selfishness is an attack on the pursuit of happiness, and it is over the pursuit of happiness that the battle for America's future will be waged. We need to fight for economic freedom not on the grounds that it promotes GDP, or the "public interest," or any other collectivist ideal. We need to fight for it on the grounds that your life belongs to you: Each of us has an inalienable right to act on our own judgment, to produce and trade free from force, for the sole purpose of making our own lives as successful and joyous as they can possibly be. We have to be unequivocal in rejecting the notion that we are a means to the ends of others -- or that others are a means to our ends. [bold added]
Hickel and Kirk pose as defenders of the individual, but it is against a tired, old caricature of capitalism. Whether or not they know or care, or most of their reader notice, they drop such a pretence as soon as they start advocating massive theft of private property. See the bolded sentence above, and imagine someone taking something from you on the basis of someone else not having it.

But they are right about a single aspect of their proposed solution, which they intimate wouldn't look like every other socialist cesspit in history despite their egalitarian/confiscatory rhetoric: "None of this is actually radical." Yep. It's the same old altruism-collectivism that pervades our culture, hold the facts, and add a dash of wishful thinking.

Hence the title of Brook and Watkins's book.

Try reading that if you share my disgust with the status quo, need inspiration, and want leads towards a real, radical, and effective solution.

-- CAV


Today: Minor edits  towards end.

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