Capitalism by definition is merely the private ownership, use and disposal of capital. In its purest state, the system of laissez-fair capitalism can be abused. It is sometimes a means of acquiring wealth in unethical and even immoral ways. But, where there is a prevailing moral compass in society, capitalism also adopts that moral compass and when it is practiced ethically and morally, Capitalism works best.
Capitalism can and does provide a structure for initiative, which leads to the creation of wealth and its concomitant high standard of living. The Enlightenment led to understanding and promoting the value of individual freedom, its principles enshrined in and embraced by the founding fathers of the Unites States. Indeed, in the atmosphere of free American Capitalism, wealth could be and was often created and accumulated by people of common birth.
As a result, in the US, a new class system of sorts evolved, stratified only by the merit of enterprise. So pervasive was recognition of this reality, that it was adopted by other nations that had before been entombed in archaic notions of birthright and moribund social traditions. Here, through the “golden door” of American promise, people were welcomed from faraway places to become part of what was soon known as “the American dream.” This provided more than mere sustenance. It also made possible the move of working people into that of the true middle class, with ownership of private property and other vestments of wealth, such as the family car, vacation homes, travel and higher levels of education, to name only a few luxuries. In the freedom of American Capitalism, anyone could become rich if he worked hard enough and intelligently enough.
In some cases, the accumulation of wealth was spurred by greed and dishonesty, but for the most part, American industry, large and small, was renowned for producing quality products and services which sold for reasonable, affordable prices, and the honesty of American enterprise was recognized everywhere. In the America of the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, the average standard of living, with all its amenities, grew to exceed the standards of living of people everywhere else on the globe. Indeed, this is what brought immigrants from other nations to form the great “melting pot” of America.
Although not spelled out in any rulebook regarding Capitalism, fundamental honesty, the most outspoken virtue of American culture, was its conscience, and it remains the basis of all true capitalist enterprise. The honesty of the system is kept in check by competition, which is also a fundamental part of American Capitalism.
But that earlier understanding of American Capitalism has gradually eroded. What was once a virtue is now often scoffed at with such expressions as, “nice guys finish last.” With the rampant excesses of corporate raiding, with government interference in regulation and corporate welfare which enables certain businesses to flourish in an atmosphere of government favoritism, the natural enzymes of honest Capitalism have diminished. We appear to be living in an age of greed, the causes of which are many, but the loosened moral fiber of American culture seems to be at the root of its decay.
The greed demonstrated by the corporate raiders of the 80s, when companies with generational histories of good business practices were stripped of their assets, which sometimes included their pension funds, and tossed on the scrap heap, all in the name of Capitalism, was certainly evidence of the abandonment of traditional American values somewhere along the way.
Likewise, when companies that should rightly have gone out of business and not been shielded from the guilt of corporate corruption were given enormous bailouts because those businesses were “too big to fail” there is surely evidence that government is somehow involved in the corruption of American capitalist principles. And, when it is no longer standard to expect honesty from a vendor or reasonable prices at the gas pump, and when government seizure of our heretofore essentially sovereign health care system causes medical treatment to become too expensive to afford, there is much evidence that American free capitalist principles have been subverted or abandoned.
Perhaps the global spread and monstrous size of corporations, now insulates the human factor of these entities from accountability, allowing stock price instead of reasonable profitability to be the paramount excuse in the marketplace. Or perhaps protections offered by government along with bailouts at taxpayer expense cause an incurable level of arrogance prevalent in CEOs who brag about paying and receiving bonuses, even after they have had to be bailed out. Whatever the cause, the old American Capitalism must reappear and hold its conscience high or all freedom may be threatened.
FJ Rocca is an independent, conservative writer/blogger of fiction and non-fiction, most interested in the philosophy of American Conservatism. Clarity is more important than eloquence, but truth is vital in human discourse.