Bernstein Praises Global Capitalism
by Ari Armstrong, November 10, 2004
Andrew Bernstein, a philosopher from New York and a speaker for the Ayn Rand Institute, defended global capitalism November 5 at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The next day, he spoke in Arvada about "how to be an impassioned valuer" and "religion versus morality." The events were sponsored by the Boulder Campus Objectivist Club and the Front Range Objectivist Supper Talks.
Andrew Bernstein, Lin Zinzer, and Jared Seehafer meet November 5 at CU.
Capitalism, Bernstein said, is "respect for the rights and the freedoms of the individual." It entails limited government and the "freedom to earn and to own property." It also assumes the "rule of law that protects private property" and contracts.
In response to a question, Bernstein contrasted his conception of capitalism with that of the Marxists. Many people unfortunately think "capitalism" entails tariffs, subsidies, statism, the policies of George W. Bush, and exploitation of workers and the environment, Bernstein said. "The main influence is Marx," Bernstein said of this skewed view of capitalism, and those who favor the free-market conception must "patiently explain" it to those who disagree.
"I've been called a fascist because I support individual rights and freedom," Bernstein said. However, capitalism as he uses the term is actually what in the 19th Century was called liberalism.
Bernstein also noted the irony that, while old-time liberals most feared out-of-control state power, modern leftists fear corporations instead. "What the hell is Microsoft going to do to me, put out software I don't want to buy?" asked Bernstein. By comparison, the 20th Century gave rise to statist regimes that murdered scores of millions of people.
On Saturday, Bernstein discussed the terrorist attacks, noting Ayn Rand's comment, "I feel that if a war came to threaten this, I would throw myself into space, over the city, and protect these buildings with my body."
Bernstein addressed both the history and the philosophy of capitalism.
He began by discussing Hong Kong, an area with few natural resources and high population density that nevertheless became an economic powerhouse because of its "political and economic freedom." Bernstein noted Hong Kong had few economic controls, low taxes, and few regulations and welfare benefits. "Capitalism is responsible for Hong Kong's wealth," he said.
Bernstein also described the rise of wealth in Europe and, today, in relatively free Asian nations. He contrasted this success with the anti-capitalistic, impoverished, and repressive regions of Africa. Bernstein described the spread of international free markets as the "single greatest hope for world peace and prosperity."
Bernstein noted the "profound correlation in the world between freedom and prosperity." Yet this is a necessary connection, he argued. Reviewing the basics of Objectivist ethics, Bernstein argued the mind is man's fundamental tool for survival, and the mind requires freedom. The "sacred quest for knowledge" requires political freedom, he said, and under an authoritarian state "the free-thinking mind is stifled."
Ultimately, Bernstein argued, political freedom and economic freedom are inextricably linked. It is no accident that numerous oppressive regimes intentionally murdered the intellectuals: "under statism, the men of the mind are suppressed." By the same token, dictators who free up the economy eventually face pressure for political liberalization.
"Capitalism is based on the moral code of egoism," Bernstein argued, and the "moral right to [one's] own life." By contrast, under statism "individuals have no right to their own lives." He urged defenders of individual rights to stand up and proudly proclaim the economic and moral superiority of capitalism. "America -- stop apologizing for your greatness," Bernstein quoted a man from Zimbabwe. Bernstein is optimistic about coming progress around the world: "The signs of a future renaissance are all around us."
Bernstein's new book, The Capitalist Manifesto, will be released next year.