As politicians today assert, so loudly and sanctimoniously, that things like food, housing, health care, jobs, childcare, a cleaner-safer environment, transportation, schooling, utilities, and even college should be “free,” or publicly subsidized, almost no one asks why such claims are valid. Are they to be accepted blindly on faith or affirmed by mere intuition (feeling)? It doesn’t sound scientific. Shouldn’t all crucial claims pass tests of logic and evidence?
Typically, a freebie claim receives conditional praise: “it sure sounds good, but it’s probably too costly.” My guess is that freebie proposers like hearing that compliment, which also makes them inclined to offer still further freebies. As for cost warnings, my guess also is that freebie proposers like hearing how others will work on the accounting and locate the necessary funding, especially as it’s already been shown that democratic governments can, almost without limit, tax, borrow, print money, mandate private spending, or nationalize industries. Do these measures harm prosperity? Yes, but that’s of no concern to the freebie promisers.
Why do freebie claims “sound good” to so many people? They don’t sound very good to me. Why not? Because they sound mean, even heartless. Why? Because they’re illiberal, hence fundamentally inhumane. I hope I’m not alone in recognizing that promised freebies are not gifts of nature or manna from heaven, but things produced by actual living human beings who choose to employ their minds and bodies. Who owns the products and services of these minds and bodies? Who should determine whether and how goods or services should be created, exchanged, invested, consumed or bequeathed? Indeed, who owns these minds and bodies?
An increasingly popular motto today is “my body, my choice.” Good motto. How about, also, “my mind, my choice?” “My business, my choice?” My money, my choice?” Why not promote a freedom to choose and act in all aspects of our precious lives, not only in just a few aspects?
To claim that health care is “a basic human right” and should be “free,” is akin to claiming that health care consumers have a “right” to compel health care producers to supply. Is it not obvious that this violates the rights and liberties of health care producers? How, in logic (or in morals) can one claim to have “a right to violate rights?” Do not doctors, nurses, hospitals, drug companies, and medical instrument makers have rights? The principle doesn’t differ, of course, if the exchange is funded by resources forcibly seized from unrelated parties. Nor is the principle inapplicable merely because those who seize are elected by democratic majority. There seems nothing “just” about a society of third parties made to pay for things they don’t get, so that others may get something for nothing. Yet the policy is deemed “socially just.”
Likewise, to claim a college degree is “a basic human right” that should be “free” is akin to claiming consumers of higher education have a “right” to compel its producers to supply it. Doesn’t that violate the rights of college professors and administrators? Are they not to be paid for the value they provide? What aspect of their character or work uniquely fits them to professional servitude, or worse, to abject dependence on the good graces of state officials? Again, the illogic of “a right to violate rights” isn’t altered by making third parties pay the bill.
Imagine cotton is also “a basic human right” to be provided “free.” Cotton-makers are deprived of liberty and the fruits of their own labor. It was a belief implicit in the minds of plantation-slave owners in the American South in the 19th century. It too is a vile belief.
In a free, capitalist system of constitutional government there is to be equal justice under law, not discriminatory legal treatment; there’s no justification for privileging one group over another, including consumers over producers (or vice versa). Every individual (or association) must be free to choose and act, without resorting to mooching or looting. The freebies approach to political campaigning and policymaking brazenly panders to mooching and, by expanding the size, scope, and power of government, also institutionalizes looting.
As politicians contemplate (and effectuate) policies moving us away from capitalism towards more socialism, perhaps it’s no surprise that we also see pervasive, unabashed freebie promising. Don’t forget that socialism means public (state) ownership of the means of production – means that include land, labor and capital. State ownership and control of labor and of its fruits isn’t far removed from ownership of laborers per se – i.e., of people. The ownership of humans by humans is worse than “illiberal” or inhumane; it’s the very definition of slavery. The socialist case is buttressed by its principle of distribution (from Karl Marx, in Critique of the Gotha Program, 1875), that folks in the collective must contribute to the sum of resources “according to ability” while taking out of the same sum “according to need,” a morally dubious and economically unsustainable formula that severs pay from productivity while causing ever-more poverty, neediness, and victimhood, both real and imagined.
