This essay is based on my opening remarks for a debate that I participated in on April 22, 2019 in Manhattan on the subject of capitalism. The debate was an Oxford-Style debate with two teams of two, each arguing one side of the proposition that “Capitalism is the most moral social and political system.” My partner Chuck Braman and I debated the affirmative case. Based on the votes (total of 33), our team was victorious!
The subject that we are discussing this evening, capitalism, is usually understood primarily as a political issue. Tonight, we will explore the moral implications for capitalism and discuss why it is that we think capitalism is the most moral political system. To get there, we must first answer the more fundamental question: what is morality?
Briefly, morality is a code of values that guides your life. It covers all of the decisions, big and small, that you make in the course of your life. A fitting analogy for morality is that it is an instruction manual for living a human life. Morality is concerned with who you trade with, who you choose to marry or befriend, what sort of foods you eat, and whether you choose to get an injury treated or to ignore the pain and let it fester instead.
While there are a myriad of moral issues that confront all of us every day, there is only one fundamental question in morality, and its answer determines what your ideal political system will be. It can be formulated in a few different ways:
- What is the purpose of your life?
- Who or what should be the beneficiary of your actions?
- What is the standard by which one assesses what is moral?
If your answers to these questions are that man should be the beneficiary of his own actions, that the purpose of his life is his own happiness, and that the standard of morality is the quality of his life long-range, then you are an egoist. If your answer, on the other hand, is that others should be the beneficiary of man’s actions, that the purpose of his life is others’ happiness and not his, and that the standard of morality for an individual is some “greater good” other than his own life, then you are an altruist.
The political expression of egoism is capitalism. It is the political system wherein all property is privately owned and the government’s only role is to protect individual rights. Capitalism achieves this by removing force from society and placing it under objective control. The closest example of capitalism in history is 19th century America. A more contemporary example is Hong Kong prior to its takeover by the Chinese communists.
The political expression of altruism is statism. This view holds that man’s life belongs to the state, and the ends to which his efforts are directed depends on which version of altruism is being preached.
One variant of statism, known as fascism, holds individual men should hold title to their property, but the government has the final say on how it is used. The most prominent fascist country was Nazi Germany, though other examples include Mussolini’s Italy and Japan under Hirohito. In Germany, fascism took on a nationalist character and individuals were sacrificed to the “master race.”
Another variant is socialism, such as existed in the USSR, China, Cuba, Vietnam, and the other Communist countries. Under socialism, there is no private property and the state produces all the goods and services. In socialist countries, individuals were and are sacrificed to the “oppressed class” (the Proletariat).
A third variant, the last I will mention here, is theocracy, wherein all people are subordinated to the religious authorities in the country. In such a regime, holy texts and religious law take the place of an objective government. The best historical example was medieval Europe, but modern examples include Iran and Saudi Arabia. In a theocracy, the individual is sacrificed to the clergy.
Capitalism is morally superior to these other political systems. The reason is that man is a rational animal, who survives by the use of his reason, and capitalism provides what man needs to exercise that faculty: freedom.
A cursory analysis of human life should be ample demonstration for anyone to see the role that reason plays. Reason tells us how to distinguish food from poison, pets from predators, and sickness from health. To build all of the wonders of the modern world, from penicillin to the internet, requires the unmolested use of reason.
What can stop reason from functioning properly? Basically, only one thing: physical force. Force is the only thing that can shut down the use of one’s mind, as it replaces reason with fear, which paralyzes one’s ability to act on logic. If you think the opposite is true, consider how easily you would solve problems at work or in your home with a gun aimed at your head.
As a corollary to the point that force is anti-mind, statism is the worst political system for man. All forms of statism differ on specifics, but they all advocate ultimately for totalitarianism, which is the application of organized, systematic force as a way of life.
Totalitarian political systems treat individual men as disposable and instead uphold some abstraction as the ideal for which one should die for. Then, they put this deadly code into practice despite the limitless corpses that result on the grounds that “maybe this time, it will work.”
Europe throughout its history was ravaged by religious wars where the King and the Pope joined hands to proclaim faith as superior to reason. This is epitomized by the Dark Ages, where the average lifespan was less than 30 and people died poor and ignorant. This was a period of time characterized by massive government force.
Hundreds of year later, socialism killed 100 million people in the 20th century alone through a combination of war, starvation, and genocide. This includes the Chinese, Russian, North Korean and Cambodian regimes. It goes without saying that one should also remember the kinship between fascism and socialism: “Nazism” was short for “National Socialism,” and the theoreticians of fascism began their career as devout socialists.
Forget the confused “left-right” political spectrum: the choice we have is not fascism on the “right” and socialism on the “left.” Capitalism and totalitarianism are the two consistent alternatives on a proper political spectrum, and both fascism and socialism belong together on the latter side.
Before I defer to my opponents to make their case, I want to say a few words about the mixed economy, which is the most popular political system in the world today.
America today is a mixed economy, as is most of Western Europe and Scandinavia (contra AOC and Bernie). Even China has abandoned many aspects of its Maoist socialist system in exchange for “free market reforms.”
The mixed economy is as its name implies; a melding, or mixture of some freedom and some controls; it, therefore, represents a mixture of food and poison. To the extent that it is free, limited prosperity ensues in a mixed economy. To the extent that a mixed economy is controlled, inflation, depressions, and poverty will plague the country. To a mixed economy advocate who wants economic regulations, one can ask:
- How many controls should the government allow?
- Which industries should be left free and which ones need to be watched? For how long?
- Who decides which regulations get passed and on what basis?
A mixed economy has no answers to these questions because it is a system with no principles to guide its course. A mixed economy is a system of pressure-group warfare that is beholden to whatever random events happen in the society, which eloquent personalities dominate the news, and what is morally in vogue. It is a system with no integrity, a relatively short-lived blot on the historical story, since the more consistent elements will push it to one of the two consistent extremes.
My partner and I stand on the side of reason and freedom, i.e. we are radicals for capitalism. I look forward to finding on which side (if either) our opponents stand.