The Capitalist Manifesto
by Linn and Ari Armstrong
The following article was originally published by Grand Junction Free Press on March 6, 2006.
This year politicians and commentators in Colorado have talked about subsidizing select businesses, raising the minimum wage, imposing smoking bans, spending higher tax revenues, and forcing Wal-Mart to spend more on health insurance.
At the national level, businesses contend with high taxes, centralized controls, and trade restrictions. Bruce Bartlett, a conservative who wrote Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy, complains that Bush expanded national interference with education and expanded Medicare. The left is starting to push harder for a so-called "single-payer" health system -- i.e., one funded and therefore controlled by the national government.
What do all these issues (and countless more) have in common? On one side of these debates are those who want to use the force of government -- backed up ultimately by armed police agents -- to control economic exchanges. On the other side are those who see the proper purpose of government as protecting individual rights, including rights to control one's income, own property and decide how to use it, and produce and exchange goods and services voluntarily on a free market.
Sometimes it's helpful to step back and look at common themes. Andrew Bernstein does that brilliantly in his recent book, The Capitalist Manifesto: The Historic, Economic and Philosophic Case for Laissez-Faire.
Walter Williams reports that, at Overland High School in Aurora, one teacher, Jay Bennish, told his students, "Capitalism is at odds with humanity, at odds with caring and compassion and at odds with human rights." On the contrary, demonstrates Bernstein: capitalism is the implementation of individual rights, the only system that offers people the freedom to use their minds in the production of life-enhancing wealth.
Bernstein summarizes, "The facts show that capitalism is the system of freedom -- and that it creates wealth. The facts similarly show that statism is the system of repression -- and that it causes poverty. Capitalism is the system of freedom and prosperity. Its antithesis -- statism in any form -- is the system of oppression and destitution."
Bernstein points out, "Prior to the advent of industrial capitalism (in roughly the 1760s) the lot of the English working class was generally miserable... [L]iving standards in Europe were generally as low (or lower) than in the poorest regions of the Third World today. Famine, filth, plague and extreme destitution were the norm and had been for centuries." But capitalism changed all that, bringing "rising living standards, declining mortality rates and increased life expectancies..."
In a chapter titled, "The Great Laboratory," Bernstein contrasts the relative prosperity of places like the U.S., South Korea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan with the poverty and oppression of Soviet Russia, North Korea, Cuba, and Communist China.
So how can people like Bennish get away with his unfounded and grossly unjust charges? Bernstein explains, "The system of freedom and wealth is repeatedly and savagely attacked by many intellectuals and other highly educated individuals -- worse, by men and women claiming to be 'liberals,' humanists, lovers of man, i.e., the very individuals who should function as the protectors and preservers of human life. There is an enormous disconnect between the facts of capitalism's nature and history -- and the evaluation of these by many 'progressive' writers..."
Why? Those who denigrate capitalism ignore the evidence in its favor and argue from the false theories of collectivism and statism. In addition, the critics of "capitalism" usually confuse it with today's mixed economies, which contain significant elements of economic controls. Ironically, many blame capitalism for the problems caused by statist interventions in the economy -- and then argue for more interventions!
Capitalism is the system of individual rights, including property rights, in which the "initiation of physical force" is banned. Bernstein calls capitalism "the system of the mind." That's because, on a free market, people are free to act on their own judgment -- as opposed to the whims of bureaucrats or dictators -- in the creation of wealth.
Even though statist control of the economy often is called "central planning," Bernstein points out that forcible interference in the market actually disrupts the rational planning of market participants. "In every possible way, capitalism liberates the human mind... planning is possible only under capitalism."
In addition to covering the philosophy and economics of capitalism, Bernstein also offers fascinating accounts of the history of industrial advances, the so-called "Robber Barons" -- whom he calls instead "Productive Geniuses" -- the abolition of slavery, and other issues.
The AP recently reported that more Americans are familiar with the Simpson cartoon family than are familiar with the First Amendment. Yet are students learning the history of liberty and individual rights, including economic rights? In at least one Colorado classroom, students were instead subjected to socialist indoctrination. Parents, you can offer no greater gift to yourselves or to your older, inquisitive students than the gift of liberty: review the Bill of Rights, and pick up a copy of The Capitalist Manifesto.