Noah Rothman wrote an opinion piece this week in which he warned about the new generation of young Americans who are opposed to the free market. He quoted the inimitable (and reliably ignorant) Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who announced at the annual (and glitzy and high-tech) South by Southwest conference this past spring, “To me, capitalism is irredeemable.”
AOC, with her designer clothing, her chi-chi apartment (complete with garbage disposal), her stylish red lipstick and fab spectacles should try living someplace where the government agrees with her that “capitalism is irredeemable.” Like North Korea, or perhaps Cuba. Venezuela would no doubt be an eye-opener.
People like AOC who claim that capitalism is a tool of “exploitation" or "colonialism" are spewing ahistorical nonsense. Human beings have been making and bartering things since our caveman days. Currency was invented millennia ago. Those who make goods or provide services and those who need, trade for or buy those goods and services are mutually beneficial. As societies become more diverse and complex, more goods and services are valued enough to be produced and paid for.
Far from being grounded in exploitation, the rise of the European merchant class was an economic revolution and a big middle finger to the powerful classes of the age -- clergy, royalty, and nobility -- all of whom believed that your station in life should be that which you were born into.
The creation and expansion of guilds, apprenticeships and training, and the resulting mercantile classes of northern Europe changed perceptions about wealth, education and status (particularly upward mobility). To this day, it is still considered noteworthy in Europe when mere “tradesmen” rise to the economic levels associated with nobility and landed gentry. A recent example is Kate Middleton, wife of Prince William, the heir to England’s throne. When William proposed to Kate, the papers were filled with stories about how her family (“commoners!”) had made its millions in the party planning business (“tradesmen!”).
In America, by contrast, rags-to-riches stories are everyday occurrences. America flouted European conventions by creating a political and economic system that allowed ordinary people to rise as high as their ambitions and work ethic would take them. That is still the case today, and it is the ability to freely engage in commerce and enterprise that makes it possible. The heroes of the American experiment are not just the political revolutionaries but the entrepreneurs as well -- the economic revolutionaries. While political revolutionaries change things by force, economic revolutionaries change things by persuasion.
Statist regimes, on the other hand, have no heroes. When a self-selecting few (based upon their expertise and altruism, of course) decide what will be produced, and by whom, and at what prices, government inevitably descends into oppression, because people will not disregard their own wants and needs voluntarily, and so they must be forced to comply.
Similarly, statist economic systems descend into privation because the "experts" are inevitably wrong in their predictions and assumptions. The "experts" are often wrong in the private sector, too. But without the competition of the free market, there are no other sources of the products or services. And where free commerce is strangled or prohibited, black markets, bribery, graft and corruption abound.
Advocates for socialism love to point to the Nordic countries as models of socialist success. But as Swedish economic writer Johan Norberg has pointed out, Sweden’s wealth (like Finland’s) was created via free-market capitalism. Higher taxes in an otherwise-capitalist system isn’t socialism. Furthermore, cultural norms play a large role in supporting tax increases; citizens are willing to pay more in taxes when there is widespread trust and they don’t feel that others are gaming the system. That is somewhat easier in a country with a small, largely homogeneous population. In a country of 330 million people, it’s darn near impossible.
Calls for socialism often sound more like calls for a more moral economic system. But that brings up another, more serious cultural problem than “greed” or “income inequality.” What is necessary for a moral economic system is the same thing that is needed for a moral political system: moral people. Government -- as we've been told so many times in the past 50 years -- can reinforce public morality but cannot legislate or inculcate it.
So it's a bit incongruous to be demanding the end of capitalism -- as so many on the left do -- all the while attacking the Judeo-Christian underpinnings of American society including sexual self-restraint, fiscal discipline, marriage, the two-parent family and the inherent value of every human life.
You can't promote an amoral society and then wail when amoral people run amoral enterprises. Merely pushing more power away from private enterprise and over to government won’t solve that particular problem, either. As we already see, amoral people running the government just have the power to make even more people’s lives even more miserable.