In the 1940s, Princeton public finance professor Harley Lutz first wrote that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch,” an adage used subsequently and often by free-market economists. It captures the common sense of the matter, but not quite its morality. Yes, lunches must be produced, before they can be consumed or distributed – confirming Say’s law of markets, contra the Keynesians – but who should decide matters of consumption and distribution?
According to J.B. Say, the producer, by rights, is to decide what’s to be done with his product (A Treatise on Political Economy, 1803); J.S. Mill, in contrast, said that while the laws of production are scientific and economic, those of distribution and consumption are arbitrary and political (Principles of Political Economy, 1848). Producers will always work, he said, but otherwise should be mute as to what’s done with their product. Marx agreed. No wonder then that Say remained a pro-capitalist his entire life, while Mill veered off into socialism.
Political leaders should respect both productive prowess and producers’ rights. Just as lunch eaters should be left free to pay for lunch, so the lunch makers should be free to produce and exchange as they wish, and even gift a lunch, out of charity or philanthropy. Instead, many political leaders today openly pander to the free-riding, “something-for-nothing,” mooching mentality. It’s illiberal, undignified, and unworthy of an advanced, constitutional society.
It’s possible, of course, that the freebie promisers are mistaken only because they’re myopic, or because they don’t know basic economics. If so, they could read Economics in One Lesson (1946) by Henry Hazlitt, who spelled out “the difference between good economics and bad,” as follows: “The bad economist sees only what immediately strikes the eye; the good economist also looks beyond. The bad economist sees only the direct consequences of a proposed course; the good economist looks also at the longer and indirect consequences. The bad economist sees only what the effect of a given policy has been or will be on one particular group; the good economist inquires also what the effect of the policy will be on all groups.”
If today’s politicians knew at least what Hazlitt knew, it might deter them from being so shortsighted, but would it dissuade them from being freebie promisers? The problem goes much deeper than economics, because the freebie promisers, while catering to those in need, mistakenly believe they occupy the moral high ground; in truth, they cater with food they didn’t produce and the worst of the many costs they impose on us is that of lost liberty.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published in Free Things and Unfree People | AIER and has been reposted with permission.
Dr. Richard M. Salsman is an assistant research professor of political economy at Duke University, founder and president of InterMarket Forecasting, Inc., a senior fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research, and senior scholar at The Atlas Society. In the 1980s and 1990s he was a banker at the Bank of New York and Citibank and an economist at Wainwright Economics, Inc. Dr. Salsman has authored five books: Breaking the Banks: Central Banking Problems and Free Banking Solutions (1990), The Collapse of Deposit Insurance and the Case for Abolition (1993), Gold and Liberty (1995), The Political Economy of Public Debt: Three Centuries of Theory and Evidence (2017), and Where Have all the Capitalists Gone?: Essays in Moral Political Economy (2021). He is also author of a dozen chapters and scores of articles. His work has appeared in the Georgetown Journal of Law and Public Policy, Reason Papers, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Sun, Forbes, the Economist, the Financial Post, the Intellectual Activist, and The Objective Standard. He speaks frequently before pro-liberty student groups, including Students for Liberty (SFL), Young Americans for Liberty(YAL), Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), and the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE).
Dr. Salsman earned his B.A. in law and economics from Bowdoin College (1981), his M.A. in economics from New York University (1988), and his Ph.D. in political economy from Duke University (2012). His personal website can be found at https://richardsalsman.com/.
For The Atlas Society, Dr. Salsman hosts a monthly Morals & Markets webinar, exploring the intersections between ethics, politics, economics, and markets. You can also find excerpts from Salsman's Instagram Takeovers HERE that can be found on our Instagram each month!
Rent Selling Countries are More Corrupt and Less Wealthy -- AIER, May 13, 2022
In the field of political economy in recent decades an important and valuable emphasis has been placed on “rent seeking,” defined as pressure groups lobbying for (and getting) special favors (bestowed on themselves) and disfavors (imposed on their rivals or enemies). But rent seeking is only the demand side of political favoritism; the less-emphasized supply side – call it rent selling– is the real instigator. Only states have the power to create zero-sum political favors, disfavors, and cronies. Cronyism isn’t a brand of capitalism, but a symptom of hybrid systems; interventionist states that heavily influence socioeconomic results actively invite lobbying by those who are most affected and can most afford it (the rich and powerful). But the root problem of favoritism isn’t one of demanders who bribe, but of suppliers who extort. ‘Crony capitalism’ is a blatant contradiction, a ruse to blame capitalism for the results of anti-capitalist policies.
