Given the evidence of the superiority of capitalism in achieving prosperity, isn’t it astonishing we still debate its merits?
Filmmaker Michael Moore actually made an anti-capitalism “documentary” called “Capitalism: A Love Story.” Moore says: “Capitalism is an evil, and you cannot regulate evil. You have to eliminate it and replace it with something that is good for all people.” Is it relevant that Moore’s net worth is reported around $50 million, give or take a few mil, and that his accumulation of wealth occurred within the system of free markets that he trashes?
Another Hollywood leftie, Ed Asner, is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. In a tax-the-rich cartoon video narrated by Asner, an evil rich man urinates on the poor. Charming.
Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, wrote “Wealth of Nations” in 1776. How do nations prosper, he asked? The answer, Smith said, is to encourage competition between suppliers — whether of goods or services — to please customers. Smith wrote, “In general, if any branch of trade, or any division of labour, be advantageous to the public, the freer and more general the competition, it will always be the more so.”
Abraham Lincoln was not an economist but would have been quite at home with the free-market school: “There is not, of necessity, any such thing as the free hired laborer being fixed to that condition for life. …The prudent, penniless beginner in the world labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself; then labors on his own account for another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This is … the just, and generous, and prosperous system, which opens the way for all — gives hope to all, and … improvement of condition to all. If any continue through life in the condition of the hired laborer, it is not the fault of the system, but because of either a dependent nature which prefers it, or improvidence, folly, or singular misfortune.”
Booker T. Washington, a former slave, wrote “Up From Slavery” in 1901, 36 years after the Civil War: “When a Negro girl learns to cook, to wash dishes, to sew, to write a book, or a Negro boy learns to groom horses, or to grow sweet potatoes, or to produce butter, or to build a house, or to be able to practise medicine, as well or better than some one else, they will be rewarded regardless of race or colour. In the long run, the world is going to have the best, and any difference in race, religion, or previous history will not long keep the world from what it wants. …This is a great human law which cannot be permanently nullified.”
This brings us to a standard denunciation of capitalism: greed. Bill Gates, the legendary software pioneer, reportedly once denounced a business for its lack of aggressiveness. “They have finite greed,” Gates sniffed. In the movie “Wall Street” Michael Douglas famously said, “Greed is good.”
Greed freaks out people like talk-show host Phil Donahue. He once told Nobel laureate Milton Friedman: “When you see around the globe the maldistribution of wealth, the desperate plight of millions of people in underdeveloped countries, when you see so few haves and so many have-nots, when you see the greed and the concentration of power — did you ever have a moment of doubt about capitalism and whether greed’s a good idea to run on?”
Friedman responded: “Is there some society you know that doesn’t run on greed? You think Russia doesn’t run on greed? You think China doesn’t run on greed? What is greed? Of course, none of us are greedy; it’s only the other fellow who’s greedy. The world runs on individuals pursuing their separate interests. The great achievements of civilizations have not come from government bureaus. Einstein didn’t construct his theory under order from a bureaucrat. Henry Ford didn’t revolutionize the automobile industry that way. In the only cases in which the masses have escaped from the kind of grinding poverty you’re talking about — the only cases in recorded history — are where they have had capitalism and largely free trade.”
U2 frontman Bono, the rock star, agrees with Friedman.
Bono has spent three decades raising money to alleviate poverty and combat AIDS and HIV in the Third World. In a speech last year at Georgetown University, Bono talks about his epiphany: “Rock star preaches capitalism. Wow. Sometimes I hear myself and I just can’t believe it! But commerce is real. … Aid is just a stop-gap. Commerce (and) entrepreneurial capitalism takes more people out of poverty than aid. … In dealing with poverty here and around the world, welfare and foreign aid are a Band-Aid. Free enterprise is a cure.”
We end with this quote from Mark Twain: “I’m opposed to millionaires, but it would be a mistake to offer me the position.”
Larry Elder is a best-selling author and radio talk-show host.
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