We’re hearing a lot about what’s tearing us apart, but what has brought us together?
At the beginning of the summer, I was offered the privilege of writing an article for this journal by its editor. I wasn’t sure I’d make the time to create something, what with work and spending long lost time with family and friends.
I had decided to write a more economics-based piece on The Broken Window Fallacy, but with the recent events in the USA, I figure a more topical article is in order.
We’ve heard a lot about the polarisation of politics and cultures in the past few days, especially laments centring on the breakdown of social cohesion in liberal democracies. Sadly, what’s been lost in recent discussions regarding the events in Charlottesville, USA is that social cohesive pressure that has brought together such an amalgam of cultures and communities in the West.
I am, of course, referring to capitalism and, more specifically, our free market economy.
My views on the tragic events in that town and the politics surrounding it are irrelevant to the topic at hand. However, I will re-iterate, as I have done elsewhere, that white supremacy, and racial supremacy of any kind, must not be tolerated in our society, full stop.
That being said, there has been no stronger harmonising force for racial tensions, or religious tensions, or sexual orientation tensions, and so on, than the market. Bar none. What our society’s mainstream pundits (on the Left and on the Faux-Right aka the Alt-Right) have conveniently forgotten is that capitalism is an inherently amoral institution. Individuals may project their morality onto their functions within the market, but the market as a whole does not care whether you’re black, white, brown, straight, gay, or transgendered. It simply connects producers and consumers via its chief signalling mechanism: prices.
Does discrimination exist at the micro level, that is between individuals and firms? Of course it does. We’re dealing with humans who have personal preferences. In fact, individual discrimination is the chief motive force behind prices. There’s a reason VCRs (I know, dated) and iPhones vary so much in their cost, although being composed of similar input materials. Since more people desire iPhones than they do VCRs, the producer, and subsequent distributors, are willing to sell these phones at higher prices to tap into the consumers’ desire. Put simply, consumers are willing to do without much more to acquire an iPhone than they are for a VCR; sustained sales at higher prices communicate this to the producer and suppliers.
So how has this system, with biased humans choosing whatever they want incorporated as a feature thereof, built the most peaceful and inclusive epoch in human history? The answer is simple: the market cares not who makes what as long as what’s desired is produced. When you read this article, I can wager that you’ve seldom thought about the hydro powering your computer or the designing that went into the processor and video card delivering this message. And, you’ve thought even less about the individuals behind these processes.Chances are it was an Asian who designed the processor and an East Indian walking the night beat on security at the hydro plant. Heck, it’s probably a black lineman maintaining your local hydro delivery wires. But the market could not care less about who does what, as long as it’s done. And that’s the beauty of it.
The market has incrementally cemented economic interdependence, whilst doing so largely unnoticed. That’s why it is so hilariously ironic to see White supremacists march with tiki torches that were probably made by non-Whites. It’s equally ironic to see anti-capitalists march with placards written with markers crafted halfway across the world, the delivery of which could only be made feasible via free trade policy. It goes to show just how much we take capitalism for granted, and further, just how out of touch with reality these people are. Sadly, their messages are gaining traction with younger folks because of the erroneously perceived faults with capitalism (the causes of which are socialist and corporatist/cronyist government policies, but that’s a discussion for another day).
And that leads me to my last point on the matter. The productivity gains from capitalism with its incentive structure, fuelled by price signals and entrepreneurship, have reduced the per capita man hours needed to maintain (and improve) our quality of life. The fact of the matter is these protesters would simply not have the time to spout their abhorrences were they living in the systems they espouse. The amount of leisure time we have now has never been higher in human history, only the aristocrats of yore came close. Yet another feature of capitalism we take granted, and yet another irony these degenerates spout. With more leisure time, we’ve used it to foster our communities and volunteer in charitable organisations. We’ve used it to build our families and grow our friendships. We’ve used it learn about new cultures and incorporate them into our own, from whatever background we may come. Sadly, these tenets of our society are under threat by this current misplaced unrest.
The only downside I can think of with regards to capitalism and social cohesion is perhaps it’s left us with too much time on our hands. As my mother so eloquently put it, “If these folks were busy working, they’d be too damn tired to complain about all kinds of nonsense. They forget how good they have it”. The liberal way has always been to strive for better, knowing better is always possible. Regardless of what we call ourselves today, we are these liberals. We believe in the free market and the supremacy of capitalism. We know the good it has built for humanity. It’s time we got back to building up those around us. It’s time we all got back to work.