May Day reflections on capitalism, liberty, and human dignity

What better time than May Day to reflect on the indispensable role of capitalism in liberty and human dignity?  The private ownership of capital is intimately tied to both.

If the people do not own capital, they have no meaningful independence.  It is the great lie of the Left that they can build a world where money doesn’t matter.  It always does.  Owning capital allows groups of people to voluntarily cooperate in ways that defy the agenda of the State.  That’s why the Left is constantly chipping away at the value of private assets, taxing them and restricting the ways in which they can be used.  Some citizens end up as the nominal owners of assets that fall almost entirely under the control of government.

Owning capital gives us the ability to say “no” and explore opportunity in our own way.  Otherwise, everything we do requires the permission of our Ruling Class.  We are assigned to our station in life, rather than finding our fortune.

And if the people don’t own capital, they have no ability to hire each other.  Everyone becomes a ward of the State reporting to an overseer, rather than an employee.  What is employment, if not one capitalist selling his assets – his labor – to another?  The less free we are to make voluntary employment arrangements of our own devising, the less we can be said to own our labor.  

When the government drains money and resources out of the economy, our private ownership of everything is compromised.  The value of money fluctuates.  Every transaction is skimmed for revenue by the hungry State.  Rules and mandates restrict what we are allowed to do with our property, which reduces its value. 

Capitalism is the state of maximum choice for the largest number of people.  Of course it’s not perfect; no system is.  There will always be those who are unsatisfied with what they achieve, and they will always prove to be a receptive audience for political offers to “fix” their problems with coercive force.  Accepting those offers signals a profound lack of confidence in yourself, and a terrible absence of trust for your fellow citizens.  In that way, every form of coercive, activist government injures human dignity.  You can talk about how much you respect people all day long… but what demonstrates that respect more conclusively than the offer of voluntary cooperation, with full respect for the possibility that the offer might be refused?

All of the amazing inventions capitalism have brought into the world are force multipliers for human dignity.  Life for the vast majority of us is certainly more dignified than it was a hundred years ago.  We aren’t toiling all day just to put crumbs of food on the table.  We live longer and healthier lives.  We have so many more options for both productive work and leisure.  We are free to live as we choose in a sense that would have been incomprehensible to the common people of previous centuries.  And we have enough left over to provide honest charity for those in need.

We’ve come so far.  It’s a pity the Left is so good at tricking people into going backwards, and calling it “progressive.”


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