Reappraising – and Praising – Capitalism
“For over a hundred years,” F.A. Hayek wrote in 1961, “we have been exhorted to embrace socialism because it would give us more goods. Since it has so lamentably failed to achieve this…we are now urged to adopt it because more goods after all are not important.”
As a long-time teacher of economics in Missouri, I believe that Hayek’s words are just as apt today as they were 50 years ago. Here we live in a country that has been singularly successful both in creating material prosperity and enabling more and more people to enjoy the blessings of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Yet despite this unrivaled record of success, many of those entrusted with the education of our children regard capitalism, the engine of the nation’s prosperity, not as something to be celebrated, but as something deplorable or shameful.
I have seen first-hand how an aversion to free markets, competition, and economic logic permeates our classrooms. To cite one example, a good friend of mine once invited a professor of education to collaborate in designing a summer curriculum on entrepreneurship for disadvantaged youth in Saint Louis. The professor, a prominent member of his university’s college of education, was aghast. He told my friend that entrepreneurship is the very antithesis of education and the teaching of good citizenship. And over the past 12 years, that is the world view that he has inculcated in hundreds if not thousands of future teachers at all levels of education.
Consider the daughter of my friend. Her teacher, while discussing the environment and the spotted owl, denounced the meat and fur industries. The daughter, parroting her teacher, told her mother that the government should ban both industries. Noticing the obvious slant to the curriculum, mom challenged her daughter to compare the benefits and costs, including the loss of jobs and income. Daughter, resorting to ideological labels in lieu of reasoned response (a sure sign of educational neglect), declared her mother a “capitalist pig.”
Why this bias? Could it be that educators identify entrepreneurial free markets as win-lose zero sum confrontations? One’s gain must be another’s loss? Perhaps they imagine the violent overthrow of kind cooperation in favor of brutal aggression and profit. Self-esteem is sacrificed to the survival of the fittest. The very thought, however fanciful, rattles the nerves of educators.
Market competition, in fact, brings people together through voluntary exchange. You satisfy your own needs by discovering ways to satisfy the needs of others. This evolution from self-sufficient individuals to interdependent beings elevates social cooperation from a generous impulse to the essential linchpin supporting our means of survival. This should warm the hearts of educators everywhere.
Now consider what happens when governments replace entrepreneurs in picking the winners and losers. For example, analyze the multitude of tax credits that Missouri government gives away to insiders with lobbyists. Here, taxpayers are coerced into financing the Taj Mahals of wellconnected developers. Far from a cooperative game of willing participants, this is favoritism for the few, which eliminates competition and promotes waste.
Competition and free markets are the best assurances of social cooperation and peaceful coexistence. That is what we should be teaching our children. Even more, it is what we should be teaching our teachers.
Gregory Aubuchon is a policy analyst at the Show-Me Institute, which promotes market solutions for Missouri Public Policy.