Monday, June 4, 2012

Excerpts From The Moral Case For Capitalism

From the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, Issue No.12, May 2102, "An Audacious Promise: The Moral Case for Capitalism" by James R. Otteson, joint professor of philosophy and economics, and chair of the Philosophy Department, at Yeshiva University in New York:
Milton Friedman once said that every time capitalism has been tried, it has succeeded; whereas every time socialism has been tried, it has failed. Yet President Obama has oddly claimed that we’ve tried free-market capitalism, and it “has never worked.” This is rather remarkable. Since 1800, the world’s population has increased sixfold; yet despite this enormous increase, real income per person has increased approximately 16-fold. That is a truly amazing achievement. In America, the increase is even more dramatic: in 1800, the total population in America was 5.3 million, life expectancy was 39, and the real gross domestic product per capita was $1,343 (in 2010 dollars); in 2011, our population was 308 million, our life expectancy was 78, and our GDP per capita was $48,800. Thus even while the population increased 58-fold, our life expectancy doubled, and our GDP per capita increased almost 36-fold. Such growth is unprecedented in the history of humankind.
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Capitalism gives us incentives to trade and associate with people outside our local community, even complete strangers, not on the basis of our love or care for them but out of our own—and their—self-interest. So capitalism enables people to escape the strictures of their local communities. But is that bad? Capitalism creates opportunities for people to trade, exchange, partner, associate, collaborate, cooperate, and share with—as well as learn from—people not only from next door but from around the world—even people who speak different languages, wear different clothing, eat different foods, and worship different gods. The social characteristics that in other times and under different institutions would lead to conflict—even violent, bloody conflict—become, under capitalism, irrelevant—and thus no longer cause for discord.
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Even if we do not all get rich at the same rate, we all still get richer. To see the importance of this point, ask yourself: If you could solve only one social ill—either inequality or poverty—which would it be? Or suppose that the only way to address poverty would be to allow inequality: Would you allow it? This seems a no-brainer: poverty is a far larger factor in human misery than is inequality. If we could have steadily fewer people suffering from grinding poverty, is that not something to wish for, even if it comes with inequality?
Read the complete article.

[HT: Craig Newmark]

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