NATO Expansion as an Instigator of the Russia-Ukraine War -- Clubhouse, March 16, 2022
In this 90-minute audio interview, with audience Q&A, Dr. Salsman discusses 1) why national self-interest should guide US foreign policy (but doesn’t), 2) why NATO’s decades-long expansion eastward toward Russia’s border (and hints it might add Ukraine) has fueled Russia-Ukraine conflicts, and the current war, 3) how Reagan-Bush heroically (and peacefully) won the Cold War, 4) how/why Democrat presidents in this century (Clinton, Obama, Biden) have refused to cultivate post-Cold War peace, have been pushers of NATO, have been unjustifiably belligerent towards Russia, and have undermined U.S. national strength and security, 5) why Ukraine is unfree and corrupt, is not a genuine U.S. ally (or NATO member), is not relevant to U.S. national security, and is undeserving of official U.S. support of any kind, and 6) why today’s bipartisan, near-ubiquitous support for a wider war, promoted heavily by the MMIC (military-media-industrial-complex), is both reckless and ominous.
Ukraine: The Facts Don’t Excuse Putin, But They Do Condemn NATO -- The Capitalist Standard, March 14, 2022
You needn’t excuse or endorse Putin’s brutish pugilism to recognize plain facts and reasonable strategic concerns: to acknowledge that NATO, the American warmongers, and Russo-phobes made much of this conflict possible. They’ve also instigated a Russia-China alliance, first economic, now potentially military. “Make the world democratic” is their battle cry, regardless of whether locals want it, or whether it brings liberty (rarely); or whether it topples authoritarians and stages a fair vote. What mostly happens, post-toppling, is chaos, carnage, and cruelty (see Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Pakistan, etc.). It never seems to end because the nation-breakers never learn. NATO has been using Ukraine as a puppet, effectively a client state of NATO (i.e., the U.S.) since 2008. That’s why the Biden crime family is well known for “pulling strings” there. In 2014, NATO even helped foment the coup d’etat of Ukraine’s duly elected pro-Russia president. Putin reasonably prefers Ukraine be a neutral buffer zone; if, as NATO-Biden insists, that’s not possible, Putin would rather simply wreck the place — as he’s doing — than own it, run it, or use it as a westward stage for invasions of other nations.
The Costly but Deliberate U.S. Labor Shortage -- AIER, September 28, 2021
For more than a year, due to Covid-phobia and lockdowns, the U.S. has suffered various types and magnitudes of labor shortages, the case in which the quantity of labor demanded by would-be employers exceeds quantities supplied by would-be employees. This isn’t accidental or temporary. Joblessness has been both mandated (by shutdowns of “nonessential” businesses) and subsidized (with lucrative and extended “jobless benefits”). That makes it difficult for many businesses to attract and hire labor of sufficient quantity, quality, reliability, and affordability. Material or chronic surpluses and shortages reflect not “market failure” but the failure of governments to let markets clear. Why is so much of this unclear even to those who should know better? It’s not because they don’t know basic economics; many are ideologically anti-capitalist, which biases them against employers; channeling Marx, they falsely believe capitalists profit by underpaying workers and over-charging customers.
From Fast Growth to No Growth to De-Growth -- AIER, August 4, 2021
Increasing prosperity over the long term is made possible by sustained economic growth over the short-term; prosperity is the broader concept, entailing not merely more output but a quality of output valued by buyers. Prosperity brings a higher standard of living, in which we enjoy better health, longer lifespans, and greater happiness. Unfortunately, empirical measures in America show that its economic growth rate is decelerating, and it’s not a transitory problem; it’s been happening for decades; Sadly, few leaders recognize the grim trend; few can explain it; some even prefer it. The next step could be a push for “de-growth, ”or successive contractions in economic output. The slow-growth preference was normalized over many years and this can happen also with the de-growth preference. Today’s de-growth acolytes are a minority, but decades ago the slow-growth fans also were a minority.
