Tibor R. Machan
There is, of course, the idea Marx made prominent that no one ought to
benefit from another’s need. So doctors and nurses and actually nearly
everyone who is working for another who has a need for this work should
just doing pro bono, out of the goodness of his or her heart. As all of
one’s clients and customers were one’s bosom buddies or one’s family. We
should just share our resources, our time, in the end ourselves with the
rest of humanity! That’s the ideal against which free market capitalism,
the arena of the deal, is being compared. No wonder it comes up short.
Anything would when compared with such a fantasy.
But there is another thing the matter with capitalism or what may come
close to it here and there in the world. This is another thing that’s
held against the system, namely, that lots of people like to obtain loads
of stuff that gets produced in it. Yes, consumerism is this supposed
evil, the thing the Pope recently complained about.
Now no doubt sometime people who are working hard or just got lucky like
to spend their money on lots of stuff, on vacations, and fine dining and
the like. The more the merrier, for some, it would seem, and refined
folks just won’t have any of that. Instead of finding this quaint and
understandable, consider that all these consumers come from families with
histories of poverty and bare subsistence—so a bit of indulgence could be
entirely forgivable (not to mention useful in creating millions of jobs).
The snooty ones, however, want everyone to purchase only articles that
come from museums and galleries. They deride those of us who just want to
have some goodies that our parents and grandparents never had the choice
to get. And for such accesses we are denounced as hedonists and
materialists! Oh, give me a break.
No doubt some of the exuberant acquisition that goes on in free markets
may look a bit over the top, even tacky. But why make such a big deal
about it? It doesn’t hurt anyone when people go shopping—they are
creating jobs, too, not just satisfying their wants and desires (as if
there were something wrong with that). There is little else people do with
strangers that comes as close to realistic good relations as what goes on
in free markets, even as people make deals and money off each other. When
people lash out at consumerism I get to thinking they haven’t got much of
a life and need to meddle too much in others’ affairs. A friend ascribes
nearly all of it to sheer envy but I suspect that the legacy of Puritanism
has more to do with it. You know puritans, whom H. L. Mencken accused of
being worried that someplace someone might just be happy and we cannot
have such a thing happen!
It is rue that in substantially liberal—classical not modern
liberal—societies men and women have the opportunity to be self-indulgent
to a fault. Such is it with freedom—a great variety of human tendencies
are given vent in free systems. But so long as the normal state of affairs
involves peaceful interaction among people, even this bit of
self-indulgence will be contained and have few negative externalities.
Moreover, with a little help from one’s family, friends and neighbors,
these can be reigned in.
Compare these awful liabilities of substantially capitalist systems with
those of socialism or fascism or communism. Now there are experiments
that take their toll on human societies big time. Concentration camps,
gulags, oppression, madness and such are routine when those dreams get
tried for real. All these attempts to coercively regiment human beings,
to force them to be good, noble, generous, valiant and the like may look
good on paper and in Hollywood movies but wherever they are seriously
implemented they produced disaster, misery, poverty and acrimony.
I bet all of us would be better of in a country where freedom is the
default position and on one gets to impose a one-size-fits-all approach on
the lives of the population. Sure, there will still be human failings
about. Yes, perfection will not descend upon us all. No, the critics will
not have exhausted their list of beefs with their fellow human beings.
But a free society is head and shoulders superior to any of the utopian
dreams the critics of capitalism invoke when they decry that system.