Free Markets, Free People

Is Capitalism moral?

We spent quite a bit of time discussing this on the podcast yesterday.  It’s from the Washington Post and is written by Steven Pearlstein.

I have some real issues with his characterizations of Capitalism, especially where he tries to use events and problems to imply that Capitalism is less than moral.

I had hoped to write up something, but as happens more frequently here lately, life has intruded. However, a commenter to the WP article summed it up nicely for me:

Free markets don’t regulate my excesses, guarantee equal opportunity or fairly divide the economic pie. Yet Mr. Pearlstein seems to be arguing that if free markets don’t do these moral things, then they’re immoral.

So there’s the central fallacy in the debate as posited by Pearlstein: Your system doesn’t do what I want it to do so it’s bad, even though your system can’t do what I want it to do because that’s not its purpose or design. To illustrate, your religion is bad because it doesn’t promote gay rights like I want even though gay rights is an utterly foreign and inimical idea to your religion, whose purpose and design is to save souls. (This was the essence of CNN’s coverage of the papal conclave.)

See the problem? OK, another try: Free markets don’t make me use less gasoline, guarantee me a nice job in return for getting a degree in Latino Studies, or prevent Donald Trump from getting too rich compared to me. Therefore, free market capitalism is bad, or at least not moral. OK, but free markets don’t and can’t do any of these things, so your standards and measures are irrelevant and thus illogical, see? Why not measure the moral character of free markets by what they do? For example, free markets provide places where people can meet to voluntarily transact business without worrying about getting clobbered or expropriated by government or criminals. What’s immoral about that?

You’ve gotta hand it to the left: They really know how to enshroud a debate in illogic, falsehood and emotion. Take off those pinko-colored glasses, though, and you realize that the debate Pearlstein wants to have is nonsense: Free markets can’t, don’t and won’t do what he wants government to do because free markets are not government. Ergo, the valid and relevant issue is whether we all want government to continue doing all that it’s doing at the price we’re paying for government to do it. And I guarantee you that no one on the left wants to have that debate.

The commenter, Lavaux, does a pretty decent job of nailing the fallacy which Pearlstein and many critics of Capitalism (and many other issues as he demonstrates) suffer under – claiming that it is something other than it is and then attacking that “something”, or, as we usually say, using a strawman argument. Pearlstein, as Lavaux points out, is slashing at those strawmen throughout his piece.

Capitalism has become the “go-to” boogy man on the left.  All sorts of things that have no relevance or aren’t a part of Capitalism are blamed on Capitalism.  Usually, however, if you dig deep enough (sometimes you don’t have to dig at all) you’ll find the hand of intrusive government somewhere in the problem mix.   That immediately takes it from the realm of Capitalism to all sorts of other nether regions which have nothing to do with with it.

But, you know that …. unfortunately, a vast majority of your fellow citizens don’t.

Thus the demonization of Capitalism and the exoneration of government continue apace.


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15 Responses to Is Capitalism moral?

  • Most of the waifs who don’t understand are FINE with capitalism so long as they find their pockets lined by it or their stomachs made full by it, a notable demonstration of this is the waifs involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement.    With little actual clue to the nature of ’cause’ and ‘effect’ they tour life acting as if things like food, housing and their freaking electronic keep in touch gadgets have been manifested by magic and the whims of good spirits (who give them things).  The evil minions of, and the, capitalists spirits are trying to take their ‘things’ away from them or make them cost more (more, as in, you know, when people want the little darlings to actually pay for their OWN things, the nerve!!!!)
    After the Second World War the Cargo Cult appeared in the South Pacific to explain why the Armies of Freedom had so much manifest earthly provisioning, whereas the islanders had so little.  No one from the US at the time would have EVER thought the cult could spread to the U.S, because, well, that was an extremely naive, primitive, child like view of reality.
    However…… their grand children and great grand children are Cargo Cultists of the first water.

    • For those unfamiliar with Cargo Cult – how does this NOT sound like these anti-capitalist twits….
      From the Wiki Cargo Cult entry….
      The primary association in cargo cults is between the divine nature of “cargo” (manufactured goods) and the advanced,non-native behavior, clothing and equipment of the recipients of the “cargo”. Since the modern manufacturing process is unknown to them, members, leaders, and prophets of the cults maintain that the manufactured goods of the non-native culture have been created by spiritual means, such as through their deities and ancestors, and are intended for the local indigenous people, but that the foreigners have unfairly gained control of these objects through malice or mistake. Thus, a characteristic feature of cargo cults is the belief that spiritual agents will, at some future time, give much valuable cargo and desirable manufactured products to the cult members.
      Now replace a few appropriate words in the original with appropriate nouns and….
      The primary association in anti-capitalist cults is between the government derived nature of “cargo” (wealth) and the capitalist  behavior, clothing and equipment of the recipients of the “cargo”.   Since the modern manufacturing process seems unknown to them, members, leaders, and prophets of the cults maintain that the manufactured goods of the capitalist culture have been created by government means, such as through their President, Congressmen and Senators, and are intended for everyone, but that the capitalists have unfairly gained control of these objects through malice or mistake. Thus, a characteristic feature of anti-capitalists is the belief that government agents will, at some future time, give much valuable cargo and desirable manufactured products to the cult members.