When Reason is Out, Violence is In -- Capitalism Magazine, January 13, 2021
In the aftermath of the Trump-inspired right-wing assault on the U.S. Capitol last week, each “side” rightly accused the other of hypocrisy, of not “practicing what they preach,” of not “walking the talk.” Last summer left-wingers tried to justify (as “peaceful protest”) their own violence at Portland, Seattle, Minneapolis, and elsewhere, but now denounce right-wing violence at the Capitol. Why is hypocrisy, a vice, now so ubiquitous? Its opposite is the virtue of integrity, which is rare these days because for decades universities have inculcated philosophical pragmatism, a doctrine which does not counsel “practicality” but instead undermines it by insisting that fixed and valid principles are impossible (hence dispensable), that opinion is manipulable. For the pragmatists, “perception is reality” and “reality is negotiable.” In place of reality, they prefer “virtual reality,” instead of justice, “social justice.” They embody all that is fake and phony. All that remains as a guide to action is rank opportunism, expediency, “rules for radicals,” whatever “works” – to win an argument, advance a cause, or enact a law – for now at least (until . . . it fails to work). What explains today’s bi-partisan violence? The absence of reason (and objectivity). There is (literally) no reason for it, but there’s an explanation: when reason is out, persuasion and peaceful assembly-protest also are out. What remains is emotionalism – and violence.
Biden’s Disdain for Shareholders is Fascistic -- The Capitalist Standard, December 16, 2020
What does president-elect Biden think of capitalism? In a speech last July he said, “It’s way past time we put an end to the era of shareholder capitalism – the idea that the only responsibility a corporation has is with shareholders. That’s simply not true. It’s an absolute farce. They have a responsibility to their workers, their community, to their country. That isn’t a new or radical notion.” Yes, it’s not a new notion – that corporations must serve non-owners(including the government). Everyone these days – from the business professor to the journalist to the Wall Streeter to the “man on the street” – seems to favor “stakeholder capitalism.” But it’s also not a radical notion? It’s fascism, plain and simple. Is fascism no longer radical? Is it the “new” norm –albeit borrowed from the 1930s (FDR, Mussolini, Hitler)? In fact, “shareholder capitalism” is redundant, and “stakeholder capitalism” is oxymoronic. The former is genuine capitalism: private ownership (and control) of the means of production (and its output, too). The latter is fascism: private ownership but public control, imposed by non-owners. Socialism, of course, is public (state)ownership and public control of the means of production. Capitalism entails and promotes mutually beneficial contractual responsibility; fascism destroys that, by brutally severing ownership and control.
The Basic Truths of Saysian Economics and Their Contemporary Relevance –- Foundation for Economic Education, July 1, 2020
Jean-Baptiste Say (1767-1832) was a principled defender of the constitutionally limited state, even more consistently so than many of his classically liberal contemporaries. Most known for “Say’s Law,” the first principle of economics, he should be considered one of the most consistent and powerful exponents of capitalism, decades before the word was coined (by its opponents, in the 1850s). I’ve studied quite a lot of political economy over the decades and consider Say’s Treatise on Political Economy (1803) the best work ever published in the field, not only surpassing contemporary works but also those like Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (1776) and Ludwig von Mises’s Human Action: A Treatise on Economics (1949).
Fiscal-Monetary 'Stimulus' is Depressive -- The Hill, May 26, 2020
Many economists believe public spending and money issuance create wealth or purchasing power. Not so. Our only means of obtaining real goods and services is from wealth creation —production. What we spend must come from income, which itself must come from producing. Say’s Law teaches that only supply constitutes demand; we must produce before we demand, spend or consume. Economists typically blame recessions on “market failure” or “deficient aggregate demand,” but recessions are due mainly to government failure; when policies punish profits or production, aggregate supply contracts.
