Capitalism Without Guilt

11 10 2009

Last Tuesday I went to hear Dr. Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Institute give a talk, entitled “Capitalism Without Guilt,” in a decent-sized campus lecture hall.  To my surprise, the sweltering hall was completely packed with 150-160+ people, a good mix of students and locals.  The enthusiasm of both Brook and the crowd was great, and I felt compelled to write an article on the event for the College Libertarian & YAF Bulletin, which is probably why most of this post is going to seem uncharacteristically formal…

Brook first and foremost set out to illustrate that it was regulations, not free markets, that are ultimately the cause of our economic woes, and this recession is no different.  He pointed out that the mortgage market and the banking industry are far from being governed by the invisible hand of the market—indeed, banking is one of the most heavily regulated sectors of the economy, and political incentives and government dictates to boost home ownership helped spur the housing boom and subsequent bust.

Brook also accused Federal Reserve and its cheap money policies, which were predominant over the past decade and a half, of encouraging an irrational, irresponsible, and unsustainable expansion of credit as individuals were incentivized to take on massive amounts of debt.  This mixed-market approach to economics, he said, was always bound to end in failure.

yaronbrook
For contrast, Brook pointed to the virtually unregulated consumer tech sector, which has experienced incredible, sustained growth over the past generation with little government assistance.  He argued that the innovation displayed in a relatively commonplace, if no less amazing, product like the Apple iPhone can only exist and flourish in a free market.

The next segment of Brook’s discussion focused on the moral justification for capitalism.  His Objectivist beliefs were apparent as he lamented the lack of “righteous, moral, and ethical defense of capitalism” in the academic and political spheres, even among conservatives and libertarians.

Instead, Brook insisted, we need to promote capitalism as not only the most effective way of creating wealth and improving the standard of living of both rich and poor—but also as the only moral economic choice.  The altruistic but ultimately flawed promotion of the virtue of selflessness, Brook argued, was the sole reason that many freedom-loving individuals felt “uncomfortable” with the selfish essence of capitalism.

Until this misguided core principle of selflessness is replaced with a rational understanding of the benefits and basic morality of selfishness, he said, we will keep making the same economic mistakes and prevent both individuals and mankind as a whole from achieving their true potential.
The Q&A that followed Brook’s lecture covered everything from the military to racism, and managed to offend a group of Europeans present in the audience in the process.

Brook, who unlike some libertarians, believes that foreign military intervention is sometimes necessary and justifiable and that war is moral under certain circumstances, defended increased pay and other economic incentives used by the military to attract recruits in response to a question by a serviceman.  He added that such incentives would likely be minimal if the political class actually gave potential soldiers something to fight for—namely, increased freedom.

Though several audience members questioned Brook on the apparent lack of outreach to minorities on the part of pro-capitalist activists, he insisted that identity politics are fundamentally dehumanizing and that “freedom is the great melting pot.”  Instead, he urged individuals to seek to sway cultural and academic leaders in a top-down effort to spread freedom.

Brook’s enthusiasm and deep-rooted belief in the power of his ideas to bring positive change was apparent throughout the two and a half hour long talk.  The packed hall and enthusiastic response of the audience to his words should be enough to let all of us freedom-lovers know that we perhaps aren’t as alone as we sometimes seem to be in our fight for liberty.

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3 responses

12 10 2009
Min

It would be interesting to see the contrast between the essence of Brook’s discussion to the rantings of Michael Moore’s new movie on Capitalism.

12 10 2009
Graham Kozak

That would be a good matchup for several reasons. The most interesting is that Brook and Moore both defend their respective pro- and anti-capitalist arguments on moral and ethical grounds. But only one of them is not a blatant hypocrite, and I think that means he wins by default.

12 10 2009
Paul G

I still can’t bring myself to get past his inherently warmongering beliefs when it comes to foreign policy. I really think that it’s because of other, similarly-minded objectivists with his mindset that lower-case “l” libertarians and objectivists have parted ways (sourly, in many instances) in the past few decades.

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