Left and Right, capitalism is condemned for all the cultural failings
of the modern world everything from mindless TV to dirty books
to slatternly art to trashy movies to debasing music. It's an extension
of the liberal habit of blaming a system for what are actually the
failings of individuals.
von Mises identified Victorian art critic John Ruskin as the intellectual
source of this ceaseless griping. Ruskin saw civilization, embodied
in the arts, as going down the tubes, and he labeled the market
economy as the cause. This allowed him to be a socialist without
surrendering upper-class affectations or having to prattle about
workers and peasants.
thus qualifies, said Mises, as "one of the grave-diggers of British
freedom, civilization and prosperity." "A wretched character in
his private no less than in his public life," Ruskin eulogized the
ancient producer cartels called guilds. "Government and cooperation
are in all things the laws of life," wrote Ruskin in Unto
This Last (1862), "anarchy and competition the laws of
practically everyone with a college degree is a tacit Ruskinian.
Americans may understand the productive power of the market, but
many are blind to its virtue as a civilizing agent, to its ability
to sustain tradition, create what's beautiful and grand, and preserve
what's right and good.
Left (still essentially Marxian) wants us to think of capitalism
as modern and industrial. More correctly, capitalism is just a name
for the social recognition of private property, trade, and contract
enforcement. It was as much a part of ancient Athens as 19th-century
America. In its total absence, civilization would crumble, and the
modern times, the confusion usually starts this way. Someone flips
on the television to find the usual rotten show and offensive commercials.
He concludes that's the market at work: base, vulgar, and insulting
to our intelligence.
on this track, the anti-capitalist mentality runs wild. The decadence
of the cash nexus appears everywhere. Strip malls and yellow M's
in the sky. Boxing, moshing, tabloids, rap, and low pay for intellectuals.
It's all horrible, sniffs this person, and it's all capitalism's
this theory were correct, the prophets, saints, and ancient philosophers
were wasting their breath. They called on people to abandon sin
and adopt virtue, when they could have taken the fast-track to social
salvation by condemning free exchange and private property.
the great moralists knew, and we've forgotten, is that people and
cultures are products of human choice. Good lives can flourish in
any social setting, whether the prison camp, the Wild West, or Washington,
D.C. (hard as the latter is to believe).
and stupidity will, of course, always be with us. From an economic
perspective, our goal should be to make sure that sinners pay for
their sins, and that minimal resources are used to cater to them.
In this process, capitalism is our ally. In addition to making prosperity
possible, the whole point of economics and markets is to make sure
the minimum amount of resources is used to satisfy any particular
demand of any particular group.
free economy is efficient because it deals with tastes and preferences
as a given, it organizes resources in an economically practical
way, and it arranges for the consumer to get what he wants at the
least possible cost to everyone else.
junk on television may indeed speak volumes about our culture. People
should care about more important things. Thanks to capitalism, however,
society isn't wasting excess resources on it. Trash is delivered
in the least costly manner, leaving more resources for the pursuit
of what really matters.
have learned to provide services to even the smallest niche. When
I see television, and I don't very often, the most intelligent network
is EWTN. It features 50-part lectures by learned academics on subjects
is a profitable enterprise that would be considered wasteful in
a socialist country not to mention politically incorrect. In a
less prosperous society, it couldn't survive. Yet I can't remember
anyone crediting capitalism for making St. Thomas Aquinas accessible
to the masses.
used to be said that government had to fund the arts for them to
be of good quality. That argument no longer flies. Take a look at
the malevolent and stupid creations of the National Endowment for
Arts. The government's "sculptures," "architecture," and "music"
has littered the country with rubbish.
say that the market "internalizes externalities." This means, in
part, that people who are offended by some goods and services can
structure their lives to avoid exposure. That's mostly true, especially
in the case of sleazy television and movies, pornography, and weird
services like telephone sex. Thanks to capitalism which restricts
such services to the people who purchase them the rest of us don't
have to be affected.
shop selling Satanic trinkets recently opened up in Auburn, Alabama.
"Anything for a buck," people sneered, until the store went belly-up
for lack of business. It's true that some people willdo
anything for a buck, but in a market economy, they have to be subservient
to the consuming public.
market delivers plenty of similar good news, though most of it goes
unremarked. Let's consider the case of big cities, which the productive
public has been clawing its way out of for decades.
government has done everything in its power to make cities uninhabitable
by regular people. Government welfare has fostered a whole class
of citizens that is at once indolent and criminal. Public housing
and rental subsidies have destroyed settings that were once middle-class.
Many cities today are only "cultural" centers if you like freaks
thanks to capitalism, there is hope. Private individuals and developers
take buildings that appear beyond repair and revive them. House
by house, block by block, whole sections of cities have been gentrified.
It's not charity work. Without a system of profit and loss, it wouldn't
you can't satisfy those with an anti-capitalist mentality. They
invariably complain that gentrification raises property values and
"squeezes" out the poor, while forgetting to notice how much better
off everyone is when degraded resources are made more valuable.
housing has long been a magnet for cultural complaints against capitalism.
High-rise buildings were routinely called evil for destroying the
view from a mile away. Yet it is this type of structure which makes
beach-living possible for the masses in the first place.
architects, in revulsion against beach high rises, have worked with
investors to buy miles of property on the beach. Then they create
communities with quaint houses and shops. The result is magnificent,
and entirely private, if affordable only for a few.
architects think they're repudiating the tackiness of capitalism.
They fail to realize that their private, planned communities are
as much a part of capitalism as the high rises. Far from making
a left-wing ideological point, they are catering to different tastes,
marketing a product, and vastly increasing the value of property
as a result. High rises and private communities represent capitalism
what about the materialism of capitalism? This too is a misnomer.
Strictly speaking, capitalism is not about material goods; it's
about exchangeable goods. Leisure, love, beauty, and art are all
exchangeable, and as much a part of economic life as Big Macs and
said that markets bring about short-term thinking. Quite the contrary.
Markets often focus on the extreme long-term, in ways the government
can never do. Consider the wine industry. It can take decades before
a vineyard produces a really great bottle of wine. Even common table
wines require that entrepreneurs plan many years in advance. The
more forward-looking the capitalist, the more he can be rewarded
for setting aside temporary pleasures.
good and service has a timetable, and the entrepreneur must plan
in the most cost-effective manner. It's bureaucratic man not the
mythical economic man who is prone to consumption and immediate
gratification. And the more the state intervenes in an economy,
the more it penalizes long-term thinking and rewards short-termism.
Inflation is the most obvious example.
hasn't the capitalist mentality forced everyone in the family to
work sixty hours per week, just to keep up with material desires?
In fact, it's the government that has brought it about. A conspiracy
against sound money and private property is what drove wives and
mothers into the workforce in the 1970s and 1980s. A return to unfettered
capitalism would allow those who desired it to return home, so that
we could restore family and community life. Both thrived under laissez-faire.
Schumpeter noted, every socialist is an enemy of the bourgeois values
of home, family, community, property, honesty, diligence, and hard
work. The more socialist our economy becomes, the more vice displaces
virtue in public and private life.
for the culturally uplifting aspects of capitalism, the profit and
loss system makes possible to take just a few examples
our economy's amazing bounty of recorded classical music, the greatest
cabernets in the world, an abundance of culinary treats even kings
couldn't imagine two centuries ago, and some good movies. If that
doesn't convince, consider that it's under capitalism that the Bible
became the all-time best-selling book.