I can hear you shouting at me now–“the abusive use of government for the sake of big business is not capitalism!” (OK so you don’t actually talk that way, but that is what you are saying.) Ayn Rand and her ilk would be appalled at such a use of government power to favor one business over another. What she fails to see is that her confidence in “capitalism” is misplaced on this point. It lacks the philosophical basis for stopping such things from happening.
Capitalism, Rand’s capitalism, as an ideology firmly rooted in the writings of Adam Smith tells us that personal “greed” can produce the best ends for the most people (even though such ends are nothing to concern us as self-interested people). Total self-interest supposedly governs wisely and produces what is best. Chesterton deserves quoting again: “It was the mystical dogma of Bentham and Adam Smith and the rest, that some of the worst of human passions would turn out to be all for the best. It was the mysterious doctrine that selfishness would do the work of unselfishness.”
What most people fail to see is that Rand subjects self-interest to the vigilant oversight of what she calls “justice.” Of course since she has no higher authority than the self, this is little more than what she thinks is right, and of course if we were all as smart as her we would agree with what she thinks is “just.” That is the sleight of hand that leads to capitalistic despotism.
There is no way to decide which self determines what is just and fair. Rand rejects all higher authority and then tells us we must do what is just in relation to each other. We end up with some of the same problems we had with socialism.
Who determines what is just? Who says what is fair? I can’t steal your goods, but how do we define stealing? If I am smart enough to destroy you financially and it is in my self-interest to do so, on what basis is that financial destruction of a competitor just and legal or illegal and wrong?
Capitalism, even in light of Rand’s idea of justice cannot answer such questions except with despotic power. In the end someone’s self-interest must govern–even if it is the interest of a group.
That is why China can embrace capitalistic business practices and remain as corrupt as ever. In efforts to address corruption in China’s capitalistic efforts, one of China’s top economists has argued that it is religion–the role of the churches specifically–that maintains order and keeps corruption and abuse at bay in the American market economy, not simply capitalism left to itself. But I digress.
In the end we see that socialism underestimates the depravity that is greed in the heart of man; capitalism overestimates the positive potential of greed in the acts of men. Still, in relation to eternity there is something far more sinister in socialism and its effects on the poor which I will address next time.