Freedom Is Indivisible, Which Is Why All Types Are Now Eroding -- Capitalism Magazine, April 18, 2020
The point of the principle of indivisibility is to remind us that the various freedoms rise or fall together, even if with various lags, even if some freedom, for a time, seems to be rising as others fall; in whatever direction the freedoms move, eventually they tend to dovetail. The principle that freedom is indivisible reflects the fact that humans are an integration of mind and body, spirit and matter, consciousness and existence; the principle implies that humans must choose to exercise their reason – the faculty unique to them – to grasp reality, live ethically, and flourish as best they can. The principle is embodied in the better-known one that we have individual rights – to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness – and that the sole and proper purpose of government is to be an agent of our right of self-defense, to constitutionally preserve, protect, and defend our rights, not to abridge or nullify them. If a people wants to preserve freedom, they must fight for its preservation in all realms, not just those in which they most live, or most favor – not in one, or some, but not others, and not in one or some at the expense of others.
Tripartite Governance: A Guidepost for Proper Policymaking -- AIER, April 14, 2020
When we hear the term “government” most of us think of politics – of states, regimes, capitols, agencies, bureaucracies, administrations, and politicians. We call them “officials,” presuming they possess a unique, elevated, and authoritative status. But that’s only one type of governance in our lives; the three types are public governance, private governance, and personal governance. Each I best conceived as a sphere of control, but the three must be balanced properly, to optimize the preservation of rights and liberties. The ominous trend of late has been a sustained invasion of personal and private governance spheres by public (political) governance.
Free Things and Unfree People -- AIER, June 30, 2019
Politicians today assert loudly and sanctimoniously that many things – food, housing, health care, jobs, childcare, a cleaner-safer environment, transportation, schooling, utilities, and even college – should be “free,” or publicly subsidized. No one asks why such claims are valid. Are they to be accepted blindly on faith or affirmed by mere intuition (feeling)? It doesn’t sound scientific. Shouldn’t all crucial claims pass tests of logic and evidence? Why do freebie claims “sound good” to so many people? In fact, they’re mean, even heartless, because illiberal, hence fundamentally inhumane. In a free, capitalist system of constitutional government there is to be equal justice under law, not discriminatory legal treatment; there’s no justification for privileging one group over another, including consumers over producers (or vice versa). Every individual (or association) must be free to choose and act, without resorting to mooching or looting. The freebies approach to political campaigning and policymaking brazenly panders to mooching and, by expanding the size, scope, and power of government, also institutionalizes looting.
We Should Celebrate Diversity in Wealth Too -- AIER, December 26, 2018
In most realms of life today, diversity and variety are justifiably celebrated and respected. Differences in athletic and artistic talent, for example, entail not only robust, entertaining competitions, but fanatics (“fans”) who respect, applaud, award, and handsomely compensate the winners (“stars” and “champions”) while also depriving (at least relatively) the losers. Yet the realm of economics — of markets and commerce, business and finance, income and wealth — elicits a near-opposite response, even though it’s not, like sporting matches, a zero-sum game. In the economic realm, we observe differential talents and outcomes unequally compensated (as we should expect), but for many people, diversity and variety in this realm are disdained and envied, with predictable results: a perpetual redistribution of income and wealth by punitive taxation, stiff regulation, and periodic trust-busting. Here winners are more suspected than respected, while losers receive sympathies and subsidies. What accounts for this rather odd anomaly? For the sake of justice, liberty, and prosperity, people should abandon their anti-commercial prejudices and cease deriding unequal wealth and income. They should celebrate and respect diversity in the economic realm at least as muchas they do in the athletic and artistic realms. Human talent comes in a variety of wonderful forms. Let’s not deny or deride any of them.
To Deter Gun Slaughters, the Federal Government Must Cease Disarming the Innocents -- Forbes, August 12, 2012
Gun control-advocates want to blame mass shootings on “too many guns,” but the real problem is far too few guns and too little gun freedom. Restrictions on our Constitution’s 2ndAmendment right to bear arms invite slaughter and mayhem. Gun-controllers have convinced politicians and law enforcement officials that public areas are especially prone to gun violence and have pushed for onerous bans and restrictions on gun use in such areas “gun-free zones”). But they are accessories to such crimes, by encouraging government to ban or restrict our basic civil right to self-defense; they’ve goaded stray crazies into publicly slaughtering people with impunity. Self-defense is a crucial right; it requires gun-toting and full use not only in our homes and on our property but also (and especially) in public. How often do gun-wielding policemen actually prevent or stop violent crime? Almost never. They are not “crime-stoppers” but note-takers who arrive at a scene. Gun sales have jumped in the past month, after the movie theater slaughter, but that didn’t mean those guns could be used in movie theaters – or in many other public venues. The legal prohibition is the real problem – and the injustice must be terminated immediately. The evidence is overwhelming now: no one any longer can claim, in candor, that gun-controllers are “pacific,” “peace-loving,” or “well-meaning,” if they are avowed enemies of a key civil right and abject abettors of evil.
