What Makes Capitalism Great?
Start with the title. Rand doesn’t mince words. She takes the word, capitalism, originally used by socialists as a pejorative, and waves it proudly. Instead of “free markets”, “conservatism,” or “libertarianism,” this feisty gal takes the bull by the horn and is ready for battle. Not only is she going to defend the free market as an effective economic system, which it obviously is, but she’s on a crusade to redeem capitalism as a moral ideal – one that has never been fully appreciated in just those terms.
In the 1960s, when the book came out, this was a radical idea. Most defenders of capitalism argued that despite any moral worth or, even worse, despite its unseemly appeal to man’s base desires, capitalism works better than the rest. They generally conceded the moral high-ground to the socialist’s “good intensions,” but damned human nature as unworthy of such lofty ideals.
Rand took the opposite approach. She boasted that capitalism enabled human achievement because it is morally superior and truly ideal. Capitalism respects the source of human achievement: the individual mind. Only individual rights and liberty, which are capitalism’s essence, can secure a society where one can nurture the capacities required to live this life to the fullest. What are these capacities? The human mind – reason – is man’s essential tool to understand reality, harness nature, sustain his life, and create a life worth living in society worthy of admiration. For Rand, this is a spiritual as well as material enterprise.
Her book quickly refutes the fallacies about the free market and it does so in concise, rigorous, but inviting manner. Many of the authors that I’ve list above have done the path-breaking analysis that is exploited by Rand and her colleagues in the economic essays. But for Rand, the economic arguments are a consequence and manifestation of the essential truth: capitalism respects the source of wealth creation and human greatness at its root.
Many free market advocates note the influence of her thought. Dr. Sciabarra, at New York University, starts with Rand and he has gone on to publish books on her life and work. So, too, has Dr. Machan, of the Hoover Institute. Indeed, some would say half of the libertarian movement started with Rand. But so did many conservatives. Her style may not be everyone’s cup of tea (my style is more restrained, measured, and less combative) but she knew what it took to get her agenda in the public debate. She has helped changed the course of American politics more than people are aware. Her book, Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal, will give you a taste of the power of her ideas. And you won’t be apologizing for our great heritage ever again.