Martin Luther King said: ”Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”
In the meet and greet following a presentation Professor Art Carden had emceed at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, a student responded to Carden’s conventional: ”Let me know if there is anything I can do for you,” with a variant on King’s quote: ”What could you do for me?”
I was captured by this question, and Carden’s article, because it reminds us that Capitalism begins with giving, with discovering what we can do for another in order to take care of our own concerns through a voluntary exchange. It speaks to the virtue of work, and is a great question to have in mind throughout the day.
Reacting to calls for cuts in entitlement programs, House Democrat Henry Waxman fumed: “The Republicans want us to repeal the twentieth century.” Sound bites don’t get much better than that. After all, the world before the twentieth century–before the New Deal, the New Frontier, the Great Society–was a dark, dangerous, heartless place where hordes of Americans starved in the streets.
Except it wasn’t and they didn’t. The actual history of America shows something else entirely: picking your neighbors’ pockets is not a necessity of survival. Before America’s entitlement state, free individuals planned for and coped with tough times, taking responsibility for their own lives.
“No theme is more salient in the Bible than the morality of personal responsibility, for it is through this that man cultivates the inner development leading to his own growth, good citizenship and happiness. The entitlement/welfare state is a paradigm that undermines that noble goal.”
What is capitalism?
It seems like a simple question, but many who pass as authorities in the court of public opinion are dreadfully wrong on the answer. Ludwig von Mises described capitalism as “essentially a system of mass production for the satisfaction of the needs of the masses.” Friedrich Hayek called it “the system of free markets and the private ownership of the means of production,” which is an “essential condition of the very survival of mankind.”
Perhaps the most succinct definition of capitalism comes down to this: a state of affairs where two private parties are free to enter into a contract where one acts and the other remunerates. As the Austrian School emphasizes, such a mutual agreement means both parties are necessarily better off than before or else such a transaction would not have taken place.