2012-11-28

Good Arguments For Capitalism - And Who Cares?

There are plenty of good arguments for why an unfettered market is better than a fettered one.

For one thing, in nearly every market that I know of, an unfettered market will produce more output for less input. That's an unequivocal win for everyone because (a) we can all have more of everything, no matter our income, and (b) we waste fewer resources in the process.

Opponents of free markets typically point to "workers" as sufferers in this process. "Workers" might lose, if they end up with lower wages for the sake of everyone else's plenty. This argument falls short because it ignores (a) above. Another way to look at it is this: If I can pay you $1 less while substantially reducing the price you have to pay to buy what I'm producing, then what do you care? Whether you get $1 more for working or have to pay $1 less for living, what is the difference? The difference is nominal-only.

Another good argument for unfettered markets is that they are more just in the sense that all people face exactly the same set of rules, no matter their incomes. We treat poor people exactly like we treat rich people.

Opponents of free markets sometimes argue that being rich entitles you to more of everything because you have the ability to pay for things that poor people cannot buy. This is true inasmuch as having more of anything enables a person to enjoy more of that thing's unique benefits. A person with a greater ability to play basketball has the ability to play professional basketball. Is that an injustice? (Serious question.)

But there is a problem with all these great arguments for capitalism: They all assume that the person hearing them actually looks at the universe that way.

Having more of everything at a lower cost is only a good thing if you desire more or have no problem with the insatiable desires of others. If you feel that society in general desires too much and produces too much and consumes too much, then my first good argument for capitalism is not much of an argument for anything other than greed.

Treating all people equally under the law is only "justice" if it is consistent with one's personal definition of justice. If you feel that the weakest members of society deserve uniquely protective treatment under the law in order to prevent them from falling victim to the rest of us, then my second good argument for capitalism is not much of an argument for anything other than leaving the weak at the mercy of the powerful.

As long as someone is inclined to believe that society produces too much and ignores or exploits the weak too greatly, then there is no reason to believe in capitalism at all. No matter how well we provide for each other, we will only be increasing our consumption to ever-more-shameful levels; no matter how much legal equality we achieve, we will only be throwing the weak to the wolves.

The underlying philosophy of capitalism's critics is Polylogism. So long as a person believes that more is bad and that reality shape-shifts according to personal income, then there is no hope of convincing that person that capitalism is anything other than a quaint 18th Century ideal.

So why debate it?