Righty: Any system that rewards individual initiative, inventiveness, character, hard work and dedication is the kind of system we need to bring out the best in our people. Capitalism is like a magical machine that takes raw materials and transforms them into wealth. Into the machine we load oil, iron ore, cotton, lumber and ideas; out the other end emerge handsome homes, stores, cities, universities and a life of comfort. Capitalism is the essence of freedom and the springboard to self-fulfillment. No system has been more effective at transforming us from wretched barbarians into affluent and civilized men and women. If God had money, you can bet He’d be a capitalist, too.
Lefty: Righty offers us a predictably starry-eyed (read “deluded”) view of a corrupt economic system that thrives on greed, opportunism and exploitation. The essence of capitalism is a cheat: you obtain your goods at a bargain price and fob them off on your gullible customers at a significantly fatter price. Very noble, that. Even worse, the capitalist reaps a profit off the labor of his underpaid underlings. They sweat for a pittance, like beasts of burden, stripped of their dignity and security; the capitalist collects the rewards. Where’s the justice in that? The people who do the work are entitled to share equally in the proceeds, and only government ownership of the means of production will restore some semblance of justice to this outrageously exploitative system. We need an economy that acknowledges our interdependence and sense of community. Marx had it right: “From each according to his ability; to each according to his need.”
The New Moderate:
As Winston Churchill might have put it (to paraphrase his famous remark about democracy), capitalism is the worst economic system except for all the others. There is nothing especially praiseworthy about buying low and selling high, other than the fact that it helps build fortunes for those doing the buying and selling.
Capitalism rewards an extremely narrow range of human skills: the ability to spot opportunities and exploit them. Nothing especially praiseworthy about that, either. What if our skills lie more in the direction of creating vivid art, diagramming sentences or amassing a vast internal storehouse of general knowledge? Then we’re free to join the underclass. There’s your “freedom” for you, Righty.
I like capitalism’s respect for individual effort; I’m all in favor of private property; I think hard work should be rewarded. It’s just that within the confines of pure free-market capitalism, the rewards generally go to the most avaricious rather than the best, brightest or most virtuous. Much like Darwinian natural selection, pure capitalism is an amoral system that shows no regard for beauty, kindness or other intrinsic values; all that seems to matter is one’s ability to find a suitable niche and dominate it. (For this reason rats and MBAs are more successful than pandas and poets.)
We need to reshape capitalism so that robber-baron CEOs and investment bankers can no longer earn a thousand times the salaries of their hardworking secretaries. We need to restore some sense of proportion to our current “winner-take-all” economy, or eventually the peasants will revolt. What’s more, I think they’ll be justified.
What we have now isn’t pure capitalism, anyway. It’s corporatism: the domination of the markets by a handful of gargantuan (and frequently unethical) players, to the detriment of real competition. It’s plutocracy, too: the near-absolute control of the nation’s wealth by a tiny, self-perpetuating economic elite.
The New Moderate would favor a modified capitalist economy as defined by the two Roosevelts: combine TR’s trustbusting fervor with FDR’s reliance on inspired federal programs to supplement the private sector, and we’d be well on our way to a more just economy that, unlike socialism or communism, still respects and rewards the individual.
Summary: Capitalism may be the least evil of economic systems, but it’s far from perfect. We need to tweak it so more people can share in the rewards.