December 25, 2003

Why capitalism's a staggering success
(via ibergus)

Interesting article by Denis Dutton:

There is something about capitalism. It is the most wildly successful set of economic arrangements known to history. It thrives on freedom and, indeed, promotes it.

It has done more to increase the standard of living for everyone than any other human device. Anyone doubting its staggering success has only to compare it to the dismal, blood-soaked failures of dictatorial socialism in the 20th century.

Yet capitalism does not inspire love. In most big cities you can generate a mob to trash the local McDonald's, but who would demonstrate in favour of capitalism? History seems to show that even if people think they like freedom and democracy, they are attracted to repressive but more exciting ideas of government.

Heroic military states from those of the Iliad to Napoleon to Hitler have celebrated conquest and prowess. It's a nifty way for any society to acquire wealth - just take it from other people. Systems of despotic kingship also attract in the ways they elevate a glorious dictator, with all the splendour of ceremony that attends royal despotisms. Despots get their wealth by stealing from their own people.

Capitalism is not nearly as sexy. Instead of glorifying conquest or pomp or deifying a leader, its chosen virtues are mundane and boring - thrift, self-reliance, cautious investment, politely serving customers, obeying the law and paying your debts.


Immanuel Kant once remarked that "from the crooked timber of humanity no truly straight thing can be made". Capitalism does not try to straighten the warped wood that we are but adjusts itself to us.

For people in search of a perfect world, that will always seem an unsatisfactory solution. For those who love freedom, it's not a bad thing at all.