Debate on Capitalism Continued

The debate on what capitalism is and what are its merits go back way before the 20th century. With regards to our own country, debate on this issue existed right at the founding of the republic, between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton.

Get one thing straight: Both of this men were lovers of liberty. Both, in my opinion, would have ardently opposed socialism and the bureacratic nanny state of the 20th century. Nonetheless, there were substantial differences between the two men when it came to economic issues.

Jefferson was a believer in agriculture. Agriculture, according the Jefferson, kept man close to nature and made him sweat and toil. This process of working hard developed man into being a self-sufficient being capable of liberty and self-sufficiency. Machinery, on the other hand, was very "mechanistic" and "dehumanizing." A good example of what Jefferson was worried would be factories. Instead of man sweating and toiling with the farm, man tied a widget together or screwed a cap on a piece of steel. In other words, industry sapped man of his initiative and thus dehumanized man.

Hamilton took almost the opposite view. First, he opposed Jefferson for pragmatic reasons. If the United States was to remain independent and compete with its European counterparts, the nation would have the industrialize and develop its industry. The Republic would not remain independent by ignoring progress and development for some idealistic Jeffersonian Fantasy.

Yet Hamilton had other reason's for opposing Jefferson. Industry, Hamilton contended, had several advantages over agriculture.
1) It allowed women (and children, but we don't like that one anymore) to enter the workforce and earn a living (feminist movement, anyone?)
2) It allowed workers to work all year around, and not just half the year as with agriculture
3) The same dangers that exist with industry exist with agriculture. Since farmers do not work year round, they are just as capable of laziness as the industrialist
4) Industry unleashes that which makes man human and not simply animal: his intellect. Industry requries education, intelligence, wit, and patience. It is not nearly as dehumanizing as Jefferson asserts.

Hamilton won this debate back in the late 18th century, but the debate still lingers today (note the environmentalist movement). It would also be wise to note that there were significant criticisms of the capitalist system stemming from conservative Catholics, most notable that of G.K Chesterton and Hillaire Belloc, in the late 19th and early 20th century. Both of this men thought capitalism (and to a GREATER extent, Socialism) a bunch of hooey. They advocated a system called "distributism," which is close to the type of economy Jefferson wanted.

So who is right here?

Having studied enough economics, I think I can say with fair confidence that Hamilton has the EDGE over Jefferson here, but with caution. Almost every criticism against the economic merits of Capitalism have been disproven. Capitalism is the best system for alleviating poverty, for allocating resources, for maintaing peace and order, and for limiting the size and scope of government. Can the same be said for socialism? phhh

But it is important to recognize that Capitalism is fundamentally distinct from libertarianism. Granted, libertarian capitalism has plenty of supporters in academia. Yet there are plenty of Capitalists that believe in a positive and active role for the government, rightly understood, and work to help the government achieve this objective (cost/benefit analysis, public choice theory, etc. etc. etc.). Believing in private property, markets, and efficiency does not make you an anarchist. It just means you have a brain.

Yet it would be folly to argue that there are no problems with the system. It is not the ideal that is can and should be. Keep in mind that Capitalism, the system that brought us penicillin and indoor plumbing, also brought us Brittney Spears, Jon Peter Lewis, and Gigli. The main problem facing America today is cultural, not economic. The serious economic problems that ARE faced by the poor in the country every day is a failure of the culture, not the system. The system is reflecting the culture, which rightly shows us that there is a problem.

How do we fix this? What solution can allow us to keep our tylenol and plumbing but avoid the dehumanizing soma of the culture. As I just said, the problem is cultural. True, but if thats all I said, than I am missing something. The culture is infected with bad morality.

Technological progress combined with atheistic humanism (the autonomous individual) has been the root cause of every tyranny, large and small.

For the sake the republic, we must abandon the atheistic humanism.