Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Book Review: 'The Capitalist Manifesto' by Andrew Bernstein

Given the recent depressing current events, I am planning to review several books that are pertinent to those who wish to defend laissez-faire capitalism on moral, historical and economic grounds. This is the first of several such reviews.

Although I expect that most of the regular readers of the weblog of the Center for the Advancement of Capitalism have read Dr. Andrew Bernstein's masterpiece, I decided to review it anyway. With the recent discussions of a $700 billion dollar Wall Street bailout, universal healthcare, massive environmental regulations and the bipartisan disdain for profit-seeking businessmen, there is no doubt that capitalism is under attack in the United States. Despite the ongoing rebirth of free-market economists in academia, economic arguments alone are impotent at defending laissez-faire capitalism (hence Capitalism) as a political system. When individuals vote, they are typically more interested in doing what they perceive to be right than what they perceive to be good for the economy. Thus, it is absolutely necessary that Capitalism be properly defended on moral grounds. Although it is beyond the scope of this post to corroborate this argument here, I highly recommend Eric Daniels' lecture The Morality of Capitalism, which is available (to registered users; registration is free) in the database for the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights lecture series.

For those who wish to defend capitalism, it is imperative that you read this book. In addition to providing a compelling economic and historic case for Capitalism, Dr. Bernstein provides a powerful *moral* defense of Capitalism using Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism.

The first part of this book focuses on the history of Capitalism in the United States. You will learn about the history of the Industrial Revolutions, including the enormous increase in per capita wealth, standard of living and life expectancy during these periods. You will also learn that the British Industrial Revolution was a direct outgrowth of the Scottish Enlightenment. In addition, you will also learn about many of the heroes of this time, including "The Colossus of Roads" Thomas Telford, James Watt, Henry Bessemer and "Iron Man" John Wilkinson. Further still, you will learn about "The Inventive Period" in America, which is when Thomas Edison, Cyrus McCormick, Eli Whitney, the Wright Brothers, Alexander Graham Bell, Samuel Morse, Charles Goodyear, Isaac Singer, George Washington Carver and numerous other inventors thrived.

In the second part of this book, Dr. Bernstein defends Capitalism on moral grounds. In this section you will learn that Capitalism is the only political system consistent with the complete protection of individual rights. The underlying ideas in this chapter are expressed throughout Ayn Rand's works. However, Dr. Bernstein fleshes out many details not explicitly addressed in other Ayn Rand works, making this section valuable even for Ayn Rand fans.

The third section of this book dispels two common attacks on Capitalism: that it leads to Imperialism and that it was responsible for slavery. Dr. Bernstein notes that, in essence, Imperialism and slavery rely on an institutionalized, blatant disregard of individual rights. Thus, since Capitalism is the only system that protects all individual rights, both Imperialism and slavery are in fact antithetical to Capitalism.

The fourth part of this book analyzes the "great laboratories" of political economy in history. Specifically, in this section, Bernstein contrasts human flourishing in United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. You will also read about the failure of communist states such as Cuba and North Korea, the rise of the capitalist-embracing Asian Tigers: South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong as well as the Celtic Tiger: Ireland. You will also read about the alleged success of the "socialist" Scandanavian nations. In the summary of this section,
Dr. Bernstein refutes the claim that Capitalism leads monopolies that make products more expensive and less abundant. In fact, Dr. Bernstein argues that the opposite is true. Finally, Dr. Bernstein will also refute the claim that unbridled Capitalism led to the Great Depression. As before, Dr. Bernstein will reveal that the Statist policies of the Hoover Administration and the New Deal are actually to blame for the depression.

Lastly, in the Appendix, Dr. Bernstein exposes the prodigious injustice of the label "robber baron". In this section, Dr. Bernstein details the enormous amount of wealth created by giants such as Cornelius Vanderbilt, James J. Hill, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, J. P. Morgan and E. H. Harriman. Dr. Bernstein persuasively argues that these so-called "robber barons" should instead be remembered as "productive geniuses".

Again, this is a must-read for all those who wish to understand and defend capitalism.

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