Capitalism Isn't Heartless
The assertion that capitalism is "heartless" falls into a typical mischaracterization of capitalism that has been growing in popular thought.
The assertion that capitalism is “heartless” falls into a typical mischaracterization of capitalism that has been growing in popular thought.
Many have pointed to the industrial era as the “height” of capitalism in American society, and they reference the abuses of that time as an indictment of free-market ideology. I tend to agree that the industrial era was an indictment, but not of the general principles of capitalism. Instead, it was an indictment of social darwinism and the feigned laissez-faire of crony capitalism.
On the first point, capitalism does not demand abstention from charity and good works to the less fortunate, simply that the government should not be the primary source of such action. Social Darwinism, however, preached the disregarding and belittling of the less fortunate by private citizens. Not only do the broader theories supporting capitalism reject social darwinism, they actually assume individual charitable giving and point out that such action is more effective, long-lasting, and uplifting to both giver and receiver than the forced, bureaucratic processes of a welfare state.
As to the second point, correctly functioning laissez-faire cannot exist while hypocrisy ensues. When a nation’s leaders rationalize zero government involvement in the typical citizen’s life yet craft legislation and promote executive action that benefits powerful corporations, the economic reality is not capitalism but crony capitalism.
If we can remove the ideas of social darwinism and the rot of crony capitalism from the historical understanding of what capitalism actually is, and what it can actually be, then we can understand it isn’t heartless at all but represents the most equal and effective economic process the world has ever seen. Those who think capitalism is heartless have learned to fear the wrong things.
What is to be feared isn’t the absence of government intrusion into the economy, but the intrusion into the economy by the government to aid any specific interest instead of seeing to the common good of all society. What is to be feared is the government picking winners and losers.
Whether we discuss socialism on the one extreme or corporatism on the other, the reality of intrusive governments is that a segment of society has not only been deemed to be the “other” (outside of political interest or concern) but often becomes viewed as an enemy of society (a portion of the population whose interests must be curbed for the “betterment” of society).
In any approach to government with ideological roots in socialism, the “1%,” the “bourgeoisie,” or the “wealthy elites” become the “other” and the “enemy.” Their wealth and affluence are considered ill-gotten. Demagogues and rabble-rousers stoke the people’s passions against them, fueling a belief that something has been stolen from them and that tearing down the citadels of the rich and powerful can unlock the gates to utopia.
In any approach akin to social darwinism or corporatism, the threat is deemed to be the laborer, the entrepreneur, the small businessman, or, simply, the common people. In the hands of such views, the government will look for excuses to check and curtail any interest deemed a threat to those on top.
Police lines will break up the peaceful protest of disgruntled laborers. Land will be appropriated through eminent domain only for the government to turn it over to private interests for private development. Government subsidies turn agricultural land into valuable tax shelters, raising the price of land far beyond what enterprising independent farmers or ranchers could ever afford.
Most common to the corporatism of today, large businesses and corporations will lobby for the passage of intense business regulations, offering the appearance of civic responsibility, when they know only their army of lawyers will be able to navigate such heavy regulations. This effectively insulates them from the competition that would have come from entrepreneurs and small businesses who end up unable to afford the means to navigate government regulation.
Like with all things related to government, the proper course discovered by right reason is to find the balance of concerns. The great enemy of any society is pride, properly defined as enmity towards another. Whether through greed or power-lust on the one hand or through spite, resentment, and covetousness on the other, the roots of dysfunction and chaos lay in pride. And, turning the government into a weapon of this pride only accelerates the dysfunction and chaos.
Government is properly a tool for the general welfare and the common good. The term republic has as one of its fitting close synonyms the idea of the commonwealth. Peace and tranquility are found, not in gaming government for the benefit of the wealthy nor in stoking the flames of revolution for the benefit of an angry mob. It is in providing common wealth and in organizing a government and assures a form of economy that allows all members of society to thrive, for each to gain according to their capacity, and to place trust into the hands of free individuals so that they can determine for themselves what they define as wealth and gain.
Capitalism, and that republican form of government that best complements it, is not only not heartless, it is one of the only economic theories in the history of mankind that grants each individual their natural dignity and autonomy. No one’s interest should be deemed to be outside the grant of liberty guaranteed by a free government.
Whether rich or poor, wise or foolish, male or female, black or white...each of us is a child of God deserving the dignity and autonomy that history has demonstrated only a sphere of liberty can provide. Such a sphere cannot possibly exist if anyone is allowed to wield government as a weapon to alter market forces towards the interests of only some of society. And, arguably, the things that a government can do without intentionally or unintentionally gaming things to the benefit of some instead of for all are quite limited.