The Economics of Morality?

The following was originally constructed as a response to a video presented by the Alaska Republican Party’s Facebook page. The video can be found here:


Republicans, here’s the thing… why try, in the first place, to cast capitalism as a moral system? Honestly, that’s just silly. It’s an economic system supported by a political outlook, but it does NOT have a moral aspect. As a system, it is neither virtuous nor evil; neither righteous nor scurrilous. It’s simply the method by which we manage production and trade.

I would ask, “Why can’t it just be that,” but I know the answer; Republicans foolishly fall for the left-wing narrative that casts capitalism is immoral. I get it. Republicans are a bit tighter aligned with the religious right and don’t want to lose points to the moral aspect. But why offer up such a shallow and ridiculous response? Because the truth is, while capitalism itself holds no moral aspect, some capitalists ARE immoral. Some ARE greedy. Some ARE consumed by profit, and sometimes the poor ARE trampled. But, that’s not a fault of capitalism, that’s a fault of people. Accept that. Why fight it? It’s an obvious and easy response. Capitalism IS a good economic system, and one that fits well with our liberal democracy. Leave it at that.

But, when you follow the drivel of this video, you do capitalism a disservice. You dumb it down. It is true that “free market calls for voluntary actions,” as the video suggests, and in that sense, money acts as an incentive for a value exchange. To cast it as a measure of “service” rather than of value is to subvert and misconstrue the purpose of a medium of exchange. Would Christ have said, in Matthew 19:12 “go and sell all that you own. Give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven” if money was a “certificate of performance” as the video suggests? No, he would have said that a fat wallet was proof of the Rich Young Man’s righteousness. Moreover, to suggest that using a government program “to get a food stamp, a farm subsidy, or a business bail out” is an assault on one’s fellow citizens is simply red-meat kool-aid. Now, I would agree that asking some, even many, people to “serve their fellow man in order to have a claim” is a good idea. We have plenty of public needs that could be managed by those in need of assistance. But at the same time, there are still plenty of people that face situations by which service would be impractical or unmanageable. Their inability to provide service does not make them immoral, as this video indirectly suggests.

Nor, for that matter, is the explanation of the auto-crisis quite as simplistic as Dr. Williams puts forth. By framing the crisis simply as one in which the Big Three “were producing cars that did not please a sufficient number of their fellow men,” the ridiculous ease of a solution like “sell your plant and equipment to somebody who can do a better job,” can be delivered with a straight face. Is the corporation simply the managers, stockholders, and customers? Do the workers, their livelihoods and families not factor into the decision to offer the bail out? They are never mentioned by Dr. Williams. Might that be on purpose, so that his over-simplification of the crisis and the government response can stand up?

And lastly, the argument that all of this was part of the plan of the Founders is a difficult one, particularly when it is over-simplified (yet again) in the manner shown in this video. Did the Founders argue for a limited government? Yes. Federalist 45 is, honestly, what keeps me a Republican. The government closest to me, knows me the best, and thus can serve my interests better as a result. So, with that argument open and available, why use the Article 1, section 8 argument? And, moreover, why do so while displaying the images of Jefferson, Franklin, Washington, and Hamilton? The only Founder pictured that argued for strict adherence was Jefferson – the founder of what would become the Democrat party. Franklin, in fact, was part of a group that argued in 1790 for Congress “to take whatever action it deemed ‘necessary and proper’ to eliminate the stigma of traffic in human beings” even though that went against the limitations placed on the Federal Government in Article 1, Section 9. Likewise, Hamilton argued in favor of a National Bank as Treasury Secretary and Washington agreed with him, even though no such power to create one was to be found in Article 1, Section 8. Dr. Williams is cherry picking his justification here, and quite clumsily. The limited government design of 1787 did not “produce the wealthiest nation in history.” Capitalism was in its infancy in 1787, and Hamilton was certainly not arguing in favor of what we would today call the “free-market,” but rather state-led capitalism. Yeah – I know… awkward.

So, my point is this: capitalism is a good system. Allow it to be that. Allow it to do the things that it does well without wrapping it in red meat, jingoism, or nationalism. I know, I know… that tends to garner the approval of the low-hanging fruit, but it is rather off-putting to the rest of us. Capitalism has SOLID merits. Hell, even well known liberal activist, Bono, has said “capitalism takes more people out of poverty than aid,” so one can even claim that capitalism CAN lead to moral activity. But why use an overly simplified argument that is also a BAD argument? Just to counter the paper-tiger argument of SOME Democrats? Just to keep the masses riled? Just to appeal to some kind of spiritual aspect? Do we really need to rely on exploitation? How about we just make good arguments? Madison did in Federalist 45, and it keeps me a Republican today. I suppose that not getting on the kool-aid trough risks me being called a RiNO, but if that is now the operating mentality of the GOP, I might suggest that such brilliant Republicans as Lincoln, Garfield, Roosevelt, Lodge, Taft, Eisenhower, Rockefeller, and even… yes… Reagan, would be considered outside the pale.