A number of individuals and organizations are defending Capitalism on moral grounds. This is an excellent trend. People are motivated by morality and by their nature they WANT to be good. However, while the DESIRE for a code of goodness is inherent in human nature, the code itself is not. It must be taught or painstakingly discovered.
The Objectivists, a group that advocates the teachings of Ayn Rand, are leading voices in promoting the morality of Capitalism. Most of their ideas are solid, however, in my respectful opinion, there is a fly that needs to be removed from their ointment if they want to succeed on a grand scale. That fly is their position on “selfishness.”
Dictionary.com defines selfish as devoted to or caring ONLY (my emphasis) for oneself; concerned primarily with one’s own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others.
Merriam-webster defines selfish as concerned excessively or EXCLUSIVELY (my emphasis) with oneself : seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being WITHOUT REGARD FOR OTHERS (my emphasis)
Finally, Roget’s Thesaurus defines selfish as thinking ONLY (my emphasis) of oneself. Roget goes on to lists a number of synonyms, such as “hoggish,” “mean,” “narcissistic,” “stingy,” and “ungenerous,” which most reasoning individuals would characterize as uncomplimentary at best.
If one abides by the definitions provided by these well respected sources, Capitalists are in theory and in practice the most UNSELFISH individuals on earth! They don’t care or think ONLY about or are EXCLUSIVELY concerned with themselves. Every aspect of a Capitalistic endeavor involves working with, collaborating with, trading with, and satisfying others in the pursuit of mutual gain. “Mutually beneficial exchange,” whether in labor, goods or services is a core tenet of Capitalism, which by definition incorporates a sincere, action driven, results oriented concern for one another.
As an employer a Capitalist enters into a voluntary and mutually agreed upon arrangement that benefits himself and his employees. It is not an agreement in which he cares ONLY about himself. As a trading partner, a Capitalist engages in mutually agreed upon transactions that benefit himself and his suppliers. As a seller, a Capitalist engages in mutually agreed upon transactions that benefit himself and his customers. The best Capitalists have happy employees, happy suppliers and happy customers.
If two billion people were asked if it’s “good” to be selfish, four billion people, including those within earshot, would respond “NO!”. The definitions listed above and the immediate reaction from everyone on the planet should be a hint to Objectivists that the word selfish is gone, lost and hopelessly unrecoverable as a moniker for morality. Why on earth would an individual, group or movement want to associate their core mission with the word selfish, particularly when it’s not only incorrect but detrimental to the mission’s goals? Saving the word itself is folly. In the war of ideas, words are the soldiers, and in war, soldiers tragically and regrettably die. In this case, the word selfish is not merely dead with regard to its usefulness in promoting Capitalism, but even worse, it’s been resurrected as a mortal enemy. Unlike real combat, where we don’t view our soldiers as expendable, in the war of ideas, we can still be true to our values while accepting the fact that some words ARE expendable.
Objectivists and other defenders of Capitalism are being snookered, played, manipulated and out matched by “Progressives” who are much more skillful in manipulating words than they are in delivering anything remotely resembling individual and societal progress. Capitalists can and must learn the art of moral debate. Here’s how a defender of Capitalism should partake in a discussion on selfishness with a Progressive.
“Are Capitalists selfish?” “No, Capitalists don’t only think of themselves. Everything a Capitalist does involves making a positive impact on others.” “But don’t Capitalists only seek profit?” “A profit is the result of a mutually beneficial exchange. Both sides benefit and are happy. That’s morally good.” “So a Capitalist wouldn’t do anything if it didn’t result in a profit, correct?” “A Capitalist engages in mutually beneficial activities with employees, partners and buyers of his products and services. A Capitalist wants everyone to be happy and to benefit. That’s morally good.” “Would a Capitalist engage in an exchange that doesn’t result in a profit or would result in a loss?” “Capitalist are the most charitable individuals the world has ever known. By the way, Capitalists don’t consider charity a loss. Charity is a mutually beneficial exchange in the mind of a Capitalist.”
The above demonstrates that a defender of Capitalism can retain the moral high ground, stay on point, and on the offensive, while avoiding the standard Progressive traps into which Capitalists and Conservatives routinely walk.
Winning the war for freedom does not require changing the definition of the word selfishness in the dictionary. It does not entail adopting guilt laden re-monikers like “Conscious Capitalism” or “Compassionate Conservatism.” It requires beating Progressives at their own word games, while maintaining fidelity to one’s ideals. Capitalists can do this because they can legitimately say they are NOT selfish. By contrast, Progressives cannot legitimately say they stand for progress.
What it comes down to is that Progressives are better at using words to hide their deception, destruction, and immorality than Capitalists are at using words to promote their honesty, productivity, and morality. If Objectivists want to change this, they among all groups need to recognize that Capitalists are NOT selfish!
Michael Malgeri is the creator of the “Johnny Profit” series of children’s books, which teaches young people about capitalism. He authored H.R.422, a Congressional Resolution that creates awareness of the superiority of Capitalism as an economic model. His website is www.Kids4biz.com