“With malice toward none, with charity for all.”
Since the beginnings of the human brain, we have been problem-solvers. We observe a problem, we try to solve it. “Capitalism” is the political branch of the philosophical principle which recognizes this human characteristic and embraces it, allows it to blossom. The opposite is Statism, the principle that people need to be boxed in, corralled, told what to do, made to do it – according to “social planners”.
The history of mankind is the story of millions and billions of people over thousands and tens of thousands of years, observing problems, and working, experimenting, singly or in sympathetic groups, to solve those problems within their reach, as efficiently as possible - some experiments failing, others succeeding, some more so and some less so - and sharing their results with others. Everyone benefits from this marvelous engine of independent thought, creativity and invention. It explains why we have cars, computers, soap, showers, fire, money, schools, shoes, fast-food, rocket ships and absolutely everything else outside of our skin including the inventive nuances of culture and language itself… unless you believe your tongue is a thing the Government gave you.
No Government ever invented anything; at best, Government money (taken from people) was used to hire thinking people to invent things, but that is a “closed-shop”, and competition is not permitted to challenge the conclusions. And when a Government steps in to declare an area of invention or thought (a chunk of the economy) “out of bounds”, like Medicare in Canada (or Freedom of Speech, in China, or Freedom of Thought under the religious zealots of the middle east such as Iran or the Taliban, for instance), through the power of law - and the fear of punishment for disobedience - it deliberately switches off the magic of mankind’s creativity, and stagnation takes over.
Only Government can create a dangerous monopoly: a “legalized” monopoly, one propped up by force of law. No free market can sustain a monopoly, since no player can employ force to prevent competition. Competition, innovation, invention, “work arounds” will always find a path, like a river around a big rock in its path. But introduce the power of law, and use guns to keep the river in its path? Ah, now that is a true monopoly. That is why Government jobs are the only “guaranteed” jobs, and Capitalist jobs are the only worthwhile jobs. – the one exists by force, the other by merit.
And no matter what, no matter how inefficient or disastrous the “Government Plan”, competition and inventiveness are decreed “not welcome”, and the dinosaur begins to stagnate. That is why Medicare will crash in Canada: it is an economic certainty. Through many future years of pain we will watch its death-throes, because Governments, and voters, will refuse to believe the reality, and would rather wallow in the perversity of sacrificing our children’s wealth and patients’ lives in order to keep the “Great Idea” alive. It is also why the Communist Soviet Union crashed – this really isn’t rocket science folks. Force can be potent, years may be required to overcome its strengths, but crash it must because it violates the human spirit, and that outlasts and trumps everything.
“Tyrants would distribute largesse, a bushel of wheat, a gallon of wine, and a sesterce: and then everybody would shamelessly cry, “Long live the King!” The fools did not realize that they were merely recovering a portion of their own property, and that their ruler could not have given them what they were receiving without having first taken it from them.”
Discourse on Voluntary Servitude, Etienne de law Boetie, 1553
A powerful Government can force its people to do all sorts of inefficient things, through fear of the lash: that’s how the pyramids were built after all. But it’s not human nature to stop solving problems. That’s why “black markets” evolve to get around Government monopolies; the Government itself becomes the problem, and off our brains go trying to figure out a “work around”. You can pave a driveway, sidewalk, or parking lot… but nature keeps popping up through any crack it finds, doesn’t it, and in the long run, my money is always on nature.
So how does all of this address “the poor” and “poverty”?
Since the beginning of time, the inventiveness of Capitalism has been doing more to alleviate human poverty and despair than any other force you can choose to name. Only human inventiveness can take credit for all the time and labour saving developments which really matter, which really move humanity forward along the path of needs and wants.
“60 percent of poor families now have clothes dryers (compared to 45% in 1971); 37 percent have dishwashers (18% in 1971); and 78% have air conditioning (32% in 1971). More remarkable than mere possessions, however, is the drop in hours worked that are needed to acquire things. In 1971, it took 551 work hours (at the average U.S. hourly rate) to buy the 11 appliances included in the comparison. In 2009, it took only 171 hours… Whatever the explanation, the poor are getting richer all the time.”
Toronto Globe & Mail, December 18, 2009
Even the richest, most powerful Kings of the Middle Ages could only dream of indoor plumbing; yet most of us now accept it as a given. No government developed that; that was Capitalism, the inventiveness of human ingenuity, the trickle down theory in action. That’s a joke, but the point is true; in fact, most discovery and innovation has been done despite the opposition of Governments.
