The Virtues of Capitalism: A Moral Case for Free Markets

Release Date: 
April 30, 2010
Northfield Publishing
Reviewed by: 

Welcome to Redneck economics and philosophy. If Mr. and Ms. Sixpack were suddenly transported to a major talk show, and asked to explain what’s good about capitalism, they would probably touch on most of the points made in this book. It is astonishing to note that one of its authors has a Ph.D. and is a university professor. The keepers of American education have much to answer for: the book displays a shameless ignorance of history, literature, and economics, and unfortunately those are all the areas dealt with.

And this is sad, for there is a good book to be written about why capitalism works, despite our frustration in the recession, and it would be welcome to have the viewpoint of an educated right-wing commentator on the subject. Instead we get something out of a child’s cartoon.

But there is a story behind this book that is perhaps worth mentioning. One of the authors, Austin Hill, has a regional radio talk show. He describes himself (try not to laugh) as “an emerging voice . . . whit-infused [sic!] . . . thought-provoking expert on the intersection of philosophy, religion, politics and culture.” The book he published with “Professor” Scott Rae, bought him a couple of appearances on the national Fox News “Happy Hour” show. Presented as the author of this book, he cuts a sorry figure when contradicted. “I’m here speaking as an author, a commentator . . .” he blusters. Was it worth rushing this sorry tome through to press after all?

This “notable” author and commentator and the “professor” simply don’t seem to know anything about anything, and I’m not talking about defending opinions, but on basic undergraduate-level culture. Challenge number one: Neither of the pair can write grammatical English. “. . . they are most compelled [sic!] to participate in the American political process when certain moral issues are weighing in the balance [sic!].” Imagine working your way through 200 pages of that.

Then there are the problems with observing the world around us. We “learn,” in the chapter on the virtues of the modern marketplace, that most actors in U.S. economic life “behave well,” that is, they are guided by traditional morality and that helps to make our society great. Surely this is a difficult point to maintain at the time that Congress is passing draconian regulations to restrict the liberty of the financial services industry, precisely because its actors cannot be trusted to “behave well”? One can agree or disagree with the lawmakers, but it’s probably not a time to give our bankers an award for good behavior.

And then there is the ludicrously illiterate account of history, no doubt written carefully by the “professor.” We are told, in the same chapter, that, “for several centuries,” medieval Britain was a feudal society, and “ultimate control of the country rested in the hands of the lords.” The poor, “known as ‘serfs,’ weren’t well-connected [sic!].” Now the rich lords, who controlled the economy, had no competition for their farming activities. Without competition, the lords didn’t invest in new technology, and so production stagnated. At this point in time, England suffered periods of bad weather . . . and so the lords’ control over the nation’s resources was threatened. This caused them to make war under each other, under the influence of that great British philosopher, Niccolo Machiavelli.

You think I am making this up? This “author” and this “professor” published this rot. One thinks of the important developments in capitalism made in the 14th century under King Edward III, with the importation of the Flemish weavers into Britain, just as a single example of how knowledge of real history makes hash of this ridiculous argument. Of course, that was before Machiavelli, who died in 1552 (and, guess what? He lived in Italy). . . .

After that, it’s hardly worth going into the rest, which is as predictable as an episode of “Judge Judy.” Work hard, be smart, and your virtue will be rewarded, we are told, and this is a specific characteristic of capitalism (people under socialism don’t work hard, you know). You see, in a capitalist system, a man can invent an electronic device, and, when people buy it, that “creates wealth.” It doesn’t occur to the authors that under a socialist system, a man can also invent an electronic device, sell it at a profit, and create wealth. The difference is in how the wealth is distributed, not in how it is created: theoretically, in a socialist system, the wealth created is shared by a group; in practice we know that it usually goes to a small oligarchy at the expense of the majority.

We are no advocates of socialism, but it is essential to understand these basic distinctions in order to write books about economics.

So the book eventually comes to President Barack Obama, and how his program is undermining the free enterprise system. Big surprise. You can hear the same, in grammatical and literate English, on Fox News every day. But this book will tell you about how the Bible says it’s not right.

When this writer was growing up, we debated issues like this with people like Russell Kirk or William F. Buckley. This comic pair isn’t in line to take their places.