Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

“Political tags - such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth - are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surely curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.”     Robert A. Heinlein

April 22, 2008

Happy Capitalism Day

by Doug Mataconis

Don Boudreaux thinks we should forget about Earth Day and celebrate Capitalism
Day today:

Before refrigeration, people ran enormous risks of ingesting deadly bacteria whenever they ate meat or dairy products. Refrigeration has dramatically reduced the bacteria pollution that constantly haunted our pre-twentieth-century forebears.

We wear clean clothes; our ancestors wore foul clothes. Pre-industrial humans had no washers, dryers, or sanitary laundry detergent. Clothes were worn day after day without being washed. And when they were washed, the detergent was often made of urine.

Our bodies today are much cleaner. Sanitary soap is dirt cheap (so to speak), as is clean water from household taps. The result is that, unlike our ancestors, we moderns bathe frequently. Not only was soap a luxury until just a few generations ago, but because nearly all of our pre-industrial ancestors could afford nothing larger than minuscule cottages, there were no bathrooms (and certainly no running water). Baths, when taken, were taken in nearby streams, rivers, or ponds, often the same bodies of water used by the farm animals. Forget about shampoo, clean towels, toothpaste, mouthwash, and toilet tissue.

The interiors of our homes are immaculate compared to the squalid interiors of almost all pre-industrial dwellings. These dwellings’ floors were typically just dirt, which made the farm animals feel right at home when they wintered in the house with humans. Of course, there was no indoor plumbing. Nor were there household disinfectants, save sunlight. Unfortunately, because pre-industrial window panes were too expensive for ordinary families and because screens are an invention of the industrial age, sunlight and fresh air could be let into these cottages only by letting in insects too.

And all of that exists not because of the state, but because of the creative energies of free individuals.

The Earth is a Harsh Mistress, you might say, but capitalism has tamed it to the point where humanity, and human civilization can survive at something other than a subsistence level. For that, we should all be grateful.

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23 Comments

  1. Don’t forget air conditioning — which, as Europe learned the hard way, saves lives.

    Comment by KipEsquire — April 22, 2008 @ 10:01 am
  2. As a life-saving device, air conditioning ranks well behind shower mats and that’s just a straight-up comparison. Dollar for dollar, air conditioning is probably among the least efficient life-saving devices ever invented.

    It is, and always has been, a luxury. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    Comment by Jeff Molby — April 22, 2008 @ 11:03 am
  3. Well, I think that the “state” should get at least some of the credit for helping to spread these wonders to the masses and for building the infrastructure. Individuals generally don’t extend the infrastructure to support these things by themselves. That takes a government spending tax monies for the benefit of all of us, which wealthy individuals would not generally choose to do of their own volition.

    Comment by MikeF — April 23, 2008 @ 7:19 am
  4. Mike,

    You may not realize this, but the first roads were generally built by wealthy people.

    In fact, the first highway for cars was privately built and maintained without a hint of state power supporting it.

    the myth that you need a government to build infrastructure is just that, a myth. Yes, the highways are less fancy and sparser when the government chooses not to get involved, but that is because people then devote their wealth to the things that satisfy their most urgent desires.

    We tend to forget the sheer wastefulness of these infrastructure projects, from the utterly useless and obsolete-before-they-were-completed canals of the early 19th century, the graft and corruption involved in laying out railroads, to the cronyism and destruction associated with the Robert E Byrd er… Eisenhower Interstate system.

    Once government officials muscle into some new venture, it pretty much kills private investment in that area, and people are left with the impression that without government involvement it wouldn’t happen. This is, of course, not correct.

    Comment by tarran — April 23, 2008 @ 7:34 am
  5. tarran,

    Don’t forget that along with government investment, we get the laws forbidding private investment (e.g. it is illegal to build a private highway, deliver first-class postal service, etc). In other words, competition that would show how lousy the government provided service is compared to what the private groups were doing originally.

    Comment by trumpetbob15 — April 23, 2008 @ 9:36 am
  6. “Well, I think that the “state” should get at least some of the credit for helping to spread these wonders to the masses and for building the infrastructure.”

