There is a pervasive attitude in academia and in the culture at large that socialists are misunderstood intellectuals and capitalists are selfish, greedy pigs. What is absent in the cultural discussion is the moral case for capitalism.
Capitalism is morally right because it is consistent with free will, individual autonomy, and human creativity; it is a more ethical basis for an economy than socialism due to its just framing of labor and reward; and lastly, when it is consistently enforced, it disperses economic means through market accountability, and impairs government coercion.
As the socialist Rudolf Hilferding observed in his criticism of the Austrian school economist Bohm-Bawerk, given that the base philosophical assumption of free market capitalism is the individual, and that of Marxism is society, this makes it nearly impossible for an intelligent conversation to emerge between the two camps.
Let us make the straightforward argument that society exists for the sake of man, and not man for the sake of society.
The instrumental rationality of socialists being that man is a means to the end of an abstract notion of society, carries with it disastrous inhumane consequences when effected, and is indeed inconsistent with free will. Frustrating the free will of human agents necessarily leads to reduced creative and productive potential. Artists, writers, and other cultural creators should never knowingly or unknowingly reinforce the collectivist values that undermine their own self-expression. Yet our artists and entertainers constantly provide support for collectivist government in the realm of values.
Government, as Rose Wilder Lane pointed out in The Discovery of Freedom, can only obstruct and restrain. Since government is by nature an institution of force, and force is inherently a relative concept, government necessarily can only empower some members of society at the expense of others.
Thus, there is a need to keep economic and political affairs separate. Free market capitalism empowers the many by giving people more say over their own lives; and by connection, leads to more creative and productive potential. The separation of political coercion from economic activity allows there to be a civil society where people can be free to speak their minds without fear of economic reprisals. People are thus accountable to the free market, or in other words, the public for their cultural creations and not to the government.
In addition, a free market economic system is more stable than a centrally planned one. Certainly, fostering those conditions that are most conducive to improving mankind’s quality of life is the most ethical. To argue against this proposition we might consider an ‘objection by mischievous assumption.’
But the latter point requires a more extended, even if glossing, discussion. The point is to show by examination that the Marxist critique is fundamentally wrong and that capitalism is clearly the better of the two systems. Indeed, it might also be shown that the two systems are diametrically opposed and incompatible at the core value level.
The philosophical foundation of rationality, quite necessary to harness the gains of the empirical method of science, led to man ascending from the darker ages of mysticism, feudalism, and superstition to the modern era of scientific progress and the undeniable improvement in mankind’s quality of life. But the socialist wants our human relations to revert back to those of a pre-modern society, where we live as a tribe in deference to our government chieftains. As an additional insult, they label such an agenda “progressive.”
So the argument goes that man will ineluctably be led to a brighter tomorrow by removing the philosophical foundations on which modern civilization stands? An untenable proposition and one that must be discarded.
The important thing to remember about free market capitalism is that no one person is needed to “devise it” or “run it.” What you need is to protect individual rights, enforce property rights, and allow people to produce and trade, which they will naturally do. The job then is to keep the currency sound, so transactions are transparent to all buyers and sellers, and stable, so people can save without being penalized.
Indeed, by securing sound currency and a stable economic environment, man can plan his future on solid footing. In such a world, productivity would be rewarded with increase, while foolishness would be met with ruin, and laziness with want.