Jonah Goldberg takes it into his hands to defend capitalism from its detractors using an argument never made before with such detail or care. Now, a warning: given that this is Jonah Goldberg discussing a large-scale social, political and economic concept, he could very well be talking about photosynthesis. Or Netflix. Nobody ever really knows.
Capitalism is the greatest system ever created for alleviating general human misery, and yet it breeds ingratitude.
People ask, “Why is there poverty in the world?” It’s a silly question. Poverty is the default human condition. It is the factory preset of this mortal coil. As individuals and as a species, we are born naked and penniless, bereft of skills or possessions. Likewise, in his civilizational infancy man was poor, in every sense. He lived in ignorance, filth, hunger, and pain, and he died very young, either by violence or disease.
Actually, we’re generally born to parents who have some level of what the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls “shit”. Said “shit” is used to care and feed us until such point as we are legally and biologically capable of supporting ourselves, or, in the case of some, given the means by our parents who happen to be big shots in conservative circles.
Anyway, on to the real point of all this:
The interesting question isn’t “Why is there poverty?” It’s “Why is there wealth?” Or: “Why is there prosperity here but not there?”
At the end of the day, the first answer is capitalism, rightly understood. That is to say: free markets, private property, the spirit of entrepreneurialism and the conviction that the fruits of your labors are your own.
A recent World Bank study found that a nation’s wealth resides in its “intangible capital” — its laws, institutions, skills, smarts and cultural assumptions. “Natural capital” (minerals, croplands, etc.) and “produced capital” (factories, roads, and so on) account for less than a quarter of the planet’s wealth. In America, intangible capital — the stuff in our heads, our hearts, and our books — accounts for 82 percent of our wealth.
And here lies the problem with the argument – capitalism alone doesn’t make us prosperous as a whole, and it doesn’t make us free. Slavery was a capitalist enterprise. Wal-Mart is a capitalist enterprise. Webvan was a capitalist enterprise. Capitalism is great as an unfocused generator of wealth, which can benefit one or can benefit many, but what’s supposed to make us such a great engine of prosperity for all of our citizens (at least until Republicans try to tear it all down) is our democratically-led regulation of the marketplace. We generate such wealth because we put inherent limits on the excesses of capitalism, ensuring that no one actor or set of actors becomes too strong or holds too much sway over other actors. The current breakdown in the system comes in large part because we let creditors run amok, doling out poison-pill credit to lenders who, under no circumstances, should have received it. We’ve seen it over and over and over again since the advent of Reaganism – the great oceanic oasis of capitalism, left unfettered, tends to fuck up our nice little system but good if nobody’s there to step in and say, “nuh-uh”.
Of course, I must always remember that I’m talking to Jonah Goldberg, so my real response is this: the three-at-a-time unlimited rentals are your best bet, as long as you’re watching and returning them in a timely fashion. That’s the detail and care that an argument should be made with.