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If you’re like me, as a libertarian you find yourself arguing with just about everyone.
The mainstream left, the radical left, the neocons — just for starters.
(I also find myself agreeing and even cooperating with unlikely folks from time to time — another fun feature of being a libertarian.)
When it comes to economics, it’s easy to overlook that there are plenty of opponents of capitalism on the traditionalist right wing, particularly among (but not limited to) traditional Catholics.
My book The Church and the Market, now in a tenth-anniversary edition — and which is like an intermediate book between Economics in One Lesson and Human Action, but which makes both economic and moral arguments for capitalism — grew out of debates with these folks.
Now to be sure I’ve encountered some such critics of capitalism who are decent people — like Tony Esolen, the celebrated translator of Dante’s Divine Comedy — and with whom I am able to have an honorable disagreement.
In general, though, exchanges on this topic have been nasty over the years.
Exhibit A, from just yesterday:
“An unrestrained capitalist system is predicated upon a fundamentally materialistic metaphysics, and a materialist metaphysics produces a hedonist ethics.”
For the hundredth time: no, it isn’t.
An “unrestrained capitalist system” simply means: exchanges must be voluntarily agreed to by both parties.
It means nothing more than this.
It does not mean: accumulate for its own sake. It does not mean: devote your life to chasing after the latest gadgets. It does mean: do not use other people as means to your ends.
The wealth that capitalism has created for everyone — yes, everyone: the standard of living of the poorest in market societies has exploded over the past 200 years — is precisely what liberates people to pursue non-materialist goals.
When you’re one bad harvest away from starvation, you’re not really in the mood to join a book club, or take up an interest in Bach’s cantatas, or study the Impressionists. But when your basic needs are taken care of, as they overwhelmingly are under capitalism (again, the statistics are everywhere), you are liberated to pursue the higher things.
If you’d like to see what people who are truly obsessed with material things are like, seek out histories of the socialist states of yore. Those deprived people, who had to struggle just to survive, had no choice but to be focused on what paltry goods they could acquire.
Not to mention: these very critics themselves complain that the poor do not have enough under capitalism. Enough what, exactly? Enough…I don’t know…material goods? People who favor government intervention into the labor market believe that the material well-being of workers would thereby be improved. So if I am “materialistic” for supporting capitalism then so are they, and now where has this silly name-calling gotten us?
And even if, just for the sake of argument, we accepted critics’ insistence that the rights of property are not absolute and must sometimes be curtailed, it would not follow that it is the state rather than the individual conscience that must do the curtailing.
State power to aggress against property owners inevitably encourages man’s most predatory instincts, giving him an incentive to devote less time to satisfying the needs of his fellow men and more time to using the state’s machinery of coercion to loot them for his own selfish benefit. To put this in language more familiar to our critics, the release of such instincts undermines the common good.
So that’s that.
I relish debate and discussion, but when you feel like people on all sides are coming after you and what you stand for, it can get tiring, even discouraging.
My secret group, full of smart people who agree with you, and yet who will challenge and teach you.
If that appeals to you, and you appreciate what I’m doing, I’ll see you in there: http://www.SupportingListeners.com