The Long Version

Retired broadcast journalist. Blogging helps scratch the itch. Recovering exRepublican – Sober and still Conservative.

Slamming Capitalism: The New Youthful Fad

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I see it a lot these days.

Social media posts and memes deriding Capitalism and romanticizing Socialism.

I honestly don’t know where it comes from outside of historical ignorance. It’s puzzling.

A link to such a post appeared in my email the other day. I’ll link to it below if you care to read it. It will provide context to what I’m about to write next.

Authored by a gentleman named Umair Haque. But don’t let the name lead you to assume anything. He’s an American citizen, young, idealistic, and dead wrong when it comes to capitalism.

The title of his article?

Does America Have Capitalist Stockholm Syndrome? – Why Are the Fiercest Defenders of Capitalism Those Who’ll Never Be Capitalists?

Ah yes, evil capitalism and those stupid white men dying to defend it!

Unfortunately, I believe Mr. Haque completely missed the point of their defense. It has nothing to do with their personal capitalistic ventures as he noted with his friend’s father. It has everything to do with the ventures of others which have made their lives, and the lives of their families for generations now, better. Infinitely better.

Period.

Perhaps the best defense for capitalism I’ve ever read comes from Economist Deirdre McCloskey. McCloskey doesn’t like the word “capitalism.” She likes to call our economic system a “technological and institutional betterment at a frenetic pace, tested by unforced exchange among all the parties involved” but that’s too long. Instead, we can use another term she coined, “trade-tested progress.”

Below I post her argument in quotes. If you disagree, provide a better model with an equally compelling mix of evidence, but please don’t go into a tired and fruitless rant about Socialism or any similar construct that has failed miserably over and over throughout history.

“Perhaps you yourself still believe in nationalism or socialism or proliferating regulation. And perhaps you are in the grip of pessimism about growth or consumerism or the environment or inequality.

Please, for the good of the wretched of the earth, reconsider.

Many humans, in short, are now stunningly better off than their ancestors were in 1800. … Hear again that last, crucial, astonishing fact, discovered by economic historians over the past few decades. It is: in the two centuries after 1800 the trade-tested goods and services available to the average person in Sweden or Taiwan rose by a factor of 30 or 100. Not 100 percent, understand — a mere doubling — but in its highest estimate a factor of 100, nearly 10,000 percent, and at least a factor of 30, or 2,900 percent. The Great Enrichment of the past two centuries has dwarfed any of the previous and temporary enrichments. Explaining it is the central scientific task of economics and economic history, and it matters for any other sort of social science or recent history.

What explains it? The causes were not (to pick from the apparently inexhaustible list of materialist factors promoted by this or that economist or economic historian) coal, thrift, transport, high male wages, low female and child wages, surplus value, human capital, geography, railways, institutions, infrastructure, nationalism, the quickening of commerce, the late medieval run-up, Renaissance individualism, the First Divergence, the Black Death, American silver, the original accumulation of capital, piracy, empire, eugenic improvement, the mathematization of celestial mechanics, technical education, or a perfection of property rights. Such conditions had been routine in a dozen of the leading organized societies of Eurasia, from ancient Egypt and China down to Tokugawa Japan and the Ottoman Empire, and not unknown in Meso-America and the Andes. Routines cannot account for the strangest secular event in human history, which began with bourgeois dignity in Holland after 1600, gathered up its tools for betterment in England after 1700, and burst on northwestern Europe and then the world after 1800.

The modern world was made by a slow-motion revolution in ethical convictions about virtues and vices, in particular by a much higher level than in earlier times of toleration for trade-tested progress — letting people make mutually advantageous deals, and even admiring them for doing so, and especially admiring them when SteveJobs-like, they imagine betterments. The change, the Bourgeois Revaluation, was the coming of a business-respecting civilization, an acceptance of the Bourgeois Deal: “Let me make money in the first act, and by the third act I will make you all rich.”

Much of the elite, and then also much of the non-elite of northwestern Europe and its offshoots, came to accept or even admire the values of trade and betterment. Or at the least the polity did not attempt to block such values, as it had done energetically in earlier times. Especially it did not do so in the new United States. Then likewise, the elites and then the common people in more of the world followed, including now, startlingly, China and India. They undertook to respect — or at least not to utterly despise and overtax and stupidly regulate — the bourgeoisie.

Why, then, the Bourgeois Revaluation that after made for trade-tested betterment, the Great Enrichment? The answer is the surprising, black-swan luck of northwestern Europe’s reaction to the turmoil of the early modern — the coincidence in northwestern Europe of successful Reading, Reformation, Revolt, and Revolution: “the Four Rs,” if you please. The dice were rolled by Gutenberg, Luther, Willem van Oranje, and Oliver Cromwell. By a lucky chance for England their payoffs were deposited in that formerly inconsequential nation in a pile late in the seventeenth century. None of the Four Rs had deep English or European causes. All could have rolled the other way. They were bizarre and unpredictable. In 1400 or even in 1600 a canny observer would have bet on an industrial revolution and a great enrichment — if she could have imagined such freakish events — in technologically advanced China, or in the vigorous Ottoman Empire. Not in backward, quarrelsome Europe.

A result of Reading, Reformation, Revolt, and Revolution was a fifth R, a crucial Revaluation of the bourgeoisie, first in Holland and then in Britain. The Revaluation was part of an R-caused, egalitarian reappraisal of ordinary people. … The cause of the bourgeois betterments, that is, was an economic liberation and a sociological dignifying of, say, a barber and wig-maker of Bolton, son of a tailor, messing about with spinning machines, who died in 1792 as Sir Richard Arkwright, possessed of one of the largest bourgeois fortunes in England. The Industrial Revolution and especially the Great Enrichment came from liberating commoners from compelled service to a hereditary elite, such as the noble lord in the castle, or compelled obedience to a state functionary, such as the economic planner in the city hall. And it came from according honor to the formerly despised of Bolton — or of Ōsaka, or of Lake Wobegon — commoners exercising their liberty to relocate a factory or invent airbrakes.”

Don’t let the current version of capitalism where business and industry leaders have become common bed-partners with politicians and government bureaucrats creating a crony-infested mutation, sour you on the concept. Seek to understand it in its purest form and work to move it back to what made it the most productive and beneficial economic system the world has ever seen.

Freedom, liberty, trade, and betterment for all.

Hence the fruits of capitalism are sweet indeed.

 

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Written by DCL

September 5, 2018 at 4:54 pm

Posted in Good News, News, Politics

Tagged with ,

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