How to be a Capitalist

January 3, 2011

How to be a capitalist—are you kidding? Nobody wants to be a capitalist. You want a target on your forehead that says “I’m a greedy bastard who will lie, cheat and steal to get the money”? Want all your friends and family to despise you? Why would you want to destroy the environment, eliminate jobs, hurt the poor, make inferior products and brainwash everyone into watching lowbrow sitcoms and beer commercials?

You say, “No, that’s not what I want. I want to be creative and productive and pursue my own happiness. I want to take care of those I love and be free to enjoy my life and all that it has to offer.”

I have news for you: you already are a capitalist—you were born one. In one sense, every individual in history was born a capitalist.

This is why capitalism, wherever it is tried and to whatever degree it is tried, succeeds. If you measure success in terms of creativity, innovation, productivity, genuine caring for others and in every possible measure of human happiness, capitalism succeeds because it is congruent with human nature. It’s only been in the last few hundred years that a political/economic system recognized this fact and began to protect your right to pursue these things. Of course, that political system was the constitutional republic of the United States.

Isn’t a capitalist someone who has actual capital, someone who invests money in a business for profits? Well, the word capital comes from the Latin capitalis or “of the head”. You see, the root of all money-making enterprises is really the ideas and will to act on them. The root of all financial and physical capital is intellectual and emotional capital. We are born as “wanters” or “valuers”. We are born wanting to stay alive and to live well; to learn and grow and experience. Wanting doesn’t make it so without thinking and acting and the desire to live is where it starts.

As a born capitalist, you are also an owner. You start out believing, correctly, that your life is yours and that you’re here for yourself. It’s not until everyone else tells you otherwise that you believe that you should sacrifice the things that are important to you.

We say capitalism is an economic system based on private ownership of capital and we’re talking about the means of production and distribution—the land, factories, technology, transport systems, and financing that makes it all possible. But we forget that private ownership starts with you owning your own mind, your own body and the products of your efforts.

So the question should be, “How to be a better Capitalist”. Now this could mean: a) you understand that the demonization of capitalists is completely unjust and you feel no guilt about living your life and pursuing your values but you want to get rich(er)—you want more money or b) you want to be a better advocate for capitalism, for the freedom of all people to pursue their own happiness, and for the strengthening of the institutions that protect that freedom.

We could phrase this second meaning something like “How to be an Effective Defender of Capitalism” or even “How to Explain Capitalism to Liberals”. But that’s a whole other article…

In the meantime, let’s go back to the first: you want more money. Well, I say all progress starts with the truth. Being ok and guilt-free about wanting to earn more money is that start. You also get that everyone else wants more money; maybe not as much as you or maybe more, and maybe they won’t be as honest about it but they do. The key thing here is that they have the same right to keep and pursue their happiness and money as you do. And even more insightful: for anyone to give up their money to you, you must realize that it’s got to be a mutual trade—no force involve—and you have to create value.

This is what a capitalist does—creates surplus value and voluntary trade. If you want to create massively more value in the world, then you become an entrepreneur and take the risks necessary to see, sell and execute on a vision. If not, that’s ok. If you’re interested in creating some more value for yourself and your loved ones, you sell your ability to work—with your mind or hands or both—to an entrepreneur or investor.

Either way, you already are a capitalist—now start acting like one!

This article was originally published in and is reprinted here with permission from Liberty Ink Journal (www.libertyinkjournal.com).

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Avatar…..or Marlon Brando, Pocahontas and Thee

April 7, 2010

I just watched the Oscars and, thankfully, Avatar did not win Best Picture.  It did however win, deservedly so, the Best Visual Effects award.  Anyone who has seen it knows the job James Cameron and his crew did in creating a marvelous visual feast.  Anyone who understands capitalism and the history of humanity will also know and lament the incredible movie making skills for such tired, old anti-civilization and anti-technology propaganda.  The guy who accepted the award said, “Avatar’s a film about learning to see the world in new ways”.  But really it’s a film about learning to make old myths about our world more visually interesting.  (Plot spoilers follow)

In his song, Pocahontas, Neil Young wants to sleep with the historical figure to find out what she really thinks of the white man.  Of course, Pocahontas was the famous Indian who actually saw the value of the white man’s civilization, even to the extent that she saved Captain John Smith at Jamestown. Despite the history of this brave and admirable woman, Hollywood has continued to distort and twist the story, much like they do with other “noble savage” tales.  Dances with Wolves, The Last of the Mohicans or maybe even Little Big Man are examples. Entertaining movies?  Yes.  But history lessons, valuable social commentary, or inspirational art?  Hardly.  Perpetuating the myths about the evils of capitalism?  Exhaustingly.

Young and Brando (who refused to accept his own Oscar but sent an Indian woman to read a speech about the plight of Native Americans and Wounded Knee) maybe do a service by exposing the silly way in which Hollywood treated Indians in the old westerns.  But for any good they accomplish, their views are much more destructive to the broader culture and especially today’s Native Americans because they celebrate mysticism over reason, nature over technology, and tribalism (collectivism) over the individual.  Why especially Native Americans?  Because, along with other minorities whose supposed leaders preserve ethnic pride to keep power, they suffer the most from the irrational and vicious demonization of Western Civilization and Capitalism.

It is the idea that an individual  has rights, including property rights, that liberates us – no matter what race, ethnicity, gender or religious views.  This central idea of individual rights is the achievement of Western Civilization no matter how slow it takes to realize it, no matter how inconsistently it’s been manifested.  While the old movie depictions of Native Americans as murdering marauders might be a bit of a caricature, the idea of them being pure, spiritually wise and happier than modern man is downright falsehood.  For more on this topic read Tom Bowden’s “The Enemies of Christopher Columbus”.

So why don’t we see more movies that use such skill and technological brilliance in exploring the individual – the sovereign, independent, joyous individual?  Well, it’s a cultural thing, a philosophical thing, and this is where the Thee part comes in.   You and I are part of a culture that loves our rights, loves our freedoms, loves our technology, loves our scientific discoveries, and loves our leisure time/entertainment (only made possible by freedom, science and technology) and yet….we feel guilty about all of these things.  Why?  Because of the Ph-word.  We aren’t philosophical and we’re too busy enjoying our lives to understand and protect the ideas that shape our culture.  So we have this ongoing battle, a battle that’s being lost by default.  It’s only by adopting a more rational culture that can explain and defend itself from bad ideas, that we’ll see a blossoming of art that will celebrate our achievements and our humanity.