Protectionism as Mutual Masochism -- The Capitalist Standard, July 24, 2018
The logical and moral case for free trade, whether it’s inter-personal, international, or intra-national, is that it’s mutually beneficial. Unless one opposes gain per se or assumes exchange is win-lose (a “zero-sum” game), one should herald trade. Apart from self-sacrificing altruists, no one trades voluntarily unless it benefits oneself. Mr. Trump pledges to “make America great again,” a noble sentiment, but protectionism only hurts rather than helps do that job. Roughly half the parts in Ford’s best-selling trucks are now imported; if Trump has his way, we couldn’t even make Ford trucks, let alone make America great again. To “buy American,” as the nationalists and nativists demand, is to eschew today’s beneficial products while underrating the benefits of yesterday’s globalization of trade and fearing tomorrow’s. Just as America at her best is a “melting pot” of personal backgrounds, identities, and origins, so also products at their best embody a melting pot of globally-sourced labor and resources. Mr. Trump claims to be pro-American but is unrealistically pessimistic about her productive power and competitiveness. Given the benefits of free trade, the best policy any government can adopt is unilateral free trade (with other non-enemy governments), which means: free trade regardless of whether other governments also adopt freer trade.
Best Case for Capitalism -- The Capitalist Standard, October 10, 2017
Today marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of Atlas Shrugged (1957) by Ayn Rand (1905-1982), a best-selling novelist-philosopher who extolled reason, rational self-interest, individualism, capitalism, and Americanism. Few books this old continue to sell as well, even in hardcover, and many investors and CEOs have long praised its theme and insight. In a 1990s survey conducted for the Library of Congress and the Book-of-the-Month Club, respondents named Atlas Shrugged as second only to the Bible as the book that made a big difference in their lives. Socialists understandably reject Rand because she rejects their claim that capitalism is exploitative or prone to collapse; yet conservatives are wary of her because she denies that capitalism counts on religion. Her major contribution is to show that capitalism isn’t only the system that’s economically productive but also the one that’s morally just. It rewards people of honesty, integrity, independence, and productiveness; yet it marginalizes those who choose instead to be less-than-human, and it punishes the vicious and the inhumane. Whether one is pro-capitalist, pro-socialist, or indifferent between the two, this book is worth a read – as are her other works, including The Fountainhead (1943), The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism (1964),and Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (1966).
Trump and GOP Condone Monopoly Medicine -- The Capitalist Standard, July 20, 2017
The GOP and President Trump, having brazenly broken their campaign promises by refusing to “repeal and replace” ObamaCare, now claim they’ll just repeal it and see what happens. Don’t count on that. At root, they don’t really mind ObamaCare and the “single payer” system (government medicine monopoly) to which it leads. Abominable as it is, they accept it philosophically, so they also accept politically. Trump and most Republicans condone the socialist principles latent in ObamaCare. Perhaps they even realize it’ll continue to erode the better aspects of the system and lead to a “single-payer system” (government monopoly on medicine) –which Obama [and Trump] have always said they wanted. Nor do most American voters today seem to object to this monopoly. They might object to it decades from now, when they realize that access to health insurance doesn’t guarantee access to health care (especially not under socialized medicine, which reduces quality, affordability, and access). But by then it’ll be too late to rehabilitate those freer elements that made America medicine so great in the first place.
