The Moral Case For Capitalism

The Obama 2012 campaign will be a profoundly moralistic enterprise.  Its practical components have recently been field-tested.  The President himself turned up on “60 Minutes” last weekend to unveil the latest updated version of his “Blame Bush” strategy, in which the horrible numbers swirling around his moribund economy are actually the fault of his predecessor, who left him such a mess that we should be congratulating Obama for his incredible skill at making things as good as they are.  He even brought back the “jobs created or saved” concept, which should have gotten him laughed off the national stage the first time he tried it.

Meanwhile, on Monday we had DNC chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz angrily denying that unemployment has increased under Obama at all.  Voters will be hit with a blast of weaponized ignorance in 2012, and told to forget everything that has actually happened since 2008.

But these elements are not the core of the President’s re-election strategy.  They’re meant to confuse voters and soften them up for the real sales pitch, which will be entirely moral in character.  It doesn’t matter if the things Obama has done didn’t work, or even – as in the case of ObamaCare – achieved exactly the opposite results from what Obama promised.  We are morally obliged to follow such policies in the interest of “fairness,” “compassion,” and so forth, even when their failure is obvious. 

Most importantly, the free-market alternatives will be rendered literally unthinkable, and Obama’s critics portrayed as little more than heartless monsters.  So what if growth-oriented tax reforms would produce general prosperity and create thousands of jobs?  If “fat cats” would be enriched in the process, it’s a non-starter.  We will all be made to suffer, until the “One Percent” are made mildly uncomfortable.

The Republican candidate must boldly make the moral case for capitalism, as well as offering a practical critique of the Obama record.  Entering an election like 2012 without moral artillery is suicide.  A substantial number of voters are prepared to forgive considerable degrees of empirical failure, if they are persuaded that more efficient strategies are ethically unacceptable.  That’s why collectivism still exists as a significant political force at all.  It leaves poverty and rubble everywhere it’s tried, but people – especially young people – still find its moral arguments compelling.  Trading grubby responsibility for glittering arrogance always sounds like a good deal.

Capitalism is the practical expression of liberty.  Without private ownership of capital, all other expressions are merely indulgences permitted by the government.  We understand instinctively that the suppression of free speech indicates a dangerous lack of respect for individuals by the State, but we have been conditioned to forget that a lack of respect for property is at least as disturbing.  Once property is gone, speech is not very difficult for the State to control, or ignore.

Recognizing the ownership of property is a vital component of respecting individuality.  You obviously don’t want people wandering into your house whenever they feel like it, or helping themselves to your car.  If you purchase a sandwich at a street vendor, a passing hungry person is not morally entitled to seize it from you.  They’re not entitled to seize food from the sandwich vendor, either. 

The thief is, in a sense, enslaving you.  You spent a certain number of hours to work for money you planned to use for your own needs, but it turns out you were really working for the thief instead.  Your right to decide how your capital should be invested was suppressed by force.

These are simple ideas, but they extend far into the economic stratosphere.  If stealing your sandwich is clearly wrong, and robbing the sandwich shop is also obviously wrong, robbing the corporate offices of the sandwich franchise must also be wrong.  Respect for the property rights of law-abiding citizens cannot be allowed to atrophy based on the amount of property involved, or else it ceases to be a “principle.” 

A nation is always in trouble when abstract, malleable imperatives are allowed to transcend clearly defined and absolute principles.  The concept of “progressive taxation” has mutated to the point where 47% of the populace pays no income taxes, while the tiny minority that pays the bulk of the taxes is perpetually told it is “greedy” and condemned for refusing to pay its “fair share.”  The imperative of “fairness” has trumped property rights… which grants immense power to those who get to define, re-define, and re-re-define what “fairness” means.

This extends to ownership of your own labor, and your own time.  Again, we instinctively understand that slavery and indenture are wrong, but we have been taught to accept the seizure of our labor, because it has been made relatively painless through the medium of money.  You work for the government roughly four months out of every year, but that no longer involves being marched off to a government work camp in January and returned home in April.  You don’t have to hand over a bag of coins to your master’s tax collector.  Most people don’t even have to write a check and mail it to the IRS, as their labor is siphoned away invisibly through payroll deductions.

