Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The Moral Basis of Mindlessness

An anonymous visitor pointed me to the following criticism of Robert W. Tracinski’s "The Moral Basis for Capitalism" by South African writer Trixy Honore at "Africans.co.za":

[W]hat possible moral basis there actually may be for capitalism is badly let down by the author's shambolic arguments. Robert Tracinski rejects the notion that capitalism is a system we must tolerate simply because it's proved the most practical - he wants to make the far stronger claim that, far from being a necessary evil, capitalism is moral. As he does so, he bemoans the intrusions of government into the generous, life-giving projects of the all-healing market.

Simply put (though I don't think I can put it quite as simply as the original article), all the great things of our world are the product of capitalist freedom of thought and action, as Tracinski explains in his gauchely sexist language. Scientists cure us of disease, farmers grow us an abundance of food and business people create jobs and a panoply of terrific products. It's a jolly old world, isn't it?

Even better, less you suspect that this capitalist dream-world involves a nasty, immoral lust for money at any point, Tracinski hastens to point out the overarching moral of the story. Where business and the freedom of capitalism intersect, there blossoms virtue. It is the careful thought each business leader puts into their work, in order to prevent that ever morally watchful capital going elsewhere, that is the essence of this virtue.

Further more, as we learn, "The only way to respect this virtue is to leave the businessman free to act on his own judgment." And so, children, I hope now you can see the godless folly of interventionist government.
The author later goes on to attack CAC’s capitalism FAQ, particularly where we identify that the economic and technological advances made possible by the free market have reduced the ranks of those truly unable to sustain themselves, and CAC’s amicus curiae for the University of Michigan admissions cases, where we argued against the government’s use of racial proxies and for equal protection under the law.

Most ROR readers are familiar with the argument that under capitalism, there will be "market failures" that will lead to poverty, environmental degradation and "social injustice." It is interesting that Honore attacks a businessman’s right to freedom of thought as the most significant market failure. The theme of Tracisnki’s article is that an unshackled mind acting out of self-interest is necessary to produce material benefits; just as one can not expect a scientist to produce under restrains, one can not expect a businessman to produce under restrains either. Yet more than any other point, it is Tracinski’s identification of this fact that most enrages Honore.

Yet despite Honore’s flip attitude and snide tone, she never provides any evidence to refute Tracisnki; she never justifies her attack against individualism, provides evidence for her moral claim in favor of controls or shows how controls lead to greater prosperity. If an individual does not have a right to life for his own sake, just who’s sake does he live for then? If self-interest is myopic and brutal, why is it that the cultures that embrace it are prosperous and free, while the cultures that reject it are stagnant and impoverished? Honore offers no answer, but the assumption is plain: we are our bother’s keepers. If Tracinski’s article is titled "the Moral Basis of Capitalism," Honore’s article should be titled "the Moral Basis of Mindlessness."

I’ve visited three African countries: Tunisia, Senegal and Liberia. In each I witnessed a quagmire of hopeless poverty; in the case of Liberia, brutal and pointless war. We’ve already seen what tribalism and dictatorship have wrought Africa. Won’t it be a great day when we can witness what individualism and the rule of law would bring?

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