Capitalism and Morality

In the comments to Confidence, Part IV, reader “ScottFree” left an impassioned plea:

I would agree with Mr. Bezmonov that “demoralization” is at the heart of American philosophical collapse. I would just place it WAY earlier in the timeline. Historically, the intellectual bottom fell out at the Great Depression. Nothing of that scope had ever happened (certainly in America.) And for over 10 years Americans were fed the “practical” definition of insanity: keep doing the same thing over and over yet expect different results.

EVERYONE’S standard of living fell dramatically, unemployment varied somewhere between utterly ridiculous and totally insane, and there was NO fundamental, lasting hope of improvement throughout the entire period. .Gov had seized the money supply and regulated the economy to within an inch of its life — but there was no INTELLECTUAL defense of the capitalism that had existed prior to government control of the country. There were basically no significant marches, no protests, no strikes, and no even small-scale opposition organized to fight against socialism — hell, no one even DARED call the system that existed socialism, let alone what it actually was: fascism.

Why? Because no one could (or would) MORALLY refute it.

And no one is doing so now. No one is refuting the notion that Socialism is the ONLY social system that addresses the alleged “deficiencies” of capitalism, specifically the idea of “social justice”. Messrs Levin, Murray, Sowell, et. al. are splendid classical liberals who attack the legion of failures inherent within Socialism and espouse a litany of virtues for capitalism. But, fundamentally, all of their arguments rest on the flawed notion that capitalism is PRACTICAL, NOT MORAL.

The Crisis is here, Kevin. It has been here all along, right in front of everyone’s nose. The magnificent brilliance of the Founders was that they devised a structural method to ensure that morality was kept out of the government and everyone was then free to pursue their own moral beliefs and they did so by stripping the government of all powers except the absolute minimum necessary to BE a government (i.e., the protection of individual rights.) Where “we” failed as a people, morally, is when we began to believe on some level that we are our brother’s keeper. The Progressive movement secularized this moral belief and, with the Progressives’ takeover of the education system, it has been ingrained in us ever since.

Americans have to come to a point where they have the intellectual fortitude to question the fundamental moral beliefs that they’ve been taught and come to the (even more unlikely) conclusion that they MIGHT be wrong — because all of the rest of “conservatism” is just smoke and window dressing if you cannot validate capitalism MORALLY.

To paraphrase Rand so eloquently, America needs not to return to morality but to discover it.

Awhile back I quoted the Dalai Lama on the subject:

(Marxism has) moral ethics, whereas capitalism is only how to make profits.

The whole quote, from, is this:

“Still I am a Marxist,” the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader said in New York, where he arrived today with an entourage of robed monks and a heavy security detail to give a series of paid public lectures.

“(Marxism has) moral ethics, whereas capitalism is only how to make profits,” the Dalai Lama, 74, said.

However, he credited China’s embrace of market economics for breaking communism’s grip over the world’s most populous country and forcing the ruling Communist Party to “represent all sorts of classes”.

“(Capitalism) brought a lot of positive to China. Millions of people’s living standards improved,” he said.

There’s a pretty powerful philosophical voice stating that capitalism isn’t immoral, but amoral. That’s an important distinction, and it’s not an insult. Immoral means “violating moral principles”.  Amoral means “not involving moral questions; neither moral nor immoral.”

And while I will grant that the promise of Marxism is that it has “moral ethics,” in actual practice it produces the exact opposite, to the tune of over a hundred million corpses in just the past century.

Back when I wrote the Überpost  What We Got Here is . . . Failure to Communicate, an exploration of Thomas Sowell’s A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles, I quoted Dr. Sowell extensively on the topic of “intentions vs. results.”  Sowell’s book is based upon a (he admits) crude binary division of humanity into those who hold that humanity is constrained by his nature, and those who believe mankind is unconstrained.

So in the Constrained vision human nature is flawed, and while some flaws in some – even most – men can be ameliorated with time and teaching, this does not hold true for the whole of mankind. We are imperfect, and being imperfect the systems we establish, the institutions that we build, the traditions, laws and rituals that we practice carry along with them vulnerabilities to our inherent flaws. In order to achieve social benefits those institutions, traditions, laws and rituals must offer individuals some incentive. But more, those institutions, traditions, laws and rituals must also carry protections against abuse by those in which the flaws are extreme. In the extreme Unconstrained vision, intentions are more important than results, and results without intention are “scarcely worthy of notice.”

The Dalai Lama apparently rolls with the Unconstrained Vision.

But he is in error. He is in error because he’s comparing apples and oranges. Marxism and capitalism are not two opposing economic theories as many people believe. Marxism is a religion, and capitalism is an economic theory. Moreover, capitalism is an economic theory THAT WORKS. As even the Dalai Lama admits, capitalism in China “…brought a lot of positive to China. Millions of people’s living standards improved.”

Capitalism is amoral because it is an economic theory. Marxism has a morality because it is a religion.

re·li·gionnoun: a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

Note that this definition says especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies…. Said agency is not required for a religion to exist. Whereas:

the·o·rynoun: a coherent group of tested general propositions, commonly regarded as correct, that can be used as principles of explanation and prediction for a class of phenomena

Marxism says that if everyone just behaves perfectly, then we will have complete equality and utopia will exist. Capitalism says that if two people make a trade, both come away better off than they were before they made the trade. Marxism says that the economy is best run from the top down. Capitalism says that the economy is best run from the bottom up. Marxism says that everyone should be a perfect altruist. Capitialism says that looking out for your own best interest is better for everyone in the long run.

We’ve already discussed what capitalism has done for China in a very brief period of time, but by far the best illustration of the difference between the religion of Marxism and the economic theory of capitalism is this singular image:

Capitalism in and of itself is amoral, but for capitalism to work best it requires a pretty specifically moral populace. Capitalism requires freedom – the freedom to choose for oneself that which he or she will trade. Capitalism requires honesty, and trustworthyness. You can’t make a profit if your vendors and customers rip you off, or if government officials must be bribed.

Capitalism works even where such a populace is thin on the ground – black markets, after all, work everywhere, even under the most severe dictatorships. It’s human nature. But where freedom is greater, the better capitalism works.

But capitalism itself is amoral. The benefits it brings to the entire economy – rich, poor and everyone in between – are not brought about by the intention of those out there trying to improve their own lot. They’re a side effect.

And thus, apparently, don’t count.

The intentions of Marxism are morally pure – the equality of man, man!

And the results it brings are, more often than the Marxist ever want to admit, death in the millions and tens of millions.

I understand there’s a certain equality in the grave.

So no, capitalism is not “moral.” It’s completely amoral. But it functions best where the Golden Rule is the morality people actually live by, and market forces incentivize that particular morality.

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