Charles Murray: Why Capitalism Has an Image Problem

I tweeted that this Wall Street Journal column by Charles Murray is a “must read.” I would be tempted to quote more, but let me devote my fair use exception to this passage giving Charles Murray’s view of the moral basis of Capitalism.  This should be enough to motivate many of you to read the original column:

The U.S. was created to foster human flourishing. The means to that end was the exercise of liberty in the pursuit of happiness. Capitalism is the economic expression of liberty. The pursuit of happiness, with happiness defined in the classic sense of justified and lasting satisfaction with life as a whole, depends on economic liberty every bit as much as it depends on other kinds of freedom.

“Lasting and justified satisfaction with life as a whole” is produced by a relatively small set of important achievements that we can rightly attribute to our own actions. Arthur Brooks, my colleague at the American Enterprise Institute, has usefully labeled such achievements “earned success.” Earned success can arise from a successful marriage, children raised well, a valued place as a member of a community, or devotion to a faith. Earned success also arises from achievement in the economic realm, which is where capitalism comes in.

Earning a living for yourself and your family through your own efforts is the most elemental form of earned success. Successfully starting a business, no matter how small, is an act of creating something out of nothing that carries satisfactions far beyond those of the money it brings in. Finding work that not only pays the bills but that you enjoy is a crucially important resource for earned success.

Making a living, starting a business and finding work that you enjoy all depend on freedom to act in the economic realm. What government can do to help is establish the rule of law so that informed and voluntary trades can take place. More formally, government can vigorously enforce laws against the use of force, fraud and criminal collusion, and use tort law to hold people liable for harm they cause others.

Everything else the government does inherently restricts economic freedom to act in pursuit of earned success….

Note to copyright lawyers: In addition to the fact that I should (if ever so slightly) be raising the commercial value for Charles Murray’s column by posting this excerpt here, I would also argue that my blog as a whole is a transformative work, given how my posts play off of one another. It is not enough to judge whether a single post in isolation is a transformative work. The entire blog must be judged as a cohesive whole.  

On the photos and other images I post on my blog, my main arguments would be

  1. by linking to the original sites I probably help more than harm the owner of the photo. 
  2. I stand ready to remove any images that an owner asks me to remove. 

Note to my readers: I should say that the links underneath the images I put in my posts are my way of trying to provide compensation for my use of those photos. At this point, the links under the images I use are the only advertising I have on my blog (for which I receive nothing other than the benefit of using the image with a clear conscience). I am not in principle opposed to having other advertising, but would want a lot of control over the advertising to make sure it did not detract from the way my blog looks and the themes I focus on. For example, since I am a very satisfied user of the Pimsleur language-learning CD’s that I listen to while commuting, I wouldn’t mind a Pimsleur ad if I could put it low down on my sidebar and the transactions costs for me were low. (I’m in the middle of Spanish Level III, and looking forward to learning French after I finish Spanish Level IV.)