Many have told me that it was from Ayn Rand they learnt that Capitalism is not only the most practical, but also the only moral politico-economic system in the whole history of mankind. In my opinion, which I know is true, Rand’s moral defense of capitalism, despite her brilliance & strength of arguments, is really weak. Rand’s arguments overlook one fundamental fact, the initial allocation of land property rights though she expatiates in length on the property status of airwaves. There are further inconsistencies in Rand’s defense, including her belief in territorial integrity, government production of security, opportunistic stances in macro politics, in defining the rights of war and peace, patriotism and lavish praise on the founding fathers, all of which I don’t wish to get into here.
Ayn Rand’s claim to absolute originality in this aspect is rather spurious, all claims and praises to the contrary notwithstanding. It is certainly true that it was Rand, who, for the first time stated a moral defense in so explicit a manner. Herbert Spencer’s ‘Social Statics’ was of course, a notable exception. It must also be said that she had many predecessors who failed to emphasize properly and make a big deal out of the moral aspect. There were always men who clearly sensed right was on their side, which didn’t need so strong an emphasis, especially in the earlier days of statism. There were even men who matched her in brilliance and style-Frederic Bastiat, Lysander Spooner & Etienne de La Boetie, to name a few. It’s only that they weren’t born in the right time, didn’t present a full case or make use of so popular a medium as fiction.
I am only happy that the word Capitalism is identified with Ayn Rand. It makes me, but, a little sad that some other extremely competent men are forgotten. The 19th Century Anarchic Political Theorists Lysander Spooner, Benjamin Tucker, French Economist Gustave de Molinari and the 20th Century Economist Murray Newton Rothbard were some of the men who did present much more consistent views in certain aspects of the issue. Both Spooner and Tucker were market anarchists and advocated the compensation of slaves and serfs and their instant emancipation while some other inconsistent proponents of liberty shied away from these issues. It shocks me that an extremely honest and knowledgeable Economist like Mises dismisses the treatment of slaves in that era as ‘humanitarian’ in most cases. Words could be quoted from Spooner’s works which would put all the professedly consistent advocates of the Free Market to shame, in brilliance, intensity, style and humor. It’s a pity that both remain unknown, even today.
A much more mature, consistent and fully moral case for Capitalism had been presented by the brilliant Economist, Philosopher, Historian, Scholar, Anarchist, Political Theorist, Politician and Satirist, Professor Murray Newton Rothbard through his classic, ‘The Ethics of Liberty’. In the words of Rand, he was a ‘moth-eaten whim worshipper’. Why?-For being consistent all the way through the end. Rand even sued Murray for plagiarism. It’s true that a lot of Murray’s ideas were deeply influenced by ‘Ayn Rand’, which he is said to have never admitted in his post-Randian days. What right, but, could have Rand had to accuse him of borrowing? One could quote line by line from Spencer, Nietzsche, Aristotle, Aquinas, Locke, Spinoza, Mises, Adam Smith and the least acknowledged of all, the French Economist Frederic Bastiat, where all she had borrowed and given her own twists. It was only that Rand was more of an independent thinker, knew well to hide her sources and claimed of an originality she hadn’t. Murray, to be honest, never matched Rand’s popularity, brilliance of style or evocative power. He couldn’t scare the hell out of readers by passing moral judgments like thunder bolts either.
Murray’s works, yet, were far, far ahead of his times and held much more ‘mature’ and ‘sophisticated’ views, in the very literal sense of those terms. He really did dig deep into, and knew what he was talking about. His views were immensely superior to that of Rand’s in the case of big businesses, foreign policy, rights of War & Peace, Security production & territorial integrity. He furthermore, didn’t overlook the issue of the initial assignment of property rights. In essence, there was no hypocrisy in his stance-Let justice be done, no matter what the consequences.