    James Jerome Hill drove a railroad across a whole continent, *out of pocket*. He did this “of his own volition” because he wanted to make money. In the process, he opened up the production of the greatest breadbasket in the world.

    You’re being stupid. Stop it.

    Comment by Billy Beck — April 23, 2008 @ 9:50 am
  7. The State gets no credit to speak of, since it is not a legitamite, individual entity. Indidivudals that compose The State apparatus, maybe, but it would be downright gullible to think The State was on equal footing with the efforts of free individuals, like James Jerome Hill, in helping to develop modern society.

    This is, of course, assuming you draw any distinction between society & government.

    Comment by Nitroadict — April 23, 2008 @ 11:02 am
  8. Also government investment is irrelevant, as investing from other individuals, groups, companies, etc. would’ve occurred & and indeed did occur, regardless if Uncle Sam helped or not.

    Comment by Nitroadict — April 23, 2008 @ 11:03 am
  9. Hi

    Keep in mind, that as long as Christianity is still alive, so is socialism/commun’ism. We’re just waiting for the self-BSing to stop… regarding the capitalism pyramid scheme of servitude infestation. The AmWay (American Way) church-o-competing WILL fall… as all tug-o-war pyramid schemes eventually do. The church-of-cooperating, called Christian socialism… is alive and well, just unheard amongst the rat-racers elbowing their way up the side of the free marketeers pyramid scheme. We see capitalism’s felony activity. Pyramid schemes are simple. They are exactly the same as the childhood farmyard pyramids of servitude and empowerment… where the kids on the bottom ALWAYS GET HURT from the weight of the world’s knees in their backs. We Christians also see the socialism that works EXCELLENT in the U.S. military’s supply system and society, as well as with the VERY EXCELLENT USA Public Library System. We Christian socialists KNOW sharing, and we know tug-o-warring… and its just a matter of time before the illegal pyramid scheme called capitalism… crumbles into the dust. We can’t hardly wait! But the toybox tug-o-warring children must learn their lesson about pyramiding, first. Capitalism’s non-force-ins will need to eventually notice the servitude infestation in capitalism (due to inequality), and must learn about cheering-for “growth” and “forward movement” of cancerous tumors called “economies”. Its time to rid the world of economies. They just cause classing/pyramiding. I hope we don’t have to go as far as sticking all capitalism condoners and promoters… in federal prison over this… but what its going to take? Destroying the planet? Remove pricetags from survival supplies RIGHT NOW please. The luxuries seekers and sellers can continue their trip to afterlife hell… without messing with the survival supplies, right? Somehow, AmWay (capitalism) got the “exclusive” on the TYPE of coupons (money) accepted in the USA supply depots (stores)… and now they leverage parents into forcing their 18 yr old kids… to join the free marketeers church-o-competing, or die. This pretty much eliminates them from membership INSTEAD… in the church-of-cooperating (Christianity/Socialism). Cool crime, eh? Force only ONE ALLOWED TYPE of coupon for getting survival supplies, and guess what? You’ve forced the kids to join the competer’s church, in order to GET said survival supplies. That kind of “pay up or lose your wellbeing” is an exact replica of Chicago mob activity… and is SO ILLEGAL and SO IMMORAL that cap condoners should be vomiting uncontrollably. Unfortunately, we can’t seem to find Elliot Ness to help us bust this felony mob organization whose pyramid scheme symbol is seen on the back of the USA one dollar bill.

    To sum, socialism has not failed in the USA. It is seen in the U.S. military society, and in the U.S. Public Library system, and in SOME churches. We are predominently powerless and unheard against all the “YAY, AMERICA’S #1 IN AMWAY COUPONS” cheerleading for cancer growth. Yeah, we American’s are #1 in gouging each other. Is that something to cheerlead about? No. We Christian socialists patiently await the fall of the pyramid scheme called capitalism, and our loving hearts will pick up the pieces from the capitalism delusion-o-success… flopping to the ground. Socialism is far from dead or failed. It waits patiently for America and the world… to see its mistakes… like ownership, pricetags, billing/timecarding, and money. Again, economies have to go… for they just cause pyramiding. Do an IMAGE search for “pyramid of capitalist”… you’ll see the capitalism pyramid scheme. It doesn’t need a replacement, either. It just needs removal, so that the human heart’s built-in survival system, can once again flourish, and not be stomped-down by any more “competition is healthy” cock’n'bull.

