The rise of self-described “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders is just one symptom of America’s growing frustration with capitalism. Capitalists often are depicted as the villains in popular media, targeted in classrooms, and are generally the favorite punching bags of politicians. Further, critics frequently blame capitalism for the 2008 economic crisis, domestic issues like the rising cost of healthcare in the U.S., and any number of the world’s other ills.
Of course, what they’re criticizing isn’t really capitalism proper. For instance, financial markets were heavily regulated in 2007, and the healthcare industry was no stranger to Obamacare-like mandates before President Obama came along. Rather, for the last century, we’ve had what economists call a “mixed economy”—a sort of half-hearted capitalism, and nothing at all like the system that Ayn Rand referred to as “full, pure, uncontrolled, unregulated laissez-faire capitalism—with a separation of state and economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church.”
That’s the system I proudly support. And it’s not too hard to see why.
Indeed, when you look at some fairly uncontroversial facts, it is clear that even relatively free markets foster considerably higher standards of living. In the U.S., for instance, GDP per capita grew from $1,287 in 1820 to $54,629.5 in 2014, life expectancy grew from just under 40 in 1850 to just under 80 today, and population has grown from 5,308,483 in 1800 to almost 320 million in 2014. The relative freedom we’ve historically had in the U.S. has allowed innovators to invent new medicines, mediums of communication, and new ways to extract energy to power day-to-day life.
Even on an international level, there’s a high correlation between wealth and free markets. The Heritage Foundation’s 2016 Index of Economic Freedom charts and ranks nearly every country in the world by how free their economies are. Wealthier countries—such as Hong Kong, Australia, Canada, the U.S., and some countries in Western Europe—generally rank at the top, while poorer countries—such as Senegal, Haiti, and Greece—fall towards the bottom. The success of capitalism is obviously a complicated subject to study, but on a big-picture scale, free markets work enormously well.
So why the attacks? It seems that most people don’t understand that capitalism is actually a profoundly moral system.
Capitalism is the only system that sanctions a person’s right to pursue his life and happiness free from coercion. Humans must reason if we are to come up with answers on how to live a good life. And it’s only in a state of freedom—to discover, collaborate on a voluntary basis with like-minded people, and trade with others to mutual benefit—that we’re able to carve out good, worthwhile lives. But force—whether at the hands of thieves or government—deprives men of that freedom. A proper government respects our rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness, so that each of us has the freedom needed to forge that meaningful life for ourselves.
Government in a truly capitalist society is devoted to protecting individual rights through a police force, objective courts, and an able military. Importantly, a laissez-faire government is not one that hops into bed with crony businesses (what John Stossel calls “crapitalism”). Nor does it give any sort of handouts, subsidies, loopholes, or favors to businesses or special groups, for any reason whatsoever (“the greater good,” “need,” “social justice,” etc.). Rather, it recognizes the sanctity of rights-bearing individuals, and that it would be wrong to sacrifice one individual to any other individual or group. Capitalism leaves people free to innovate, create, and pursue the goals they deem worthwhile.
Some people would argue that being pro-capitalist is an “extremist” position. I’m not really sure what that means, although I agree it’s a radical one. But just because it’s radical doesn’t mean it can’t be good. Capitalism has elevated billions of people out of poverty. It has raised global living standards and given rise to a menagerie of life-improving innovations. And it protects our rights so that we can pursue happy, meaningful lives.
As Barry Goldwater once said, “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” Well, capitalism is the system of genuine freedom. It’s the most profoundly just and benevolent system in human history. I’m proud to support it, and would strongly urge my fellow students to do so too.
This article was originally published on the blog of The Undercurrent as part of their #CapitalistAndProud campaign.