Giving Thanks for Capitalism

With happiness, repose, and considerable wonder at the passage of time, we arrive at another Thanksgiving and the beginning of another holiday season. As we do, it is often difficult amidst the unending barrage of scandalous news and partisan polarization here in the U.S. to recognize just how much we have to be thankful for. In a media culture that—whether as a result of producers’ supply, viewers demands, or a bit of both—is constantly reminding us of the world’s troubles, it is worthwhile to stop and consider how much good has transpired in the last year and to give credit to the system which has made human prosperity possible: capitalism.

Despite the slanders leveled against it, capitalism is not the source of inequality in the world. Inequality of both wealth and rights long predated 1776, and its most impermeable strongholds since then have been in the least capitalist nations of the world. Nor is capitalism synonymous with our current mixed economy system in which some activities are left free while others are taxed and regulated at the discretion of politicians who use their positions to peddle influence and grant special privileges to well lobbied interests. That, too, is a product of the intermingling of state and economy.

Capitalism is economic freedom, and history demonstrates time and again how the security of that freedom and of individual rights holds unrivaled power in unleashing ingenuity and human flourishing. An economy of invention, of trial and error, is sure to see entrepreneurial efforts that try and fail, but in a systematic way, capitalism—to the extent that it is preserved and individuals are left free to pursue their own ends—constantly elevates us to new heights. It has provided to more people in more parts of the globe what Franklin Delano Roosevelt proclaimed as the “Freedom from Want” but which he mistook to be best provided by states when, in truth, it is the market which has served as the ultimate source of human prosperity, the market which made possible the eight hour workday, and the market which inspires and facilitates improvements upon our way of life all the time. The results of this free innovation are all around us.

Consider that from 1 A.D. to 1776, according to the late British economist Norman Macrae, the average per capita income in the world remained roughly flat at about $1,137 (in 2017 dollars) annually, with 99% of humanity below the poverty line. Today, a nation with that level of average income would be tied for seventh-from-last place among the world’s nations. Meanwhile, diseases that once afflicted tens or hundreds of thousands of people even here in the United States have, over the course of our history, been eradicated or diminished to a miniscule fraction of their former prevalence.

Even this year, in 2017, we have seen significant advances in science and technology that stand to significantly improve human health and survival as well as the quality of life we enjoy. Two innovations using gene editing technology have yielded striking developments: one editing a human embryo to eliminate a gene linked to heart conditions, the other achieving the first use of gene editing technology inside of a living human body. Elsewhere, progress has been made in regrowing human organs and tissue and synthesizing a womb to facilitate the development of premature infants.

Some will surely argue that these innovations are often achieved at state universities or with some public funding, and I have addressed arguments on government and science elsewhere, but the fact remains that the United States leads the world in scientific innovation, patents, cures for diseases, cancer treatments, and on so many other dimensions because it offers freedom and prosperity to the best minds in the world, drawing them here to prosper, succeed, and to gift us with the products of their genius.

That, in essence, is so much of what the success of America is and has always been. By protecting the individual rights and freedoms of its people and opening its doors to those who wish to come and build a better life on its shores, the United States has been made the most prosperous nation in human history. Have we faltered in that vision at times? Undoubtedly. Will we again? Very probably. But to the extent that we remain true to the hopes and dreams of those who left their homes to sail thousands of miles in search of religious freedom, to the aspirations of our Founders, and to the generations who have toiled in work and given their lives in battle in defense of that ideal, we retain the idea of America. In that, we will always have something to be thankful for.

To you and your loved ones, Happy Thanksgiving!

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