Capitalism Is the Crucial Protector of the Smallest Minority

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For decades, leftists have championed socialism while ignoring its mountains of skulls, from Russia to Venezuela. They dismiss The Black Book of Communism, a careful tally of the 60-plus million deaths resulting from the deliberate actions of socialist regimes.

Some socialist-leaning people seem to be sincerely concerned about the welfare of others, and ignorant of its egregious body count. Socialist-friendly intellectuals should know better. Their job is to identify broad truths and their impact on human life. The most culpable are those who know socialism’s deadly impact and continue to advocate for it.

The million-life question is: why?

Some of socialism’s apologists claim capitalism has killed more—but their tally includes millions of deaths from wars and slavery. Are war and slavery caused by capitalism? Only clear definitions can answer that question.

Socialism is the socio-economic system under which the community owns all property. Since all the people living together can’t be in control at the same time, in practice, the leaders control the use of property. The result: those with the power of the state control and direct economic activity. Hence, horrors such as the deaths of 6 to 8 million under Stalin’s state-directed seizure and disposal of farm produce in the Soviet Union alone.

Capitalism results from the system in which property is owned by private individuals, government is sharply limited, and individual rights are protected, such as free speech and trial by jury. Since Britain and the U.S. first implemented this system in the 18th century, creative individuals have been able to well-deploy capital, resulting in profuse economic activity. Despite the disruptions and truly serious problems along the way, capitalism has brought the highest increase in wealth and relief from poverty to the greatest number of people than any other system on earth.

However, socialists confuse the public by equating capitalism with mercantilism, a system in which government officials ladle out economic favors to cronies. Yet “crony capitalism” is a canard: cronies have been around in every state.

More precisely, the problem is crony statism. Highly limited government and the rule of law in which individual rights are protected delimits the favors officials can distribute to cronies, equalizes opportunity, and results in the peaceful and productive pursuit of self-interest—and increased living standards for all.

Wealth is not static—it is created. How else did we get from caves to skyscrapers? But a rich person can live well anywhere—it’s the poor who especially need free choice made possible by private property and individual rights if they are to create wealth and follow their own dreams.

And yet the mystery: leftists claim to care about the “poor and oppressed,” but the hockey stick of GDP since industrial capitalism’s establishment fails to persuade them that capitalism is a good system.

And they don’t just criticize capitalism—they revile it. Why?

Because socialists are collectivists and capitalism is individualistic. Socialists believe that the ultimate good is “society,” the group, not the individual. This group may be the nation, the family, the ethnic tribe, the similarly-gendered—you name it.

Caring for and helping others is their highest value, their moral duty and they claim to believe that socialism achieves it. And that point is the intersection of the moral and the practical because, if capitalism is dominant, people care for themselves. It is the individual’s independence which scares these socialists, because, if everyone is independent, no one needs them!

Under capitalism each person can choose his or her own path of highest potential—not someone else’s idea of how to live. The result is that individuals all over the world are lifted out of poverty by following their own creativity to produce.

But living under capitalism demands an attitude towards others which is missing from the collectivist picture. For example, many teachers are socialists because people who go into teaching tend to want to help others, as do nurses and doctors. And there’s plenty of good in helping others. I’m a teacher myself, but I don’t do it out of a moral duty. I do it as an exercise of my highest powers of understanding and skill and I enjoy seeing the young flourish.

I strive to help them reach the point where they don’t need me.  As renowned Italian educator Maria Montessori said: "The greatest sign of success for a to be able to say, "The children are now working as if I did not exist… " 

Those who are collectivist in their core want something far different—they want power over others. They infantilize to keep others dependent, like mothers who reward and enable children to stay at home forever.

The collectivist focus on control reveals this motive. They dissemble by presenting a false alternative: which group are you going to let control you? Are you going to be a “wage slave” and let some rich guy tell you what to do, with his business and jobs, or are you going to have a say by voting for the politicians and party that will control the economy? Nowhere do they offer the choice of independence in which you control your own life.

To stop the scourge of collectivist guilt-induced government programs, capitalists need to counter their ethic with a different moral model and assert capitalism’s spiritual as well as material good. It’s good because it gives each individual the opportunity to exercise his or her highest human virtues, such as self-reliance, productivity, and reasonableness, while, at the same time, enabling individuals to make a good living.

A few years ago, Lenore Skenazy, of the book and blog Free Range Kids, dug up a 1905 newspaper article about two boys, 13 years old and 5 years old, who were celebrated for traveling by themselves to Washington, D.C., and then San Francisco. Their adventure reflected the self-reliance venerated in that era—and shot through Horatio Alger’s hugely popular novels, such as Ragged Dick, in which a young boy radically improves his own life. That moral outlook was celebrated in late nineteenth and early twentieth century America.

We need a return to that spirit! Challenging the collectivists’ moral presuppositions is critical. Let’s trumpet the valor and superiority of capitalism and wipe socialism and its destructive power from the face of the earth.

Marsha Enright is head of The Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute. It sponsors The Great Connections Seminars and Leap Year Program, which radically increases reasoning power, knowledge, self- confidence, and independence. She's also the founder of Council Oak Montessori School, for ages 3 to 15.

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