The Western world currently enjoys the greatest wealth, health, freedom, knowledge and opportunity of any society in all of history. This golden age is attributable mostly to private property, free markets and capitalism. Yet few things are subject to more criticism and resentment in the Western world than private property, free markets and capitalism. But then that’s the great thing about capitalism. It produces results even when practiced by those who fail to understand it.
Appreciation Helps Prevent Abandonment
Capitalism, unlike economic central planning, acknowledges the limits of human nature and intellectual capacity. No system so successful in its ability to empower mankind should go undefended, however. Unless some part of the population appreciates the historical net result of free-market capitalism (the preservation and expansion of the life and wealth of entire peoples), the system is occasionally abandoned, with nasty results — ranging from simple lost opportunity to Josef Stalin.
The latest salvo in the never-ending war to defend individual economic freedom is The Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism, by Robert P. Murphy, Ph.D., who makes a version of this case very well. Murphy’s work is the most recent installment in the highly successful series of “Politically Incorrect Guides” from Regnery Publishing (a division of Eagle Publishing, the parent corporation of HUMAN EVENTS.)
These guides cover topics ranging from American History to Islam and are designed to cut through the postmodern feel-good psychobabble and Sacagawea Dollar revisionism that passes for knowledge in the mainstream media. (Noticeably absent from the series, so far, is a “Politically Incorrect Guide to Racial Politics,” but then no one is fearless.)
"The Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism" is written in the same clean and easy-to-read style as its predecessors in the series. This is an especially impressive accomplishment for Murphy, who managed to compose a straightforward, brief and unpretentious text despite the notable handicap of having a Ph.D. (and I say this fondly, as someone who has had to overcome this same acquired communications disability.)
Divided into 16 short chapters punctuated by clear subdivisions and frequent sidebars –ranging from factoids to recommended reading to quotes from both geniuses and those subsequently proven by history to be idiots — The PIG to Capitalism is an effortless and fun read. In fact, this book has “bathroom reading” written all over it. I can almost hear the flush at the end of each chapter.
And I mean that in a good way. Why does everything we read have to be a cloistered commitment of days or even weeks? Some of the best writing is brief and easy. Anyone can write long, self-involved crap — the Unabomber, Hitler, Noam Chomsky, Al Gore. But it takes some discipline to distill complex concepts down to a convenient and accessible form. The Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism hits this mark.
Topics covered include price theory, unions, CEO pay, the minimum wage, child labor and anti-discrimination laws, banking, the gold standard, environmental regulations, antitrust law, deficit spending, safety laws, bread and circuses, globalization, free trade, and the new investor class — all in just 206 pages! A thesis from the Department of Gender Studies this ain’t.
A few samples from the book will give the taste better than a critic’s review:
On powerful government planners vs. the merely rich: “Are we to assume that powerful people in a capitalist system are evil, while powerful people in other systems are benevolent?”
On the illusion of child labor laws’ ending child labor in rich societies: “If child labor were legalized tomorrow, would you send your eight-year-old to the factories to bring home an extra $200 or so a month?”
On Social Security: “One of the more unfortunate legacies of the New Deal. . . .”
On Amtrak: “Why bother getting your fiscal house in order when Congress gives you a billion-dollar margin for error?”
On the necessity of “middlemen”: “It does no good for Alaskans to know that millions of juicy oranges have been harvested in Florida unless there is some means to deliver those oranges to them.”
No book is perfect, of course. Like many free-trade proponents, Murphy treats all transactions as solely economic. For example, outsourcing makes unarguable sense economically in the short and intermediate terms. But if outsourcing results in the total destruction of a domestic intellectual infrastructure — i.e. the loss of a set of skills and technological means from the culture, this can prevent the pendulum from swinging back when economically desirable and (if the skill set lost is of strategic importance) leave the host country in the awkward position of needing to outsource its vital needs in wartime. Economics is a useful tool, but it is not an end in itself. The end is a vibrant and successful culture. But perhaps such philosophical considerations are hard to quantify.
Overall, however, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism is an enjoyable, informative and earnest work, perfect for casual reading or providing an introductory understanding of economics to a young conservative.