Capitalism: A lot more than materialism

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Prolific letter writer Don Boudreaux of the George Mason University Department of Economics rightly points out in this missive to The Washington Post that in many circles, the idea of capitalism – “I keep what what I earn” – is regarded as greedy and unenlightened, while the opposing view – “I want to take what you earn” – is somehow seen as selfless and progressive.

His letter is printed below:

E.J. Dionne describes capitalism as “a system rooted in materialist values” (“To the Right of the Pope,” July 9).  “Materialist values” is a vague term, but if – as seems to be the case – Mr. Dionne thinks the chief justification for capitalism is that it generates lots of stuff for consumers, he’s mistaken.

While capitalism emphatically does improve material living standards, all the great champions of economic freedom (aka capitalism) ultimately justify this system because only it affords true dignity to individuals – the dignity that is denied by interventionist systems which arbitrarily diminish each person’s freedom to choose.  For “Progressives” such as Mr. Dionne not to share the value of freedom is fine.  But it’s rather cheeky to accuse, with one breath, proponents of capitalism of being unduly focused on material goods, and with the next breath to insist that a major problem with capitalism is that some people get fewer material goods than do other people.

Boudreaux has made a name for himself over the years with his many letters to various publications refuting poorly-reasoned economic theories propounded by the mainstream media, decrying big-government apologists who would have us believe that the concept of a “free lunch” does indeed exist and, in general, poking holes in the simplistic market theories that dominate as many newsroom editorial boards as state legislatures and city councils.

One imagines, however, his track record of actually getting the letters in print isn’t all that great. The emperor, after all, doesn’t like being told he has no clothes.