The U.S. constitution doesn’t mention capitalism. Or the market economy. The Supreme Court hears economic regulation cases quite superficially, because the United States isn’t officially a capitalist state. But the Court applies the strictest standard, for example, to complaints that the government has fired someone. Because it emphasizes fundamental rights.
I recall this under the persisting euphoria of recent May Day celebrations, as citizens of former communist countries incessantly discuss the merits and failures of capitalism and the beautiful memories of the socialist era. We debate in vain about the economic order while making no mention of inalienable human rights.
Progressive nations have made progress because they respected human rights. Other countries have failed because they ignored them.
One economic system may be better than the other, and particularly conducive to human rights. But the system becomes a trivial matter when the society and individuals lack conscience.
I value the free market, for it opens up space for people to be productive. Business as a word is linked etymologically to being useful or productive. If the government steps in, pretending to help, it’ll only snarl things and discourage people. They know what they need, and they get up and do it. If they ever do something that’s not needed, they won’t do it again, because no one will buy it. The market will sort things out.
But the market isn’t entirely free. It is dominated by big fish. They have captured the market. They have the capital, and they use it to amass more capital. They create a kind of monopoly. They become more or less like the government, and often worse than the government, because they have more money and they don’t answer to citizens with the right to vote.
There are multinational corporations that have had bribe departments. The United States, owing to its tough laws, shut those departments down, just like it led the war against corruption in international organizations such as Fifa.
But big companies are working to make governments depend on them. They want to capture the state. Even the United States stands exposed to their mercy, while businesses are free to donate any amount to political campaigns.
There’s worse: John Doe invents a new machine, that is both good and inexpensive. People like it. But the big fish feel threatened. They offer John Doe a ridiculous price for his patent. They pay several times its market value. Just to buy it. And they buy it. And they lock it in a safe deposit. They never touch it again. They develop the old machine, which is both worse and more expensive.
So the money heaps up in a single pocket. The people toil for subsistence. Some get good salaries, have visas and time to travel, vacation in the Maldives, but are unhappy. They can’t come to terms with the society around them suffering. Schools exist just in name, and the youth gets increasingly discontent and disappointed. Whom have they seen succeed in life through honest work?
Everything becomes business, but not of the useful kind. Danielle Bregoli becomes world-famous after arguing with her mom on a TV show, and become a millionaire at age 14. Showbiz gives Danielle the opportunity that her struggling family and inefficient education never gave her. In a semi-free market, she is followed by peers living in poverty and facing the same kind of family and social troubles that once marred Danielle’s life. The big media buy and sell.
And we prostrate in worship to capitalism. We thank the market economy for all the material benefits we enjoy. We praise “the market”—barely ever calling it “the free market,” as if admitting its shackles. We believe the market made us smartphones. We couldn’t care less that government scientists invented the computer, that the military created the internet, and that a young man made the key software of over 80 percent of our cellphones for free. While Apple wrote apps that force us to buy other Apple products, and some market participant endowed us with Candy Crush.
I don’t know how to fix this. If I did, I would’ve fixed it. But I know that fundamental human rights are the foundation of a healthy and happy society. And that fundamental rights include our freedom of conscience, equal opportunities, education, and the freedom to be useful. These rights belong first and foremost to the individual, the small human. But the big fish—whether governments or businesses—eat up the individual.
Therefore, before we even condemn socialism or sing hosanna to capitalism, we might have to glorify human conscience. And to remove the barriers that we have placed on human conscience through the centuries.
Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States and principal author of the Declaration of Independence, said that the best citizen is the yeoman farmer, who is educated and own their own land. They are educated enough to tell and avoid crooks. And they have their own land to feed themselves. The yeoman farmer can’t be controlled by workers’ unions the way they do with factory workers; or dehumanized by landowners they way they exploit their serfs; or blackmailed by bankers the way play their clients; or deceived by the nobility they way they fool themselves into believing they are somebody.
But to put Jefferson’s dream into practice, we need to begin with schools. Educate our youth. Build its healthy conscience. And conscience will then appreciate and defend the inalienable human rights. And human rights will make us live happily and honorably—in a free market, in a free society, and in a free world.