Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Anti-Capitalism Attacks the Poor

Capitalism efficiently delivers goods and services, but it is not a perfect system—far from it. To be sure, capitalism has costs of various kinds. It is a key insight of modern economics, however, that all solutions to a given problem have costs, and we delude ourselves if we think we can find a perfect (in the sense of costless) solution. Despite its costs, capitalism has raised up from poverty hundreds of millions of human beings, fed, housed, and clothed them vastly better than their ancestors, lengthened their lives and preserved them from disease—and all in ways that people living in early ages could not possibly have imagined. When people respond to the financial incentives capitalism creates, they often are not doing much to improve their souls, but the capitalist system has done more—much more—to improve the material conditions of mankind than all the corporal works of mercy performed by all the Christian saints throughout the ages. For this reason a foundational attack on capitalism is an attack on the material well-being of the human race and especially an attack on the poor, who have been most helped by capitalism. (emphasis mine)
There is of course, a differences between a Christian critique of the dangers and abuse of the capitalism by the practicers of capitalism and a critique/rejection of capitalism. There is also a difference between capitalism and crony capitalism.

Furthermore, as the article later points out one say "that capitalism is the cause of greed, for greed is a universal human failing known in all cultures." 

One common fallacy in critiquing capitalism is labeling it as materialism or even consumerism. These things are not equivocal. We cannot assume that capitalism teaches that the end of life is acquiring more and more possessions. That may be the object of materialism but not necessarily capitalism. This would be a category error.


So what does MacIntyre mean when he says capitalism teaches that success in life means acquiring more and more possessions? Clearly, even in capitalist societies, almost no one actually says such things, and most people sincerely believe the opposite. MacIntyre thus seems to mean that, regardless of what people say or even believe, capitalism presupposes such a view. In fact, however, capitalism implies nothing about the end of human life. Capitalism is a system of legal rules, most of them concerning private property, the enforceability of contracts, and minimal governmental intervention into economic transactions, and it is manifestly compatible with a great many views about what the final end for man may be.
Capitalism does, indeed, facilitate the accumulation of wealth, and so someone believing man’s life consists in the abundance of his possessions would favor a capitalist system. That does not mean, however, that capitalism presupposes such a view or even encourages it. For example, suppose (as I believe is correct) that human beings, as rational creatures, are individually responsible for ascertaining the true final end of human life and for ordering their actions to this end. In this case a capitalist system may seem appealing because it guarantees human beings freedom to order their lives as they judge best. The philosophical justification for capitalism is not pleonexia [the Greek idea of the drive for more and more], but freedom.
It is true that someone who pursues wealth in a capitalist system is more likely to be richly rewarded and that we do indeed have a culture that praises greed and acquisition. This can causes greed to grow as people get exactly what they want--and they can often use this is indulge vice rather than virtue. But these problems stem not from the system as the system but the sin indwelling the heart of the players in the system. However, those who think we can control greed by using economic formulations other than capitalism offer what is another form of legalism: controlling the heart through external means. Capitalism will thrive where there are truly just laws but just laws cannot eliminate greed. Even the most heavily or over-regulated forms of interventionist policies will in the end only end up channeling greed.

Ironically, even the greediest practitioner of capitalism can bring about by his actions the unintended consequence of raising the poor from poverty. He can provide goods, services and jobs which can serve to cause human flourishing all the while his goal is to get rich. God will judge such greed but in this present evil age we should not be naive about the positive benefits of capitalism for human flourishing and extending human life.

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