The anesthetic of money is also the indispensible tool that allows our current state of prosperity to exist.  It is profoundly immoral that this vital tool has been corrupted to steal our labor.  It is despicable that so many of us have been conditioned to rely upon the government for sustenance… and to view ballots cast once every year or two as the sum total of our “freedom.” 

Independence flourishes only under capitalism!  Nothing could be less expressive of individuality that trooping into a voting booth periodically, to vote for or against a handful of people who will be judged according to many different policies, casting your ballot onto a pile of thousands or millions.  The more power your “representatives” accumulate, the less accurately their performance can be measured.  And if the vote doesn’t go your way, you have very limited options to walk away from the unsatisfactory results.

The true freedom expressed through hundreds of decisions you make every day in the free market, with trading partners you have the power to abandon when they don’t live up to your expectations, is far more precious.  Trading that level of control over your life for ballots is a foolish bargain.

Capitalism doesn’t require the absence of government.  On the contrary, it requires clear, firm, and impartial laws to flourish.  Contracts must be honored, obligations must be met, and property rights must be secured.  The truly “free” market is safe, well-lit, and filled with confidence.  That’s a role government plays from the day it banishes bandits from the roads, and pirates from the seas.

What Barack Obama has practiced is not “capitalism.”  He’s commonly accused of “crony capitalism,” a term of convenience I’ve often used myself – but it’s an outrageous insult to capitalism.  Command economics, markets reshaped by compulsive force, vast subsidies seized from taxpayers and given to a favored few, winners and losers chosen by the State… these are not the hallmarks of a “free market.”  Together they define a system where the means of production are privately owned, but the owners must act according to official decree.  There is a name for that system, but it is not “capitalism.” 

Likewise, if the government nationalizes the means of production – on behalf of “the people,” of course! – and contracts with private citizens to manage their use, the proper name of the resulting system is not “capitalism.”  The true names of both systems I have described are ugly words, well known for their bloody legacies.  Most of us acknowledge that it would be horrible to embrace them in full.  Why should they be any more acceptable in controlled doses?  Why would anyone familiar with the past century believe the dosages can be controlled?

Betraying the morality of capitalism, and denying its unbreakable connection to liberty, has empowered the State to become its own special interest.  When property rights are fully respected, and all other rights are thus properly illuminated, public officials become public servants.  Have a look at the full transcript of Obama’s “60 Minutes” interview, and ask yourself if the man considers himself a “servant” in any meaningful sense. 

The arbiters of fairness cannot be the servants of those they judge.  Players with an active hand in the game can’t be impartial referees.  A government empowered to compromise the rights of some, while it serves the interests of others, is necessarily lacking in humility.  That doesn’t change when the interests it serves are portrayed as noble and deserving.

Listen to the venom in the voice of Obama or other statists when they rail against “millionaires,” “billionaires,” and other class enemies.  Shouldn’t the officials of a lawful government be the public servants of all, and the enemies of none?  Shouldn’t a billionaire be able to expect the same respect for his rights as a pauper?  If your answer is “no,” you should carefully consider the size of the door you are opening, and what lurks on the other side.  At the very least, look at how fluid the definition of a “millionaire” has become in Obama’s hands.  Hint: it does not refer exclusively to people who have over a million dollars.

If you would refuse to be a servant of the State, you will find robust free-market capitalism is the only tool that has any chance of instilling the proper humility in government.  It is also the only environment in which you can develop healthy relationships with your fellow citizens, who will not be able to dream of assembling into a bloc and voting you beneath their collective heels.  You are surrounded by people who want something from you, including vast numbers you’ll never meet in person.  Either you make them pay you for your time and goods, or you don’t.  How much injustice and poverty have we been forced to tolerate because that simple formulation sounds… crass?

Freedom means choice, does it not?  A free man chooses how to use his time, and dispose of his property.  In other words, a free man owns his capital.  Ask the people who spend their days denigrating capitalism to refute that simple truth, and watch the supposed moral superiority of collectivism dissolve before your eyes.