"So far, the clear failure of government program after government program to achieve its objective has simply led to a clamour for still larger, still more expensive, still more far-reaching programs – to do still more harm. It is about time that the liberals asked themselves whether the fault may not be in the system they favour – doing good at other people’s expense – rather than in the way the system is operated."
Milton Friedman, 1970
Governments have often jumped in with “programs” to alleviate the poor, taken wealth from the wealthy, and redistributed it to the poor. But that is not actually alleviating poverty; it is merely redistributing wealth – a solution for today. It is a political agenda, a 4-year plan, to retain power by fleecing Peter to repress Paul. Before long, the “poor” cry out for more repression of the rich, so that they can have what they otherwise can’t, or don’t have the patience to wait for. The 4 year plan becomes the 8 and 12 year plan, and then the rich leave the land, or just give up producing, and the poor have achieved what they sought: equality in poverty. Desiring to possess all at once that which they have not the patience to wait for, they will have succeeded in killing the “Golden Goose” which is their only path to prosperity.
"The country can have exactly as many paupers as it chooses to pay for."
Thomas Macky, 1896
But leave aside monopolistic, ingenuity-crushing Government programs for a moment. Poverty is just another problem for inventive human minds, isn’t it? And human minds, and indeed human hearts have, can and will continue to address the problems they see. You don’t need Government to see a problem; people see them all by themselves. We always have and we always will. It is the nature of Capitalism to seek to solve problems and – amazingly – attack poverty. Where else are worthwhile jobs going to come from?
To solve problems we have these days, just quick examples in our current times, I can cite Amnesty International, people (not Government) concerned about State legal abuses; we have Doctors Without Borders, people (not Government) concerned with international alleviation of humanitarian crises; we have the Salvation Army, the John Howard Society, the Cancer Society, the Lung Association, the Heart & Stroke Association, the Red Cross, the Red Crescent, the Humane Society, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, together with Warren Buffet’s billions (not to mention his world-wide campaign to have the vastly rich of this planet contribute their wealth to good causes, howsoever chosen), countless churches, mosques, synagogues and so forth, even school baking drives, the Boy Scouts, and indeed even poverty-welfare groups all made up of people (not Governments) who have specific concerns for the welfare of others, tugging at their particular hearts. Recently, parts of Haiti were destroyed by an earthquake. John Travolta travelled down with his personal 747 filled with supplies to help out. George Clooney held a telethon with famous actors to raise emergency funds. People all over the world pitched in to help out, in lesser or greater degrees. So too with the tsunami in 2004 in Java and with Japan’s recent earthquake. The Statists refuse to acknowledge the magnificent power of Individualism.
“Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience then?"
Henry David Thoreau, 1849
WE NEVER NEEDED GOVERNMENT IN ORDER TO CARE! It is in our nature to care, to resent problems, and to want to solve them. All by ourselves we seem competent to form associations of like-minded individuals willing to work towards a common cause. If Government magically disappeared, these groups wouldn’t disappear and go away; rather, more charities and cooperative collectives would rise to fill the needs we see! We are brilliant problem-solvers – it has been our history and will be our future.
And here’s another point: don’t delude yourself that the only clever people are in Government, and that if somehow we took Government away, all cleverness would end. Aren’t Government employees also just humans, or do you suppose they are a different, more clever, or more caring species?
The moral quandary, the “Robin Hood Syndrome”, occurs when people, desperate in their personal quest to alleviate a problem they see, decide it is easiest to embrace the tools of the State, (that is “force”), to achieve their ends. “The ends”, they decide, “justify the means”. Other people must be made to pay, (they claim), because what is tugging at their particular heartstrings is so important that the Liberty of others is immaterial, or should be sacrificed for the cause.
"Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants: it is the creed of slaves."
William Pitt, 1783
Some will say that “Everyone needs money, but we need it more than you, so we are (a) going to steal it directly or (b) pretend it’s not theft by having the Government launder the money first.” This is one of those rare instances in which the desire to get money is the root of all sorts of evil. Look, earning money is great and good; stealing it is morally wrong. This is an ancient human law, nowadays disregarded as inconvenient.
You who claim your need justifies taking my wealth, understand this: Your need is not a claim on my means. Memorize this Capitalist slogan. This Truth is easily demonstrated, if demonstration is required. If I am not born, do you have a claim upon me? Or what if I am dead? If I live in another place where your law cannot reach me, do I yet owe you something? If you are on a desert island, alone, against whom do you advance your pillaging claim of entitlement? The fact is, you need victims – and this is the moral crime – your claim is only made against those you can reach, and plunder. Capitalists make free bargains to achieve their goals: Statists resort to piracy to fund the luxury of their pity.