    • People (particularly the clueless, “low information” sorts) want to work like socialists, but they want to consume like capitalists.
      Notice how akin this is to very young children.

  • “Is Capitalism moral?”——–YES!

    • Capitalism is neither moral, immoral, not even amoral.
      Capitalism is a framework that allows people in most cases to keep the decisions of how they obtain and exchange goods and money to confined to the people immediately involved in the exchange.  Whether people conduct themselves morally, immorally or amorally within that framework is up to them.  The virtue is that in most cases, those decisions are confined to those immediately involved in the exchange.
      Socialism or Communism places large amounts power in the hands of people who are not immediately involved in that exchange without any consequences to themselves and no compensation to those immediately involved.  Basically Money for nothing is invented alongside undue power both born from acts of thievery.  A formula for a moral future, I’m sure.
      As much as socialism and communism ultimately lead to a bleak immoral path, doesn’t mean capitalism is moral.  Bad things happen in that framework by exploitative individuals.  And the problem is when people claim capitalism is moral, the socialists & communists gleefully point out those bad things and win the argument.  In fact pointing out the bad things is the first step in the socialist indoctrination process because these were often the first time they were brought up to young people.  Giving the socialists an opportunity to control the context of these ‘revelations’ and the socialists come off as the ones telling the ‘truth’.

  • I have always (well, for as long as I remember) made the case that capitalism is THE moral system of all economic systems.
    A true capitalist doesn’t give a fig about your race, creed, sex, or color.  All that is extraneous.  They care about what you can do.
    Capitalism is based on free exchanges, decided by individual people generally, and predicated on criteria they decide.

    • Very true Rags. George Jefferson summed it thusly: ‘That (white) bartender is willing to work for me because if you’ve got enough green in your pocket, then black becomes his favorite color”

  • As long as it complies with “thou shall not steal”, it’s fine.
    Our government doesn’t fair nearly as we’ll.

  • Is it moral? Certainly more moral than Socialism, Communism or Marxism. It’s certainly more moral than the bureaucrats levying a 10% theft on your bank account. Man, I don’t understand how the Cypriots haven’t hung every pol that approved that plan from the lamp posts. If such a thing happened here (and mark my words, they’re thinking about it!) I’d certainly hope that whoever was behind it *along with their media allies* would be running for their lives.
    Oh, excuse my rant! Is it moral? Maybe no economic systems are “moral” in that they leave some people behind. But I take solace in the fact that Capitalism is still the best way to provide for the most, and that it still provides an ample rewards system – get educated, work hard, avoid common pitfalls (drugs, single parenthood etc) and you have a chance at living decently.

    • Yup. They’re thinking about it already. Via Ace….
      And now this: In Connecticut, a “Hoarder’s Tax.” “Rep. Betsy Ritter, a Waterford Democrat, not only has sponsored a “combined reporting” bill, but she has also proposed a hoarder’s tax. This would place a levy on liquid assets – companies with a lot of money in the bank – and dedicate the proceeds to job creation programs.”


  • I had on occasion in usenet to challenge a leftist claim to the immorality of capitalism by claiming to be able prove that capitalism was more moral than other economic systems. They quickly gave up, rather than work through the terms of the argument. They had no answer to “Define moral”, so I never got to the part that other economic systems require theft or slavery.

  • Just point them to Ayn, the queen of logic – armed with nothing more than a pair of tautologies she proves Capitalism is the Only Moral System (lolz).

    • Got something that works better Tommy?

    • Even Rand wasn’t always wrong, though I suspect that Hayek and Rothbard did the same job both better and more thoroughly.
      (If it’s such a lolz, well, it should be easy to show that there’s another moral economic system, or that no economic system can be moral.
      I’ll stick with the Austrians and assert that the free market (what is called “capitalism” in the words of the Marxists) is moral, in that it contains no inherent immoral factor – and that it’s difficult to see how you increase that moral factor by taking away the voluntarist factor inherent in the freedom of the market.
      But, again – if it’s laughable to suggest that “capitalism is the only moral system”, a counter-example should be trivial to provide, yes?)