Many people today who oppose capitalism seem to believe it’s a system designed by rich white men from a bygone, racist era. They see it as an anachronism, a morally corrupt institution that humanity must abolish. As they see it, creating a better world is simply a case of replacing the old system with a new one. A fair and equal system designed by progressive, liberally-minded intellectuals who put people before profit.
But all this is misconception and delusion. Capitalism wasn’t designed by anyone. There is no Karl Marx of capitalism. Capitalism is simply a system of spontaneous order that emerges when people are left unmolested by authority.
Today’s leftist intellectuals are far too rational to believe nature has a designer, but they do believe capitalism has a designer. A most evil one. They laugh at the idea that any intelligence could design something as complex and beautiful as the natural world, but they do believe they can design a perfect and beautiful human society. Of that they’re most confident.
What they entirely fail to understand is that human societies are incredibly complex systems of spontaneous order in themselves, much like ecosystems in nature. Societies are human ecosystems. In the same way that sea creatures didn’t design the ecosystems that sustain them, such as the great barrier reef, no one group of people designed and planned the societies we live in today. They’re the result of human action, not human design.
Have you ever seen videos of huge flocks of starlings creating undulating shapes in the sky as they fly around? The birds that make up the flock aren’t trying to create those shapes, obviously. A single starling isn’t intellectually capable of creating this spectacle of shape and movement, but when a multitude of starlings come together (for their own benefit), it has this delightful side effect. It’s the same with humans. No single human being is capable of designing societies, but when the masses are free enough to engage in economic exchanges for long enough, capitalism becomes established and then you get societies of astonishing abundance and technological wonders like ours. It is the miracle of humanity. From the simplicity of human trade comes the complexity of human societies.
Human societies are just as miraculous and beautiful as natural ecosystems. If only humans realised this! If only we desired to and acted to protect our human ecosystems from destruction (by government action) as much as we do natural ecosystems. Perhaps today’s younger generations would appreciate the world they live in more if they understood that capitalism isn’t a man-made system to be hated, but a spontaneous order to be marvelled at and cherished as much as any natural ecosystem.
Plenty of westerners weep when they see an oil spill, but no one wept when the lockdowns of 2020 swept through the global economy like a massive oil spill, disrupting its delicate balance and paralysing it such that it couldn’t sustain as much human life. Ecological disasters seem to upset us more than humanitarian ones these days. Perhaps our belief that humanity is destroying our beautiful garden planet is making it harder for us to feel sympathy towards our fellow man. Maybe the self-loathing caused by this belief is making us indifferent to the suffering of our fellow human beings.
No intelligence could design a society. They are too complex a thing. Any human mind or group of minds that tried to design a society would fail miserably. Indeed, human history is a catalogue of such failures. The 20th century alone is replete with examples of humanitarian disasters or crimes against humanity resulting from totalitarian or fascistic central planning. Russian communism and German national socialism (Nazism) being the major ones. The untold human misery, suffering and death that these regimes of totalitarian central planning resulted in is the stuff of nightmares. Centrally planning a utopia is a siren call that has dashed the ship of humanity onto the rocks of political evil time and time again.
Labouring under the delusion that capitalism is a designed system that can simply be replaced and in blissful ignorance of humanity’s history of utter failure with social engineering, today’s liberals dream of a post-capitalist future. This is a phrase, however, that should send a shiver down every human being’s spine.
Capitalism is a function of freedom. So you can’t get rid of capitalism without also abolishing individual economic liberty. So a post-capitalist future would in reality be a post-freedom future. And that would be the same as the pre-capitalist past in which 99% of humanity lived short, miserable lives for centuries. And the poorer people are, the less they care about the environment and the Earth’s climate. For proof of this, just look at how the wealthiest nations do the most to tackle environmental issues and have the cleanest environments. So those who believe abolishing or at least greatly reducing capitalism will solve climate change are very much mistaken. Tackling climate change will require more capitalism and more wealth, not less.
Those who blame capitalism for society’s ills imagine replacing the invisible hand of the market with the iron fist of the state would put humanity onto the path of progress. But in reality, it would stop the world from turning and send humanity hurtling back into the past. The only alternative to a world of free-market capitalism is a regression back to a stage when 99% of humanity existed in poverty. Impoverishing 99% of humanity just to take down today’s uber-wealthy 1% would clearly be insanely destructive and anti-human, but there are left-wing extremists today who would gladly cut off humanity’s nose to spite its face.
People who compare their standard of living to a minority of exceptionally rich people alive today will never be happy with their lot and will go through life feeling envious and bitter. But if they only compared their lives to that of their ancestors and indeed 99% of humanity since the dawn of civilisation, they would realise they have an enormous amount to be grateful for and would be quite happy with their lot. After all, we westerners quite literally live like Kings in a world that our ancestors of only a few centuries ago would’ve considered an impossible paradise.
Those who refuse to acknowledge the fact that they’re by far the richest human beings in history and who ignore everything they have to be grateful for seem to prefer feeling envious, resentful and bitter. And these are the sort of people who are drawn to socialism, the gospel of envy as Winston Churchill once described it. These are the kind of unhappy people who think it’s only fair that everyone else should be made to live as miserably as they do.
Global lockdowns have already set humanity back by a decade, undoing ten years of progress towards eradicating global poverty. Ultimately, to oppose capitalism is to oppose human progress. Furthermore, if climate change does pose significant humanitarian challenges in the future, then a less capitalist, less wealthy and less free world will only have less chance of overcoming them.