The Inequality Debate: Senseless Without Consideration of What is Earned -- Forbes, February 1, 2012
Instead of debating the truly monumental questions of our troubled times – namely, What is the proper size and scope of government? (answer: smaller), and Should we have more capitalism or more corporatism? (answer: capitalism) – political media instead are debating the alleged evils of “inequality.” Their shameless envy has run rampant lately, but the focus on inequality is convenient for conservatives and leftists alike. Mr. Obama accepts a false theory of “fairness” that rejects the common-sense, merit-based concept of justice that older Americans might recognize as “desert,” where justice means we deserve (or earn) what we get in life, if by our free choice. Legitimately, there is “distributive justice,” with rewards for good or productive behavior, and “retributive justice,” with punishments for evil or destructive behavior.
Capitalism Isn't Corporatism or Cronyism -- Forbes, December 7, 2011
Capitalism is the greatest socio-economic system in human history, because it’s so moral and so productive– the two features so essential to human survival and flourishing. It’s moral because it enshrines and fosters rationality and self-interest – “enlightened greed,” if you will – the two key virtues we all must consciously adopt and practice if we’re to pursue and attain life and love, health and wealth, adventure and inspiration. It produces not only material-economic abundance but the aesthetic values seen in the arts and entertainment. But what is capitalism, exactly? How do we know it when we see it or have it – or when we haven’t, or don’t? Capitalism’s greatest intellectual champion, Ayn Rand (1905-1982), once defined it as “a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned.” This recognition of genuine rights (not “rights” to force others to get us what we wish) is all-crucial and it has a distinctive moral foundation. In fact, capitalism is the system of rights, liberty, civility, peace and non-sacrificial prosperity; it’s not the system of government that unjustly favors capitalists at others’ expense. It provides a level legal playing field plus officials who serve us as low-profile referees (not arbitrary rule-makers or score-changers). To be sure, capitalism also entails inequality – of ambition, talent, income, or wealth – because that’s how individuals (and firms) really are; they’re unique, not clones or inter-changeable parts, as the egalitarians claim.
Holy Scripture and the Welfare State -- Forbes, April 28, 2011
Many people wonder why Washington seems forever mired in a stalemate about what policies might cure excessive spending, budget deficits and debt. We're told that the root of the problem is "polarized politics," that "extremists" control the debate and preclude solutions that only bipartisan unity can deliver. In fact, on many issues both "sides" wholly agree – on the solid basis of a shared religious faith. In short, not much changes because both sides agree on so much, especially about what it means to "do the right thing" morally. It's not widely reported, but most Democrats and Republicans, whether from the left or right politically, are quite religious, and thus tend to endorse the modern welfare state. Even if not all politicians feel so strongly about this, they suspect (rightly) that voters do so. Thus even minor proposals to restrain government spending elicit accusations that the proponent is callous, heartless, uncharitable, and un-Christian – and the charges ring true to most people because Scripture has long-conditioned them to embrace the welfare state.
Where Have All the Capitalists Gone? -- Forbes, December 5, 2010
After the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) and dissolution of the USSR (1991), almost everyone conceded that capitalism was the historic "victor" over socialism. Yet interventionist policies reflecting largely socialist premises have returned with a vengeance in recent years, while capitalism has been blamed for causing the 2007-2009 financial crisis and global economic recession. What explains this seemingly abrupt shift in the world's estimate of capitalism? After all, apolitical-economic system, whether capitalist or socialist, is a broad and persistent phenomenon that cannot logically be construed as beneficial one decade yet destructive the next. So where have all the capitalists gone? Curiously, a "socialist" today means an advocate for the political-economic system of socialism as a moral ideal, yet a "capitalist" means a Wall Street financier, venture capitalist or entrepreneur – not an advocate of the political-economic system of capitalism as a moral ideal. In truth, capitalism embodies the life-enhancing, wealth-creating ethic of rational self-interest –of egoism, of "greed," if you will – which is perhaps most blatantly manifested in the profit motive. So long as this humane ethic is distrusted or despised, capitalism will suffer unearned blame for any social-economic ill. The collapse of socialist regimes two decades ago didn't mean capitalism was finally being hailed for its many virtues; the historic event only merely reminded people of capitalism's productive ability – an ability already long-proven and long-acknowledged even by its worst enemies. Persistent animosity toward capitalism today rests on moral, not practical grounds. Unless rational self-interest is understood as the one moral code consistent with genuine humanity, and the moral estimate of capitalism thus improves, socialism will keep making comebacks, despite its deep and dark record of human misery.