If you were to listen only to Sen. Bernie Sanders or Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, you would think that capitalism is a particularly malicious system of economics, based solely upon greed, and responsible for all of our society’s ills. Despite the stark contrast between the quality of life of those living under free market capitalist or government-controlled socialist economies, the latter system is growing in popularity among many Americans. Given that so many people are now experiencing a standard of living deemed unimaginable just decades ago, why are they so dissatisfied with the economic system through which such historic gains were achieved?
Shortly after leaving the military, it was a college English literature class which provided me with some insight into why so many of our youth are rejecting free markets in favor of socialism. Just 4 weeks into the class, students were asked to read the Communist Manifesto. You’re certainly not alone if you’re surprised that the work of a German communist was required reading in an English literature class.
The following week, the professor began the class with the question, “So, what do you think of Capitalism?” Remembering that this was the only book on the reading list which featured any form of economic analysis, it was unsurprising that one student raised his hand and stated that he felt “Capitalism is what is destroying this country.” When I asked him whether he could define capitalism, the student responded, saying “Capitalism is a rigid based class system where the people at the top hoard resources.” Pointing out that this was Marx’s caricature of capitalism, I asked for the actual definition of capitalism.
Intervening, the professor asked me to define it, to which my response was simply “Capitalism is the private ownership of the means of production and distribution, through a system of voluntary exchange.” After we agreed on the objective definition of capitalism, the other student quickly pivoted, exclaiming “I’m not saying I’m a communist. I just think the truth is somewhere in the middle.”
What this anecdote showed was how the simple act of accurately defining capitalism completely altered the conversation, with capitalism no longer being the single driving force behind the supposed “destruction” of the country. What would have happened had we accepted Marx’s false definition?
Let’s push one step further and question whether “the truth is somewhere in the middle.” In simple terms, communism aims to enforce public ownership of the means of production through a system of central planning. Private property is abolished, and the government determines who owns what and under what conditions any form of exchange can take place. Conversely, capitalism respects and encourages private property, with exchanges only taking place by mutual agreement and — ideally — to mutual benefit.
So, if the truth is “somewhere in the middle,” what part of private ownership and free exchange should be sacrificed to the government? Which voluntary transactions should be made involuntary? Is it surprising that, given the actual definitions of capitalism and communism, many actually prefer the incentive structure which they previously blame for “destroying the country?”
Those who value the unique free market benefits of capitalism, and want to see them continue, must apply the lessons learned from this English literature class and engage in this debate. This doesn’t just mean defining these ideologies, but demonstrating that the argument in favor of capitalism over communism is not just an economic argument but a moral argument.
Firstly, the benefits of capitalism are entirely moral. Even a cursory look at resources such as the Index of Economic Freedom and the Economic Freedom of the World index will demonstrate that free market and capitalist societies, not centrally planned communist ones, experience greater wealth, health, upward economic mobility, upward social mobility, human rights, political rights, and equality.
Not only do its side effects provide an undeniable moral good, the very foundation of capitalism is rooted in the understanding and protection of human rights. Capitalism doesn’t produce optimal results through exploitation or oppression, but through the recognition of our basic human desire to direct our own lives, and by providing an incentive structure that promotes cooperation. History has shown that trading such an effective and moral incentive structure for one that places a centralized authority in charge of deciding who gets what is not “progressive”. It is disastrous.
For much of human history, the vast majority of people lived in poverty, limited by various legal structures and economic theories. Whether it be the conquest ethic, feudalism, or oligarchy, these systems protected an elite few who had the authority to manage society and the economy in any way they saw fit. Socialism was presented as a response to centuries of such injustice, but ultimately surpassed them by adding to the world’s poverty, violence, and oppression.
In comparison, in just 300 years, the expansion of capitalism and the theory of free market economies has provided the greatest and most effective path out of poverty the world has ever seen. Such success was only possible because we realized that we can achieve far more through individual freedom and voluntary cooperation than we ever could through force or control.
Capitalism is a moral system, and therefore, a system worth defending.
Nick Freitas is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates and a Green Beret combat veteran.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
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