It was only that Rothbard was shadowed by two giants, Rand and Mises. Our society wasn’t, and still isn’t ready for his seemingly eccentric views including market anarchism. Even Rand’s own work sounds like a communist manifesto in the ground of his views. Moreover, Rothbard uses humor in an allegedly inappropriate manner and held intentionally eccentric views in some issues as children’s rights and women’s liberation, which even I can’t really approve of. In some issues, he truly gives out the idea that he shouldn’t be taken seriously at all. If you have sense enough to dismiss it all and get to the root of his arguments, you can see that he was right in most of the issues he set his hands on. His allegedly naïve and immature views were not only sophisticated, but also grounded in an extremely complex knowledge of political theory and economics. It’s only sad that the public would need a long line of ‘experts’ to acknowledge and testify to adhere to those views even when every reason should have told them to do so.
Are there any grounds on which one can defend the initial assignment of property rights other than the utilitarian one? There are the extremely convoluted cases of forceful appropriation of land for government projects. There are cases of undeserved grant of privileges, as happened in Nandi gram. And the most complicated of all, we have the issues of slavery and feudalism. It was the above facts that made me uncomfortable and tortured in formulating my own moral defense of Capitalism. Yet, these obvious facts are seldom discussed by the opponents of Capitalism. At most it is argued that it breeds war, imperialism, inequalities & monopolies and might even lead to depressions-all of which can be crushed by the very fundamentals. I have always wondered why these air-heads are hell-bent on picking up all such fallacies from their musty old books, when they could have made a much more sharp and understandable case against it.
It is possible to go through works of extremely competent defenders of the market too, finding no discussion of it at all. This is one more stark case of the defenders of the free market digging their own grave. It’s one more reason why so many sided with the ‘left’ in many parts of the world as they thought they would have a better chance with them. Reasons could be various-Utilitarianism of Bentham, Mill’s & Mises, Social Darwinism of Spencer, Immanuel Kant’s Anti-reason epistemology and irrational skepticism. Stockjobber ethics and skepticism can’t fully account for this fact, though.
How this issue is to be resolved? The land should be handed back to the victims or their descendants wherever they could be identified and tracked down. In cases of slavery and feudalism, the land should be divided among the serfs equally. Murray says so, following the tradition of Spooner & Tucker. This is a view I most emphatically agree to and had come to, even before reading their works. It is of course, a curious fact that most men were figuring out how to compensate the slave owners and feudal lords for their losses at the emancipation of slaves in the days of Spooner and Tucker. It’s a very good demonstration of how apparently smart men can get their perceptions muddled and be the defenders of the status quo.
I have also heard many say it was only when they read Ayn Rand they came to the truth that ‘moral’ and ‘practical’ aren’t the opposites. I had come to this too much earlier, as long as I can remember, but it was only when I read her that I noticed the shark contrast between morality and practicality in this particular issue. How would we go about it? Let’s leave aside the fact that in most cases the descendants of victims can’t be tracked down. What if they could be? It would certainly be a horrible scene and even the ones on the receiving end, if sane and smart enough wouldn’t want it that way.
A fully moral defense of capitalism can’t be formulated keeping this issue out of sight. The usual argument is that the feudal era is long gone by and we are all now living in an industrial age. Some would argue that the current owner was acting on it for so long a time and according to the homesteading principle it can only be his. All such arguments are to be dismissed. Surely one wouldn’t argue that stolen or rented land is his own if he acts on it for long. What if a sky scraper stands on the land which is to be handed out to one utterly incapable of handling it at all? The building should be crushed, swept down and handled back to him if the current owner feels it that way. Either way, it would immeasurably reduce the advantages we have now in living in a division of labor society. It could be argued that the advantages in preserving the status quo would be much greater than otherwise for every one of us involved, but such an argument would certainly be utilitarian and not moral. The most practical solution which could be put forth is to compensate the victims monetarily reaching a settlement to this issue through privately run courts. This is the reason I believe why many self-proclaimed moralists paid only lip-service to this issue, if at all. Their answer is, to paraphrase John Galt, ‘blank out’.