Is capitalism moral or greedy? If it's based on greed and selfishness, what's the best alternative economic system? Perhaps socialism? And if capitalism is moral, what makes it so? Walter Williams, a renowned economist at George Mason University, answers these questions and more.
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Many people believe that free market capitalism is selfish, even immoral. They say it's about greed, about a hunger for money and power; that it helps the rich and hurts the poor. They're wrong. The free market is not only economically superior, it is morally superior to any other way of organizing economic behavior. Here's why.
The free market calls for voluntary actions between individuals. There's no coercion.
In a free market, if I want something from you, I have to do something for you.
Let's say I mow your lawn and you pay me twenty dollars. What does that twenty dollars really mean? When I go to the grocer and say, "I would like to have four pounds of steak" He, in effect, says to me, "You want a lot of people to serve you -- ranchers, truckers, butchers, and packagers. All these people have to be paid. What did you do to serve your fellow man?"
"Well," I say, "I mowed my fellow man's lawn." And the grocer says, "Prove it." Then I offer him the twenty dollars. Think of the money that you've earned as a certificate of performance. It's proof that you've served your fellow man.
People accuse the free market of not being moral because they say it's a zero-sum game, like poker, where if you win, it means that I have to lose. But the free market is not a zero-sum game. It's a positive sum game. You do something good for me, such as give me that steak and I'll do something good for you -- give you twenty dollars. I'm better off because I valued the steak more than I valued the $20 and the grocer is better off because he valued the $20 more than he valued the steak. We both win.
Ironically, it's the government, not the free market, that creates zero-sum games in our economy. If you use the government to get a food stamp, a farm subsidy or a business bail out, you will benefit -- but at the expense of your fellow citizens. Isn't it more moral to require that people serve their fellow man in order to have a claim on what he produces rather than not serve others and still have a claim?
But, a lot of people ask, what about giant corporations? Don't they have too much power over our lives? Not in a free market. Because in a free market We, the People, decide the fate of companies who want our business.
Free market capitalism will punish a corporation that does not satisfy customers or fails to use resources efficiently. Businesses, big and small, that wish to prosper are held accountable by the people who vote with their dollars. And, again, it's the government that can undo this.
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