I’m a capitalist, and so are you.
Now, you may find that statement offensive. It seems many capitalists don’t realize they’re capitalists, including My Esteemed Colleague, who has devoted a great deal of time and energy to championing the principles and ideology of the former Soviet Union. What he doesn’t realize, though, is that the Soviets were capitalists, too.The fact of the matter is that everyone who has ever set foot on this planet was and is a capitalist, regardless of the silly labels we all dress up in to make ourselves feel better.
We’re all capitalists not because we want to be, but because we have no other choice.
Keep in mind that no one is saying you have to be happy about being a capitalist. I often find it a downright miserable experience, myself. I’d much rather enjoy wealth without responsibility and live on a Caribbean cruise ship for the rest of my life. But no, capitalism requires me to get up in the morning and do something that somebody else is willing to pay for, even when, or especially when, it’s something I really, really don’t want to do.
It means I end up competing in the open market against people who are smarter, more skilled, better-looking, younger, and luckier than I am. It means I am routinely screwed over by my own incompetence or by the whims of fate, not necessarily in that order, but usually. Who wouldn’t prefer a world where such indignities weren’t necessary?
I’m not a capitalist because I dig capitalism. I rather hate it, actually. But I’m a capitalist because that’s how the world works.
Compare capitalism to any other natural law – gravity, for instance. Personally, I’m not a very big fan of gravity. I think flying without benefit of aircraft would be kind of neat, and gravity has broken my arm and back on occasions where I wasn’t mindful enough of its influence. But regardless of whatever vote we might take on repealing the law of gravity, it’s going to ever be with us. Hence, if we are going to live in a physical universe where gravity is more or less a constant, the sensible thing to do is make the most of it rather than rail against its injustices and inequities.
Capitalism operates on a similar principle.
Every economic system in the world boils down to the reality that people are rewarded for either what they have or what they can do. Redistributive systems designed to thwart capitalism invariably fail because they ignore that the wealth necessary to meet their utopian goals can only be generated by capitalistic means. Wealth redistribution only works when there’s wealth to redistribute, and wealth is only created when somebody uses their skills or resources to provide value to somebody else. When governments dilute the incentive to create wealth, they create more equality of outcome, but that equality is married inescapably to poverty.
All that said, we have both gravity and airplanes. That’s not because airplanes foolishly try to ignore gravity, but rather incorporate the realities of gravitational principles into their designs. Similarly, people’s lives are improved when economic system recognize capitalistic realities and account for them in how they structure their societies. Thus redistribution is a poor substitute for wealth and job creation, and policies designed to use the market rather than subvert tend to result in a higher quality of living overall.
One other addendum. Too many members of the church think that capitalism is somehow divinely sanctioned, when, in fact, it’s anything but. It’s a reality, yes, but it’s the reality that exists solely because we live in a fallen world. In Eden, Adam and Eve didn’t have to be capitalists. It was only after they were expelled from paradise that suddenly the deal was that “in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground.” Capitalism was inflicted on us; it’s nothing to celebrate.
Yet after President Obama was reelected in 2012, an LDS Stake President addressed his congregation by lamenting the fact that this was a victory of “socialism over capitalism,” as if capitalism itself is a divine virtue. If that were the case, then we can expect capitalism to be the order of the day when the Savior returns. But he’s told us to seek a Zion society instead. In such societies, “the people are of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.” Communists have tried to replicate that without the righteousness and achieved lamentable results, but the goal is to get to a place where the curse of capitalism is finally lifted from us. Mormons who think capitalism is the bee’s knees ought to spend more time reading the Doctrine and Covenants and studying the United Order.
Until such time as we are righteous enough to live the higher law, capitalism is what we’re stuck with. We need to acknowledge that, even as we yearn for something better.