Below are my opening and closing statements from an Oxford-style debate hosted by The NYC Political Forum. My friend Roberto Guzman and I debated the affirmative case and won. (Reading time 8 minutes.)
We hold that Capitalism is not the most moral political system, but that it is the only moral political system. Here’s why.
Moral behavior consists of creating values.
What do I mean by the term values? Values, in a philosophic sense, are all the things that we seek to gain in order to maintain our life and achieve our happiness, things like food, shelter, technology, medicine, and art. For human beings, values like these can’t be found ready-made in nature, but must be created by individuals through a process of thought and effort. For example:
Through a process of thought and effort, a farmer conceives of a field filled with crops and successfully grows them to bring to market.
Or, through a process of thought and effort, an entrepreneur like Steve Jobs conceives of the personal computer and creates a company capable of mass producing them.
Or, through a process of thought and effort, an author conceives of a plot and writes a novel.
In a capitalist society, what do we do with these values that we create when we enter the social realm? We trade them for other values that we want and need and that have been brought into existence by other value-creators.
For example, a farmer uses a portion of the money earned by selling his crops to buy a personal computer. Or Steve Jobs uses a portion of the money earned through selling personal computers to buy a book by his favorite author.
The creation and trading of values is the very essence of moral behavior because it requires the exercise of all of our most crucial moral virtues, including rationality, independence, honesty, justice, productiveness, pride. Capitalism is the name for the social system that protects the rights of the individual to possess the values that they create by means of their virtues and to trade them with others in mutually beneficial win-win interactions. It does this by establishing a government whose sole purpose is to protect individual rights.
What are individual rights? Individual rights are not the modern misconception of a so-called right to other people’s thought, effort, or property, but rather, a principle that protects your right to think, produce, and keep that which you produce. Individual rights are the bridge between morality and politics, the principle that protects the individual’s right to engage in moral behavior and reap the benefits of such behavior. Individual rights include the right to life, that is, the right to take the actions necessary to support your life; the right to property, that is, the right to possess or trade the values that you yourself have created; the right to liberty, that is, the right to free thought, speech and action; and the right to the pursuit of happiness, that is, the right to be able to choose to work for the sake of your own life and the lives of the particular people you care about without forcible interference by others, including the government.
How does a capitalist government create the conditions that make the establishment of individual rights possible? By abolishing the initiation of physical force, both by the government against its citizens and by private citizens against each other. This is the practical form by which the principle of individual rights, which protects the individual’s right to create and trade, is implemented.
The abolition of the initiation of physical force in human relationships is the profoundly moral foundation of the system of capitalism and is the essence of what distinguishes a civilized society from savagery.
By abolishing the initiation of physical force, a capitalist government protects each and every individual’s right to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. These protections, in turn, make possible the individual’s morally virtuous behavior of creating the values that make possible the maintenance of their lives and the achievement of their happiness.
For example, it protects the farmer’s harvest from theft by his neighbors. It protects Apple’s creations, both intellectual and material, from being appropriated by others without compensation. And it protects an author’s right to express and publish his ideas.
If you accept that it is immoral for either the government or an individual to initiate force against a citizen who himself is behaving peacefully, then, knowingly or not, you are an advocate of individual rights and therefore of capitalism, which is the political system that protects individual rights.
Capitalism, thus, is a positive. It is the system that protects individual rights. All other systems, including the mixed economy, are essentially negative. They all, to varying degrees, violate the rights of the individual in the name of an alleged necessity to force him to sacrifice the values that he creates, in exchange for nothing. These systems include communism, socialism, fascism, theocracy, the mixed economy, and the welfare state.
Why do we hold that all these political systems are immoral? Because, to one degree or another, they all use the government to initiate force against defenseless citizens who themselves have not initiated force against anyone. For example:
Under socialism, the act of seizing the means of production, for example, a factory, from the individuals whose thought and effort brought the factory into existence requires the initiation of force on a massive scale.
Or, under the mixed economy, the act of the government seizing a portion of a businessman’s profits or a worker’s wages, or of regulating their behavior against their will, represents the government initiating, or threatening to initiate, physical force against individuals who are acting peacefully and interacting voluntarily, and have not themselves initiated force.
But the immorality of these systems runs much deeper. Because by initiating force, or threatening to initiate force against peaceful private citizens, and thereby forcibly obstructing voluntary interactions between them, the government stops the process of value creation, which, as I’ve said, is the essence of moral behavior, at its root. When thought and action are made impotent through the initiation of force or the threat of the initiation of force, the individual’s moral process of thought and action that are the prerequisite of the process of the creation of values is thwarted before it can begin.
For example, a farmer would not do the thought and action required to create a garden if he knew his crops would be seized by the government.
Steve Jobs would not do the thought and action required to create a new industry if he knew that his thought and action would be thwarted by an ignorant government bureaucrat.
A writer would not do the thought and action required to write a novel if he knew that his ideas would be censored by the government.
So, in summary, Capitalism is the only political system that protects the rights of all individuals by abolishing the initiation of physical force, thereby allowing its citizens the opportunity to think, speak, act, produce, trade, and thrive. That makes capitalism not merely the most moral political system, but the only moral political system.
We hold that the rational thought and action required to create the physical and spiritual values required for human survival and happiness are the essence of what it means to be moral. By banning the initiation of physical force in human relationships, capitalism is the political system that protects thought and action, and thus protects moral behavior at its root. Capitalism is synonymous with political freedom, meaning a government that is strictly limited to protecting the rights of each and every individual in this room, regardless of whatever economic, racial, or sexual demographic you belong to. Although you may not have consciously thought about it, if you don’t want to force your neighbor to act against his self-interest, and you don’t want your neighbor to force you to act against your self-interest, you are an advocate of individual rights, and therefore of capitalism. Capitalism is the system advocated by you, each one of you, to the extent that you want the freedom to think, that you want the freedom to speak, that you want the freedom to create, that you want the freedom to trade, that you want the freedom to be able to live and work on your own terms, that you want the freedom to plan for your own future and the future of those you love. Capitalism is the system that allows you to live your life to the fullest extent and achieve all that you can achieve in the short time that you have on earth. By abolishing the initiation of force in human relationships and thereby protecting your rights, capitalism is the system that protects your own practice of moral virtue, and thus, capitalism provides the social and political framework that makes moral virtue as such possible. Needless to say, given all of the above, capitalism is the most moral political system. Thank you.