Friday, April 24, 2009

Should We Thank the Founders for Capitalism?

Has capitalism in the United States been beneficial to America and the world?

There's no question that the Founding Fathers believed in capitalist, free market principles, and that they enshrined those concepts into the nation's fabric. The Protestant work ethic, the right of private property ownership, and the security of wealth (primarily land in the founding era) were all deeply embedded in the Founders' psyche. As a result, modern capitalism defined the founding of the United States and powered its rise to become the leading super power of the world.

Capitalism, however, has its detractors. Quite a few, in fact. It's no coincidence that many of these detractors are also not very fond of the United States. These critics often argue that capitalism is dependent on greed, and that greed is bad.

Capitalism's defenders, however, point out that greed is common in the human condition, and is hardly unique to capitalism. Watch the late (and great) Milton Freidman school Phil Donahue on this point...

Dinesh D'Souza takes the point further, arguing that capitalism constructively channels and ultimately civilizes greed. D'Souza writes:

"The moral argument for capitalism is that it makes us better people by regulating the vices of greed and selfishness. Capitalism civilizes greed in much the same way that marriage civilizes lust. Greed, like lust, is part of our human nature; it would be futile to try to root it out. What capitalism does is to channel greed in such a way that it works to meet the wants and needs of society."

What do you think? Is capitalism good or bad? And should we thank the Founders for it -- or wish they'd started us off on a different footing?


bpabbott said...


Great vid! I'd not seen it before!

I've been and will continue to be an admirere of Milton.

Brad Hart said...

I have to disagree, Brian. The Founders were niether pro or anti capitalist. Capitalism as a legitimate force doesn't come on the American scene until the Market Revolution of the early 1800s. There is simply no way of knowing what all the founders would have thought of true capitalism.

Good video though!

Brian Tubbs said...

Alexander Hamilton was most certainly capitalist, Brad. And Hamilton's vision ultimately prevailed.

Randall said...

This is a common mistake made by many to assume that Hamilton was a capitalist. He was not. In fact, Hamilton was against many fundamental components of capitalism. Mr. Hart is right that capitalism as a legitimate market force did not emerge until after the era of our founding fathers.

Instead of capitalist, you should be calling Hamilton a quasi-merchantilist of sorts.

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Anonymous said...

A counter-argument to illustrate the flaw in Dinesh D'Souza's argument would be to point out that marriage, the device by which we "regulate" lust, has many inherent problems when the players within its system fail to abide by the guidelines of that system. Like the negative impacts which accompany cheating, separtion, divorce, and child custody issues, we have seen the turbulent effects caused by unregulated capitalistic markets. Capitalism is good for progress, but the greed which promotes innovation and creativity can be detrimental when unchecked.