    Larry “Wingnut” Wendlandt
    MaStars – Mothers Against Stuff That Ain’t Right
    (anti-capitalism-ists)
    Bessemer MI USA

    [attempting submit attempt 2 now. First failed]

    Comment by Wingnut — April 23, 2008 @ 11:32 am
  10. Sigh,

    Billy, there are many ways to convince someone of the error of their ways. Calling them ‘stupid’ is almost always not one of them.

    Having watched you singlehandedly snatch defeat from the jaws of victory solely due to your insistence on insulting all who didn’t instantly agree with you in your debates with non-anarchists on Reason’s Hit and Run on topics where you position was easily defensible, I strongly recommend that you cultivate a more civil tongue.

    Comment by tarran — April 23, 2008 @ 11:34 am
  11. actually Keynes laid out what the national economic output many years ago. and it relies heavily on government spending. this model is generally what is followed by most institutions including the FR:

    Y(GDP, or output)=C(Consumption) + I(Investment) + G(Government spending) + Nx(Net trade, otherwise Exports minus Imports)

    so, Y=C+I+G+Nx.

    and notice that G is just as much a factor than anything else in the model and is on the same order of magnitude. also, Keynes teaches that a reduction in taxes is not even as stimulating for the GDP as is an increase in government spending. as backwards as this sounds, this is what’s being taught in any macroEcon class in any US college.

    of course i dont agree with this teaching whatsoever, but nor do i like Friedman’s idea on Monetarism whatsoever. and of course, GDP and this model doesn’t take into account the true value of innovation, although Keynesian AD/AS model does take that into account somewhat.

    the point here is, American economists are being taught that 1) government spending is vital to our nation’s economic output and 2) government spending is far more effective to output than any reduction in taxes. given that, it’s little wonder your taxes have only one direction to go.

    Comment by oilnwater — April 23, 2008 @ 12:58 pm
  12. LOL Mr Wingnut,

    I have never, ever, heard anybody cite the U.S. Military’s supply system as proof that socialism works before. And, given the headaches I went through getting spare parts during my misspent youth as a naval officer, I can tell you that it does not work very well at all. For you navy types out there, in 1997 I was using CASREP’s to get the parts I needed for our PMS work. Oh, and without Federal Express, the U.S. Army would never have encircled most of the Republican Guard in Gulf War I. A significant portion of the armor and fighter cover would have been grounded for lack of parts.

    I will however point out that to make socialism work on a large scale, some producers have to be *forced* to support consumers above and beyond the level of support they would provide if left to their own devices. And *that* is truly an example of people being forced to take part in a rat race.

    In a free market, on the other hand, people are free to chose not only their profession but also what level of production best meets their needs. Nobody points a gun to another person’s head and says “you will work, comrade!”

    Comment by tarran — April 23, 2008 @ 1:50 pm
  13. there was never a such thing as a free market. the ideal was and does exist.

    Comment by oilnwater — April 23, 2008 @ 2:03 pm
  14. tarran,

    I second your sentiments about the military supply system. It’s horrible, and there are many contractors who make a ton of profit just exploiting the inherent inefficiencies of that system…all at taxpayer expense, of course.

    http://www.tucsoncitizen.com/ss/byauthor/58105

    In fact, starting in the 1990s we were often encouraged to go out and buy suitable equipment from civilian retailers because the military’s supply chain was incapable of keeping up. It’s still going on today…soldiers being deployed Iraq and Afghanistan were often forced to go to mail-order and surplus dealers to get basic body armor because the military didn’t have any in stock…and it took years for the military to reimburse them for the gear they had to purchase out-of-pocket, assuming they were reimbursed at all. Same with armor for vehicles…soldiers often had to strip junked vehicles to jerry-rig their own armor because none was provided. And the military often screwed up vehicle requirements. When I was in Afghanistan in the mountains, we were assigned an armored HUMVEE (we needed the lighter versions, which were rarely to be found in that country) which was completely unsuitable for the mountainous terrain (the additional weight and the uneven rocky terrain caused the transmission to break frequently…and by “break”, I mean “shatter”) while troops in Iraq (who desperately needed armored vehicles because they were in urban environments where IEDs were more prevalent) could only get the lighter vehicles. Our supply system was so perverse that the unit I was with took to using Toyota pick-ups and Land Rover SUVs instead of military vehicles because they were the only things that would work in the terrain.

