Capitalism contributes to human progress

Published March 10, 2017, 3:01 p.m. - 200 views


MARGARET LINDAHL/MANITOU MESSENGEROverwhelmingly, college students do not support capitalism. The Washington Post recently conducted a survey in which 58 percent of students responded in opposition to capitalism. On our own campus, hundreds of students cheered when Angela Davis called for the end of “global capitalism.”
So what is this “global capitalism” to which she constantly referred? She seemed to view it as a catch-all term responsible for all institutionalized injustice. In reality, this has nothing to do with genuine free enterprise capitalism. Free enterprise capitalism is merely a description for the free interaction of people in absence of government intervention, where private individuals own and control property instead of the state. So we can think of capitalism not as a system, but as a lack of a system: a spontaneous order created by the coincidence of wants. It is radically egalitarian in that property can be owned by anyone instead of being controlled and allocated by the governing elite – typically in their favor.
Rather than fostering mass oppression, free market capitalism is responsible for the mass enrichment of human society in the past 300 years. Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, literacy rates, health and global wealth have increased exponentially. Even today, the most economically free (capitalist) countries – such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, Switzerland and New Zealand – enjoy some of the highest standards of living and quality of life. Economically, free nations in the global South like Chile, Botswana and India have seen explosive growth in civilian wealth due to expansions in economic freedom. Even the “socialist” utopias of Denmark and Sweden are actually quite capitalistic, comparable to the U.S. in terms of economic freedom.
That said, there are aberrations to the trend: those countries that have sought an alternative to joining the capitalist world order and allowing their citizens to prosper. North Korea, Cuba, Russia, Venezuela and Zimbabwe have all suffered from state economic repressions under socialist and communist regimes in the past 100 years, which have led to hordes of refugees, chronic poverty and in some cases, the criminalization of those that would trade freely. Communism was a leading cause of death in the 20th century, responsible for about 94 million deaths – roughly equal to the death toll of both world wars, and 10 times more than the estimated number of deaths from the Holocaust. Yet Angela Davis – and many students – still view mass economic centralization as an unattained utopian ideal.
The capitalist is often imagined as a man in a top hat, jumping into a swimming pool full of money as he laughs greedily. But in reality, the capitalist is the small business owner who opens up shop in a rural town, the entrepreneur setting out on a new venture that will employ hundreds, the farmer investing in new equipment to feed the world, the student engineering sustainable ways to produce energy – anyone that creates value for society or enjoys the fruits of its labor. Why should progress be viewed with skepticism? More social and material progress has occurred under capitalism than under any other period in history, so we as a student body should think twice before we rush to dismiss economic freedom as the root of all evil.

Adam Kaiser ’19 (kaiser2@stolaf.edu) is from Red Wing, Minn. He majors in economics.

About the Author

Adam Kaiser, class of 2019 is a major.

kaiser2@stolaf.edu

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