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The Soul of a Capitalist

January 15, 2008

Australian Peter Saunders has written a very compelling defense of capitalism. I have heard countless times that capitalism is a soul crushing endeavor that is of little benefit to society. Capitalism certainly does not have the glamour of Socialism or the cult of personality of Fascism. It is the system of modern civilization. It is the framework on how the world works.

Boring capitalism cannot hope to compete with all this moral certainty, self-righteous anger, and sheer bloody excitement. Where is the adrenalin in getting up every day, earning a living, raising a family, creating a home, and saving for the future? Where is the moral crusade in buying and selling, borrowing and lending, producing and consuming? The Encyclopædia Britannica describes ‘soul music’ as ‘characterised by intensity of feeling and earthiness.’ It is in this sense that capitalism is soulless, for although it fills people’s bellies, it struggles to engage their emotions.

Overlooked in this critique of Capitalism is the force for good it can be. It is the source of many of the advances that modern society enjoys such as mobile phones, televisions, computers, the expansion of the Internet and the lifesaving medical treatments we now enjoy. It has also been key in helping the poor the world over.

Capitalism has also made it possible for many more people to live on Earth and to survive for longer than ever before. In 1900, the average life expectancy in the ‘less developed countries’ was just thirty years. By 1960, this had risen to forty-six years. By 1998, it was sixty-five years. To put this extraordinary achievement into perspective, the average life expectancy in the poorest countries at the end of the twentieth century was fifteen years longer than the average life expectancy in the richest country in the world—Britain—at the start of that century.

This is not to say that capitalism is a unalloyed good. The development of the last century has come at a cost of environmental damage such as unclean air and water which has been remedied to some degree and others such as climate change which has yet to be addressed in any meaningful way. The change that it brings about with globalization, immigration, and technological change has stressed cultures throughout the world. With the bad news that creeps up related to capitalism, I also am glad to to be reminded of the positive changes that capitalism has brought to the world.

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