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The Moral Case for Capitalism: More than Utility

As a reader of this blog, I’d imagine you spend a significant amount of time trying to convince non-political people and non-economic people that they should care about politics, and they should know basic economics. You also probably spend a great deal of time arguing with self-identified “progressives” who do care about politics and do seem to have a basic understanding of economics, and yet have come to radically different conclusions. There is a third group, however, and I wonder if you have run into them as well. This third group believes in free-market capitalism, but does not believe it is morally superior. These individuals don’t make value-based arguments for capitalism. Some of these people are non-religious, while others operate under a pseudo-gnostic idea that economic systems are amoral. It is only what someone does within a market that is moral or immoral, this group argues. While I realize one might need a diagram to start following all of these groups and sub-groups, consider the non-religious subgroup. It is important to communicate to these people the importance of making moral arguments for capitalism, even if that is not why they are capitalists. I tell my atheist and agnostic friends that even if they are not Christians, it is not acceptable to give up on Christians and not teach them about free-market economics because as we have seen, progressives heavily market their policies toward Christians. Non-religious free-marketers believe in the free market because of its efficiencies and wealth-creation—two characteristics that can be understood by Christians in the context of caring for the poor. The other sub-group is the group I’ve dubbed “pseudo-gnostic,” and they are a much more difficult crowd to reach. To be clear, I don’t evoke the term Gnosticism to in any way imply these people are heretics; I use the term to demonstrate the manner in which these people treat markets—that they are earthly, that they cannot be moral, that capitalism is merely a lesser evil, rather than a powerful force for good. Their argument hinges on the idea that even if capitalism is more efficient, and even if it does create wealth and it lifts people out of poverty, “utility doesn’t equal morality.” Oh, but capitalism is about much, much more than utility. If we focus too much on the utility of capitalism, we miss its beauty and elegance. Capitalism is designed to marry a man’s moral and material growth, so that both can be fully mature. As I have argued before, “capitalism, by design, marries a man’s moral and material growth so that both will be fully achieved… It is through social and market interactions that relationships with fellow human beings are built. In turn it is these relationships that foster within individuals virtues including honesty, civility, prudence, restraint, industry, frugality, sobriety and reliability.” Another way I like to think of it is that “as a system, free markets and limited government treats individuals with more dignity, provides them with more responsibility and more opportunity, and deputized them to be the moral agents in their community.” If one is persuaded only by utility, then they are in no way a true believer in freedom and free markets. They are a slave to data and statistical analysis, which is a cruel master. Such a person will abandon free market convictions if ever enough data is found to prove that a controlled market has more utility than a free one. As apologists for freedom and free markets, we must not be satisfied with arguments founded solely on utility.