    And don’t get me started on the other aspects of socialism in the military, particularly medicine. If you ever want the perfect example of why socialized medicine doesn’t work, all you have to do is watch for awhile the medical system our troops are stuck to see what an unfixable disaster it is.

    Comment by UCrawford — April 23, 2008 @ 3:31 pm
  15. Thanks Tarran. I’ll take my chances. I don’t need your advice.

    Comment by Billy Beck — April 23, 2008 @ 6:01 pm
  16. Before refrigeration, people ran enormous risks of ingesting deadly bacteria whenever they ate meat or dairy products. Refrigeration has dramatically reduced the bacteria pollution that constantly haunted our pre-twentieth-century forebears.

    Much else is right, but this is wrong. Capitalism created the problem of dirty meat and dairy – humans had been eating dairy made in traditional ways for thousands of years with little problem. Meat we have eaten with little problem since we began to walk upright. What made meat and dairy dirty was capitalism’s factories.

    Comment by Joshua Holmes — April 23, 2008 @ 7:35 pm
  17. “Much else is right, but this is wrong. Capitalism created the problem of dirty meat and dairy…”

    As opposed to the inherent (before technological inventions) problems of almost rotting meat being eaten simply because there was no ability to preserve it, happening upon meat from a diseased animal, other types of diseases associated with eating meat (like prion diseases), etc. etc. Interestingly, I’m pretty sure we weren’t able to detect such diseases very well with our medical knowledge at the time, and I’m sure dairy had it’s fair share of problems *before* the industrial revolution.

    No; “Capitalism created the problem of dirty meat and dairy” is an idiotic statement. Would you like to also argue that capitalism caused child labor? That child labor, like many other problems, did not in fact exist before a certain point, and that capitalism is the magical culprit for some of what ailed us in those times? Think of the children, Josh; protect them from big bad capitalism!

    The least you could’ve done was make a distinction between capitalism & technological innovation, as I’m quite sure even in feudal & ancient times, humans managed to somehow invent new things which may impacted the quality of living.

    If you want to argue that certain technological innovations may have created more problems for meat & dairy, as a trade-off for storing it via refrigeration, then you might start making a bit more sense.

    Comment by Nitroadict — April 24, 2008 @ 3:04 am
  18. Hi again gang! Geez Nitroadict, you’re one of a rare few who believe technology, inventions, and “growth” (non-economic)… would/could happen in a commune society just as readily as in a pyramid society. Refreshing! Most people stand around thanking capitalism for all the inventions and advancements (part of the YAY AMERICA BS, I suspect). Americans have little humility. Maybe I should say CAPITALISTS have little humility. Maybe it only appears like most Americans are conned-in… because AmWay/capitalism propaganda is so widespread and successful, media saturation-wise. We don’t hear much from the Christians/socialists on this planet. Love thy neighbor is not very newsworthy, monetarily speaking. And money does the talking as far as what news gets told…. and surely nothing well-rounded is seen. Only caps can own tv/radio or ANYTHING for that matter, because us socialists don’t believe in money or ownership, so we’re certainly not going to get any broadcast time. (I’ve dreamed of being a boradcaster for my entire life… but its not going to happen, because only capitalists can do broadcasting stations. I’d be much angrier over that discrimination, but I got folks living under overpasses, and Africans and kids dying by the truckloads, so its really no time to be ego-centric. Socialists tend not to do self-centered, whenever possible. We’re opposite of capitalists in that way.

    To de-rantify myself…

    I saw an engineer from NASA on a TV interview about capitalism (civilian society) versus socialism (US military and NASA)… and he said it pretty well, in my opinion. He said that capitalism gets it done fast, un-reuseable, and un-repairable. Socialism/communes get it done slower, but with much more long-term reuseablility and repairability thoughts.