There is nothing wrong with being ‘poor’. It is a relative monetary state. No one is as poorly off as a caveman, unless they have deliberately taken a vow of poverty. Everyone, at least in Canada, is now born into a world vastly more delightful than that of our ancestors: we have medicines, we don’t live in log cabins, we have fresh food, only a few of us need to milk the cows, and so on. Some have expensive cars, houses, watches and so on, but so what? The more the wealthy invest in things, the more the price comes down. Early computers cost a fortune; now, almost nothing, most people can grab one if they want it – you can thank the early rich buyers for that evolution. They paid for the bugs. Not only have we moved past wagons, to cars and high-speed trains and jets, but now entrepreneurs will be travelling into space; our children or grandchildren may get to orbit this planet, praise be to Capitalism!
There is nothing ‘wrong’ with being poor. It’s the hopelessness that things can get better which is the moral evil. Give poor people (give all people) hope and an environment in which things can get better, and they will be proud to earn their way up the ladder. Why do you suppose immigrants desire to leave places of repression and start out fresh, even with nothing, in a land of opportunity? There is vastly more sense of pride of ownership in a thing earned, than a thing stolen. That’s integrity. It’s why you probably don’t wish to rob your neighbour’s house tonight, even if you could get away with it.
And I would rather build a society with one hundred Liberty loving immigrants than with one thousand trough-wallowing Statists, with their hands reaching into their neighbours’ pockets.
"The more is given, the less the people will work for themselves, and the less they work, the more their poverty will increase."
Leo Tolstoi, 1892
No matter how monetarily poor is a man, he can afford as much honour as he desires. No matter how rich a man becomes, he can be a moral bankrupt. Those who clamour to “steal from the rich, to give to the poor”, are blind to the moral bankruptcy of their position.
When people, clamouring for their causes forget the principle of Liberty and lobby the Government to compel strangers to pay for the luxury of their pity, it is morally wrong, not only for the force imposed but also because they deny the joy of the gift. If the Government promises to look after “the poor”, no one else needs to do so. If I am forced by taxation to hand over my wealth to the poor of Africa (or wherever), I receive no commensurate joy in the giving. It happened without any emotional compensation to me. People solve problems because it feels good to solve problems. If the Government takes away that sense of satisfaction, we don’t get to feel good; instead, we ignore the problem. If I am not allowed to solve it, why should I pay attention? I am taught it is not a problem, and therefore it does not merit my attention. I have other problems to deal with.
“However selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it but the pleasure of seeing it.”
Adam Smith, 1776
If I were an advocate for the poor (or for that matter, any other particular cause), I would advance my cause through gentle persuasion, and try to teach people to see the problem voluntarily; not like the current crop of short-cutters, who simply want grants from the Government. It is much the same with this political philosophy itself: I try to gently teach, through logic. I will not resort to force, because that would only lead to the stagnation of ideas, as in China or the middle east.
Let wealth find its course, naturally, like the river around the rock. Water will go to some places, more than others, that’s true: it may be a winding river, in places a torrent, in others sleepy, it will ebb and it will flow; yesterday’s depths will become tomorrow’s shallows: but the river will flow along its natural path in the most efficient way possible. You can tamper with it, to be sure, with the use of force, but the price paid is immeasurable; something intangible will not be right, somehow a greater price will need to be paid, someday.
Capitalism is not about repressing the poor; that is just the trite evil fiction created by Charles Dickens and Karl Marx. It is about man’s spirit, our very nature and character – and the politics of liberty to let those traits evolve as they will, recognizing that everyone has the birthright to walk their life the way they choose, to find their own purpose and joys. Recognize your allies, you spokesmen against Poverty: it is Capitalism – the free exercise of liberated minds – which has always been, and will always remain, the single and grandest solution to mankind’s woes.
"Woman your fine ointment, brand new and expensive
Should have been saved for the poor.
Why has it been wasted? We could have raised maybe
Three hundred silver pieces or more.
People who are hungry, people who are starving
They matter more than your feet and hair!
Surely you're not saying we have the resources
To save the poor from their lot?
There will be poor always, pathetically struggling.
Look at the good things you've got.
Think while you still have me!
Move while you still see me!
You'll be lost, and you'll be sorry when I'm gone."
[“Jesus Christ, Superstar”]