Three Things Every Capitalist Should Read

So, I’ve been debating with some friends on another forum about the sustainability of capitalism. While I respect their opinions, and they speak from great lived experience, I sometimes have difficulty explaining some of the problems that (I think) are inherent in capitalism. Namely, that the landfill filling consumerism we see in the US and around the world is not an aberration, but a systemic part of capitalism. Consumption is the engine that fuels the US economy, after all, and it was “the resilient American consumer” who patriotically shopped after 9//11 and kept the US out of a depression.

I also have difficulty explaining how businesses’ singular purpose of making money (as soon as a business stops making money it ceases to be a business) creates an unsustainable conflict between cost of production and profits. I have, in the past, been reduced to pointing a finger at Wal-Mart and saying, “see?”. To borrow from The Police, my eloquence obviously escapes me. So, to create a more fruitful discussion, here are three things I think every committed capitalist should read:

The Wealth of Nations, by Adam Smith so they know what capitalism is.

The Communist Manifesto, by Marx and Engels so they know what capitalism’s limitations are. An argument is only as good as its refutation of the counter-argument, and it would be impossible to refute Max and Engels, still one of the most complete and coherent criticisms of capitalism, if you’ve never read it.

The New Testament Gospels so they know what is missing from capitalist ideology. Even Adam Smith, a staunch anti-slavery advocate, argued that capitalism needed to constantly be checked by morality and ethics. Capitalism can mislead us into thinking that making money is an end in it self, while the gospels of Christ clearly state that wealth should only serve a higher purpose–blessing the lives of our fellow humans.

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3 thoughts on “Three Things Every Capitalist Should Read

  1. Well, from your perspective 1 out of 3 ain’t good. Would like to read Smith but doubt I’ll ever tackle the Manifesto……too many GOOD things to read. Anyway I don’t much like counterfits. More on my mind with that but I’ll defer to a possible later time other than to say we don’t have to wallow in the muc to know its dirty…..we can SEE what its done to others without going there ourselves.
    Capitalism to me is like books, cars, TV’s, and computers. All involve AGENCY to use the item/medium for good or evil. Each has made the world a better place, brought knowledge, entertainment, freedom from ignorance, and locale, and increased standards of living. YET….each has been used also for profiteering at the expense of its users. This does not make them inherently bad. Many profits have been made legitimately and used for benevolent purposes. The profit motive has inspired and stimulated much invention that likewise has bennefitted societies world wide (compare the # of inventions coming out of capitalist countries vs those coming from others). Though some abuse the system, in whole it has been a blessing to the world. In particular the USA being perhaps the foremost capitalistic country has also both as a country and via its private citizens made the largest contributions to worldwide needs, improvements, and advancements of any nation ever on earth. No argument that without morals and ethics it will perish, but thankfully there are still enough people with those virtures to continue its positive influence. Back to the Gospels; we know that this will not last but will be consumed by the greed and lusts of man but eventually and thankfully replaced by a …. ?… benevolent “dictatorship” ?

  2. The point of reading Manifesto isn’t to become converted to communism; it is to better understand capitalism. Which is the whole point of the post. Nor would I agree with the assessment that reading Marx is “wallowing in the mud.” Remember that when Marx was writing, Western Europe was exploiting both its own working class and their colonies in unconscionable ways. His was, for the time, a very moral philosophy of economics. What we gain by understanding Marx’s critique of capitalism is a cautionary tale that helps us understand capitalism in such away that we don’t repeat the abuses of the past (or the present if you consider Enron, Worldcom, and the predatory lending by scrupulous mortgage companies that has precipitated the current economic down turn).

    The notion that innovation only comes from free-market enterprises is also a myth. While there’s no denying the great innovations that the free-market has helped create, examples of innovation through publicly funded entities are also common. For example, NASA is responsible for many brilliant inventions, Tang and the microwave among them. Also, the internet, the backbone of our 21st century economy, was developed by the department of defense and a spectrum of public and private universities. Finally, the National Science Foundation, a publicly funded entity, is still the largest financial contributor to experimental science in the US. In my opinion, American Innovation has more to do with our national character than it does our national economic system.

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