It’s a familiar tale, the unpopular class mate. You know the one. The weirdly dressed individual with spectacles, acne and a funny high pitched voice that sounds something like the classic comedy character Steve Urkell.
Though Steve Urkell was oddly popular in his day, Capitalism in the current cultural and political climate isn’t so lucky.
It seems fortuitous then that our esteemed colleagues at Menzies House would release a free download entitled ‘The Morality of Capitalism’. I was initially intrigued by the title because it immediately evokes the thought of Socratic debate about the ‘morality of capitalism’ at the beginning of the Industrial age, as compared to the postindustrial age that we are currently in.
The booklet itself is broken into several excellent essays. The first is an interview with a Entrepreneur. Entrepreneur’s have always fascinated me because the wildest possible ideas are always the ones they consider first. Indeed I’ve had conversations via email with one of Australia’s richest Entrepreneur’s and have to admit they do think differently. They think about creating value, about maximising potential rather than stifling it! Think of the great brands of modern capitalism. Ford, Kellogg, Nike, McDonald’s and Disney. All of them had in common the capacity to envision a greater future.
Ironically the systems of capital these icons represent are of an ilk that is currently under attack. The essay on Palmer’s interview with co-creator of the Whole Foods Company is instructive because he connects his approach to what he calls “conscious capitalism”, a clear distinction between pure “free-market capitalism” and “crony capitalism”.
This is interesting because the current global #Iamthe99percent protests around corporate greed and its apparent negative impacts on society are confusing this distinction.
Take climate change for instance. The science question wouldn’t be such a big issue if the solutions being touted were applied fully to the forces of pure market capitalism. If there was no taxpayer assistance for these programs and market forces were allowed to work in the creation and destruction of products and services, one would think that history’s final judgement on the solutions would be assured one way or the other. What irritates me is the fact that the political culture is abusing the term “market mechanism” in an attempt to mask the interventionist approach that is invading not just the climate issue but all other areas of policy.
Ironically this is emboldening a government inspired “crony capitalism” that protesters are trying to break apart. The Mackey interview is important because it draws out this intellectual distinction and in a manner that clarifies and restates the moral issues.
The next Essay “Liberty and Dignity Explain the Modern World” by Deirdre N. McCloskey grabs the reigns of history and steers the reader through the ideas and transformations that have led us to our current position. She states tellingly that:
The revolutions and reformations of Europe, 1517 to 1789, gave voice to ordinary people outside the bishops and aristocrats. Europeans and then others came to admire entrepreneurs like Ben Franklin and Andrew Carnegie and Bill Gates. The middle class started to be viewed as good, and started to be allowed to do good, and to do well. People signed on to a Middle-Class Deal that has characterised now-wealthy places such as Britain or Sweden or Hong Kong ever since: “Let me innovate and make piles and piles of money in the short run out of innovation, and in the long run I’ll make you rich.”
The ultimate prize of this essay is the fact that the author posits the thoughts of historian Joel Mokyr who states that: economic change in all periods depends, more than most economists think, on what people believe.
This essay hence is an excellent exposition of competing political, social and economic ideologies.
The next essay, Competition and Cooperation by David Boaz is an excellent piece on the cut-throat world of competition, discussing the tensions and instabilities inherent in same. The tension between Individualism, Community and Civil Society are widely canvassed and address the idea of a life based on the Locke and Hume conceptions of rights that connect to Hume’s exposition of:
(1) our self-interestedness, (2) our necessarily limited generosity toward others, and (3) the scarcity of resources available to fulfil our needs.
This essay had a certain appeal for me because it inspires thought about the anti-capitalist push that often occurs when the community tires of change, longing instead for a protectionism that sets itself against the drive of cooperation and adaptation in the marketplace.
Further Tom G. Palmer’s essay moves to an excellent narrative analysis of “For-Profit Medicine and the Compassion Motive”. He addresses this by comparing his personal experience with a for profit and non-profit health provider. The ultimate end of the exercise reveals that profit oriented health services provide personalised service that the non-profit provider does not. The comparison’s of incentives in this regard is compelling because it addresses the key issues of health, government intervention and the positives and negatives of same.
I found this to be a great analysis because everyone has probably had similar experiences where efficiency is lacking in government operated health services. Palmer highlights the importance of capitalist incentive to drive down prices and provide better more customer focused services.
The concluding essays on “The Paradox of Morality”, “The Moral Logic of Equality and Inequality”, and “Adam Smith and the Myth of Greed” all touch on the importance of institutional and individualist processes. These are processes which incidentally drive the forces of capitalism and the countervailing forces of coercion.
Communism is addressed at length in this context and provides a window into that world-view. In reading this excellent booklet, I had abstract philosophy and practical applications in mind. Palmer’s views on the ‘Myth of Greed’ are compelling because they re-iterate a belief in:
The rule of law, property, contract, and exchange
This runs counter to the idealism of coercion that is prevalent in current political, social and economic debate. If you’re reading this and don’t believe me, download the booklet [here] and check it out for yourself.
Timothy W Humphries is a graduate journalism student and writes from Brisbane, Queensland Australia.