From National Review Yuval Levin, The Free Market Tradition:
Part of a moral defense of the market system would have to shed light on its moral goals and premises. These are not hard to discern, for instance, in the thought of capitalism’s intellectual progenitors. Adam Smith was a professor of moral philosophy, and his project sought to ground a modern successor to Aristotelian ethics in a sophisticated sense of human sympathy and sociability. In a free society, Smith suggested, men and women cannot be compelled to act morally, so we require institutions that form our characters and dispositions so that we might choose to act morally. The market is one such institution. Through the division of labor, it enables essentially every person to approach the larger society on the basis of what he can offer rather than just what he needs, reinforcing his dignity. And by valuing reliability, honesty, civility, discipline, and similar bourgeois virtues, markets give us the habits required to handle an enormous amount of freedom responsibly. Because they prioritize the needs of consumers, rather than just those of the owners of capital, markets are also powerfully democratizing forces. And because they are so very good at making us productive and rich, they help the poor to rise as well.
That markets can be perverted by cronyism, corruption, self-dealing, and the capture of regulators is not an argument against them. Every system can be so perverted — decidedly including all the modern alternatives to capitalism that the human race has tried. Societies with market economies should do what they can to minimize such corruption and to avoid the circumstances that invite it, but that is more an argument against Medicare for All than a case against capitalism.
And yet, these virtues of the market system alone do not suffice as an answer. Capitalism is most vulnerable to moral critiques because it rests upon a moral foundation that it can also undermine. It requires — for its workers, employers, owners, and investors — a kind of human being that it does not by itself produce and can easily corrupt. Left to itself, it would tend to prioritize consumption over every other human endeavor and profit over every other standard of the good, and so could badly distort our priorities. If our politics and culture were merely extensions of the market system — if market signals were our primary measures of merit, virtue, decency, freedom, responsibility, and worth — then ours would indeed be an unjust society.
But our politics and culture are much more than that. The best case for capitalism is a case for markets as one crucial set of institutions in a free society deeply rooted in the West’s liberal and pre-liberal soil. It is crucial because at its best it protects every man’s right to the fruits of his labor, encourages virtues crucial to living free, and has proven unbeatably capable of improving everyone’s living standards. But it must remain rooted, because man does not live by bread alone, and because both the market and the larger society depend upon other formative institutions that help us all become better human beings and citizens.
This is well worth the whole read. Yuval places capitalism in its proper perspective; as an important part of our civic culture, but only a part. Progressivism and Socialism’s desire to centralize local problems undermines these other institutions that are also important. The result is that they bring out the worst of capitalism sacrificing prosperity for notions of equality and social justice. Just as early progressives became impatient with the restrictions of the Constitution on their ideals they also resented many of our other institutions from Rotary Clubs to religious organizations.
The danger of central planning is not just the neutering the benefits of capitalism but the marginalization of many other institutions that make up our civic culture when local and social issues are nationalized.