As Democrat politicians across the country from mayors to Congressmen and Senators openly demand socialism for the U.S., capitalists should wonder why free market economics hasn’t survived the onslaught of socialism for the past 150 years? Laissez-faire reigned in the Dutch Republic from 1600 until Napoleon crushed it, and it dominated the UK and U.S. throughout the 19th century.
Capitalism has enjoyed brilliant defenders: Frederick Bastiat in France and Francis Wayland in the U.S. as well as the great British and French economists of the 19th century. In the 20th we were blessed with Ludwig von Mises and F.A. Hayek, Milton Friedman, Murray Rothbard and many more. More recently we’ve enjoyed the luminous books of Drs. Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams. All presented overwhelming evidence that socialism impoverishes and brutalizes the people while free markets enrich and liberates. But they have failed to convince a majority.
Why is it that socialism can fail miserably everywhere it has been tried for 150 years and still hold such an attraction for most people? It’s not just the lies that socialists tell, claiming none of those failed attempts were true socialism, that real socialism has never been tried. Intelligent people can see through the lies.
The failure is tactical. Defenders of capitalism have relied on economic consequences to persuade: capitalism works; socialism doesn’t. Socialists have won because they appeal to morality. The great poet T.S. Eliot understood this. Russel Kirk wrote in Eliot and his Age that for Eliot, “Economics must recognize the higher authority of ethics.”
“I cannot but believe that there are a few simple ideas at bottom, upon which I and the rest of the unlearned are competent to decide according to our several complexions….So that we need Economists who will not merely demand of us enough wit to appreciate their own intellectual brilliance...but who can descend to show us the relation between the financial cures that they advocate and our simple human principles and convictions.”
“Bolsheviks at any rate believe in something which has what is equivalent for them to a supernatural sanction: and it is only with a genuine supernatural sanction that we can oppose it.”
“The system which the intelligent economist discovers or invents must immediately be related to a moral system.”
“For myself, a right political philosophy came more and more to imply a right theology – and right economics to depend upon right ethics: leading to emphases which somewhat stretched the original framework of a literary review.”
As brilliant and well-read as Eliot was, he refused to learn from Mises or Hayek who were his contemporaries. Instead, he espoused the distributism of G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc, who thought they had discovered a third way between socialism and capitalism but had merely repackaged Fabian socialism.
Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Marxist responsible for the cultural Marxism fueling Black Lives Matter, Antifa, and White Fragility, understood the importance of morality, too.
“Gramsci believed that the only way to achieve a proletarian revolution would be to break the faith of the masses of Western voters in Christianity and the moral system derived from Christianity.
“Religion and culture were at the base of the pyramid, the foundation. It was the culture, and not the economic condition of the working class, that was the key to bringing communism to the West. To be fair to Gramsci, he didn’t start this ball rolling; the West was doing a fine job of damaging its cultural tradition.”
The moral psychologist Dr. Johnathan Haidt understands it. In his book,The Righteous Mind, he shows that socialists care about little more than the equal distribution of wealth and redefine justice as equality of wealth.
The problem with our tactic of demonstrating that capitalism works while socialism fails economically is that very few Americans go to college and fewer will take an introduction to economics class. Even fewer will get exposure to the best economics, Austrian. Most people will hold up a cross and garlic to repel any book on economics. So, a tiny fraction of people will know that socialism has destroyed civilization while capitalism has built it.
The few who break ranks and read good economics simply don’t care. Morality is more important to them than wealth. They see poverty as a holy state, as have most Christians through history who admired the oath of poverty that monks swore. Of course, they can’t explain why they are so concerned about helping the poor. If poverty is holiness, then we should strive to make everyone as poor as possible instead of trying to end their poverty, but then I’m falling into the error of launching a spear of reason against the shield of irrationality.
One of the rare theologians who was also an economist, Paul Heyne, grasped the problem of morality well and spent most of his career addressing the moral dimension of economics. His best book was Are Economists Basically Immoral? in which Heyne builds an armory of moral defenses for capitalism.
We need more authors and video producers like Heyne because the battle for tomorrow is fought over the hearts of young people today who don’t suffer from sclerosis of the mind and heart. They haven’t been exposed to good economics and probably never will be. Their morality is shaped by their family experience, which is necessarily socialist. They will want to apply family ethics to the entire nation, which as Hayek warned, invites disaster. But they are deeply concerned about morality.