This is a continuation of Roy Fickling’s response in a debate that centers on promoting economic growth verses a more fair and even distribution of wealth. For a bit about Roy’s experience see The Great Debate Part I
The human existence revolves around individuals pursuing their own selfish interests. Period. That’s it. Sorry, it is coded into the human genome… and a leopard has spots whether you like it or not.
Like albino leopards, every now and then a Mother Teresa or some other saint comes along; but the overwhelming majority of people on this earth look out for themselves before looking out for others. There is no divine intervention on R&D, no benevolent investing, and no personal consumption for the greater good. People spend money to make their lives more comfortable. Companies invest to make more money for shareholders (and in turn, management). Companies spend money on R&D so they can make more stuff to sell, thus make more money. One can argue how wrong this behavior is and that we need to change it. One can preach from the mountaintop, the pulpit, or the lectern; but such protests yield no greater results than howling into the wind… and the leopard still has spots.
Some argue that government is the answer… some system of policing individuals’ behaviors for the benefit of the greater good. But if you believe that government can change the behavior of humans pursuing their own self interests, you might as well stop reading now. If the desired result is improvement of the human condition for the maximum number of people, the question becomes: “to benefit the greater good, how does a society direct the collective efforts of individuals pursuing their own self interests”? There is little debate that some system of rules must be in place for a society to function effectively. Even the most right wing conservative would agree that we can’t just get up in the morning and decide which side of the road to drive on. Equally, I know no one who doesn’t believe that we should have some system to take care of those individuals who are either physically or mentally incapable of taking care of themselves. The degree to which we as a society restrict activity (rules) and take care of the less fortunate (redistribution) is the only honest debate.
When it comes to choosing an economic system that is most effective in producing the desired results (improvement of the human condition for the maximum number of people), the record of history is crystal clear and unambiguous, with no exceptions. To paraphrase Milton Friedman, “the only cases in recorded history where the masses have escaped grinding poverty are where they had Capitalism and largely free trade”. By the way, he said that before Communist China was “infected” with the incredible power of individuals pursuing their own self interests, resulting in 1/4 of the world’s population moving from abject poverty into middle class… in a word, “capitalism”.
What are our other choices? Communism doesn’t work. Communism cast more individuals into deep poverty, serfdom and even mass genocide than any system yet devised. Oops. I don’t even need to mention Feudalism, Marxism, Dictatorships, etc. Socialism, which is hard to define due to the varying intensities employed by modern societies, yields better results than Communism, but produces average unemployment rates more than double what we see in America today and more than quadruple what we enjoyed for twenty years preceding the great recession. For the same 20 year period, socialist countries yielded about 1/4 the GDP/Capita growth rate on average compared to capitalistic economies.