    The number of “repairables” has plummeted since the con/sham called capitalism… ate the USA (lets hope it doesn’t eat the world). Quality SERVICE, including customer service, has also been on a severe decline since the USA bought-into AmWay coupons and ownership. Distrust, isolation, and things becoming infeasible, implausible, and impractical… has been on a severe INCREASE under the widely-signed-aboard and widely-cheered pyramid scheme of servitude. Gruesome. Thanks for the comments. Wingnut – AC

    Comment by Wingnut — April 24, 2008 @ 8:08 am
  19. Wingnut,

    Socialists tend not to do self-centered, whenever possible.

    What planet do you live on? Socialists are just as self-centered as anyone else…particularly socialists in power. They’re just too hypocritical to acknowledge it. They also kill more people than free market advocates do through their incompetence and tyranny.

    Socialism/communes get it done slower, but with much more long-term reuseablility and repairability thoughts.

    That’s because they either stifle innovation or hole themselves off from the rest of the world to the point where they don’t achieve technological innovation so they have to have stuff that’s repairable (because they can’t build or trade for new things). It’s called stagnation and it’s not considered a desirable trait. Case in point, North Korea…I’m sure they have lots of “repairable” stuff. Too bad that it’s technologically equivalent to what we produced 30 or 40 years ago (at best) and isn’t useful enough to keep their people from starving to death…

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/57740.stm

    http://www.usip.org/pubs/specialreports/sr990802.html

    Comment by UCrawford — April 24, 2008 @ 8:50 am
  20. Are you seriously pointing to NASA as an example of efficiency and innovation?

    Jesus!

    UCrawford has it right – Capitalist societies seem wasteful mainly because they have such a high degree of productivity that the effort required for thriftiness is no longer a beneficial use of the common person’s time. Why spend 2 hours of a technician’s time to fix something when it only takes 15 minutes of his time to build a new one?

    Socialist systems tend to be less productive. Thrift is encouraged not because of some psychic pleasure taken in repairing things but as a necessity – the technician takes 4 hours to make what would, in a capitalist society, take him 15 minutes to produce.

    Incidentally, wingnut, you can be a broadcaster quite easily. The cost of band-width has never been lower.

    Get out your soapbox, download some pod-casting software and have at it.

    Comment by tarran — April 24, 2008 @ 10:06 am
  21. In fact, here’s a picture of North Koreans harvesting rice in 2005.

    http://www.abc.net.au/reslib/200711/r204652_777515.jpg

    Look at all that “repairable” equipment they have at their disposal…shoes, snazzy outfits, little bits of string to tie up their bundles for when they haul it on their backs.

    I wonder why they don’t buy one of these instead?

    http://parkorea.ecvv.com/chinasuppliers/vp825449/South-Korea-Farm-Machines.html

    Oh, that’s right…because they’re not self-centered capitalists so they do inefficient manual labor out of pride. Also because they’re too fucking poor to buy the rice harvester because the government’s in control of their economy.

    Comment by UCrawford — April 24, 2008 @ 10:24 am
  22. Holmes: “Capitalism created the problem of dirty meat and dairy…”

    I remember Tripoli, Libya, c. 1961. Hunks of raw meat hanging in the broad sunlight on the street, replete with flies, while burro-drawn carts crashed through the streets.

    You’re just priceless, Holmes. You never disappoint.

    Comment by Billy Beck — April 24, 2008 @ 1:46 pm
  23. It’s important to note that before the advent of cheap transport, only people with ready access to a cow could get milk, and that only people who were very wealthy could afford to consume meat with any regularity.

    Cheap transport also meant that people could communicate more easily and also accompanied an improvement in medical science.

    Thus, what would in the 17th century be a mysterious death that would never make it into the historical record could in the 19th century be cited as one data point in many proving that food quality was getting worse.

    Just as the probability of a child getting abducted and murdered by a stranger is declining while the perception is that it is getting worse, I think much of the perception of the decline in the quality of food is the result of the growth int he number of people eating meat, the improved understanding of how bad meat caused death and the ease with which the news of a deathc could be communicated far and wide.

    Comment by tarran — April 24, 2008 @ 1:55 pm

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