Capitalism, if you believe in the power of capitalism, provides a ready-made framework for judging capitalism: the marketplace of ideas. How well has capitalism been meeting the demand of the idea-consuming public? Not so well, according to the former bank CEO John Allison, writing in the National Review.
The problem, Allison wrote, is that in the course of America’s “century-long shift toward socialism,” the defenders of capitalism have fallen back to simply arguing that non-capitalist policies are too expensive:
By merely citing the financial or economic challenges of implementing them, conservatives cede the moral high ground and tacitly accept the Left’s premises.
To win the battle of ideas, conservatives must fight on philosophical grounds, explaining why these policies are immoral. They must make the case based on ethics rather than economics because the latter is downstream from the former. It is only a matter of time before a purely economic or logical argument loses to a moral or emotional one.
This moral and emotional case revolves around the idea that capitalism is the guarantor of individual rights—which are the root of human happiness and achievement—against the oppressive force of collectivism:
Collectivism is backed by compulsion, where one side wins and the other loses, rather than voluntary trade for mutual benefit.
Indeed, people dislike a system that breaks everything down into winners and losers, rejecting the possibility of mutual benefit! This is a compelling argument for capitalism, the well-known system where everyone gains and no one goes without. Why don’t we hear more about this?
But it’s not enough for an economic system to simply give everyone a sense of security, the way capitalism does. People have greater needs, moral needs, to attain real meaning and self-esteem in their lives. Those who live in socialist countries like the ones in Scandinavia, Allison wrote, may claim to be satisfied with their lot in life, but without the freedom to “pursue their economic ideas, passions, and creativity,” they cannot be genuinely happy:
Scandinavians may feel more content than Americans, just as marijuana users, hedonists, or inheritors of a large estate may feel more content than a 22-year-old working nights to get her business off the ground. But this contentment is different from true eudaimonic happiness, which can never be given but must be achieved through self-examination, sleep deprivation, and eyestrain.
Here is the true challenge for the advocates of capitalism: people can’t appreciate the joys of being sleepless, overworked, and alone, compared to the dull satisfaction of a life without scarcity. They suffer—like dope smokers!—from an inability to distinguish between momentary pleasures and their true self-interest. The challenge facing 21st century capitalism, that is, is one of “false consciousness.”