Acton Institute Powerblog

What Gave Capitalism a Bad Name?

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In his new book, Defending the Free Market: the Moral Case for a Free Economy, the Rev. Robert Sirico points out that capitalism has been given a bad name that it truly doesn’t deserve:

Rightly understood, capitalism is the economic component of the natural order of liberty. Capitalism offers wide ownership of property, fair and equal rules for all, strict adherence to the rules of ownership, opportunities for charity, and the wise use of resources. Everywhere it has really been tried, it has meant creativity, growth, abundance and, most of all, the economic application of the principle that every human being has dignity and should have that dignity respected.

So why all the distrust, distaste and dislike for capitalism? Charles Murray at The Wall Street Journal suggests that capitalism has been segregated from that which conforms us to the good: virtue.

Historically, the merits of free enterprise and the obligations of success were intertwined in the national catechism. McGuffey’s Readers, the books on which generations of American children were raised, have plenty of stories treating initiative, hard work and entrepreneurialism as virtues, but just as many stories praising the virtues of self-restraint, personal integrity and concern for those who depend on you. The freedom to act and a stern moral obligation to act in certain ways were seen as two sides of the same American coin. Little of that has survived. To accept the concept of virtue requires that you believe some ways of behaving are right and others are wrong always and everywhere. That openly judgmental stand is no longer acceptable in America’s schools nor in many American homes.

Murray goes on to say that the principled stewardship that has been a hallmark of middle class America needs to be restored in order for capitalism to once again be seen as not only good, but great.

Read the entire article here.

Elise Hilton Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.


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  • Roger McKinney

    Murray’s article in the WSJ is interesting, but I think he remembers a time that never existed. Americans have merely tolerated moderate success in business, but have always hated great success. Recall the attitude toward the “robber barons” of the late 19th century.

    Americans don’t mind the success of artists, like musicians and actors, or professional athletes because 1) they think such people are not engaged in business and 2) they see the direct link between the value of their talent and the money they make.

    But most Americans have always held to the ancient idea that all business is evil in its nature and, as Murray points out, that one business person cannot get wealthy except at the expense of another.

    What the US is experiencing today is a loss of bourgeois values among the bourgeois. Bourgeois values came from traditional Christianity and as the West has abandoned tradition Christianity it has abandoned the values it created.

    Most people will look at the corruption characterized by Solyndra and conclude that politicians involved had pure motives and only wanted to rescue the nation but were thwarted by evil business people who are evil by nature and can never be anything else.