I am a capitalist. There, I said it.
In today’s world, it’s risky to make such a definite statement. The economically ignorant will rush to uninformed, inaccurate conclusions about my values. Half of all voters will immediately take offense. Many of my fellow Christians will question the authenticity of my faith. And it’s sad. Because, as you’ll see, being a capitalist doesn’t make me a pig.
What does it mean to be a capitalist? There’s a lot of misinformation out there. In this series, I hope to help answer that question by sharing my experiences and beliefs as a capitalist with you firsthand. I’ll share three truths and three myths about capitalists in each post. Give them a read and tell me what you think. You don’t have to agree with everything I say, but if you’re going to condemn capitalists, at least understand what you’re condemning. Hatred founded in stereotypes and ignorance is ugliest of all.
First things first. A capitalist is one who promotes capitalism. Dictionary.com defines capitalism as “an economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is made and maintained chiefly by private individuals or corporations, especially as contrasted to cooperatively or state-owned means of wealth.”
It’s an accurate definition, but it doesn’t reveal much about who capitalists are as people. So let’s take a look at a few truths and a few myths about capitalists.
3 Truths About Capitalists
Truth #1: Capitalists Believe in Private Property Rights
As a capitalist, I believe that individuals have the right to own private property. That means that regular people like you and me can make decisions about what to buy, what to sell, and what to do with our stuff while we own it. As long as we’re not breaking any laws, it also means that the decisions we make don’t require the approval of our neighbors or our governments. Items big and small – cars, homes, TVs, mobile phones, coffee makers, paperclips – you have the right to privately own them all as an individual. The right to private property is a uniquely capitalist principle.
Truth #2: Capitalists Trade Value for Value
Private property rights are great, but they present a potential problem. You might own something that I want. Now what? As a capitalist, how can I morally obtain something you currently own?
Let’s say I’m in the market for a new TV, and you just so happen to be replacing yours. I hop onto Craigslist and see that you’re selling your like-new 60″ flatscreen for 50% off the retail price. Wow, what a deal! I contact you, we agree on a price, I show up at your house a few hours later. You help me load the TV into my truck, I hand you a fistful of cash, and we each happily go our separate ways. It’s a transaction that takes place every day. But have you ever stopped to consider what really takes place when you buy or sell something?
Trading value for value is how capitalists morally obtain things they want but do not yet own. Your TV is valuable private property, my cash is valuable private property. Neither one of us is a thief, so neither one of us expects to obtain the other person’s stuff for free. Instead, we know that we’ll each have to give up something of value in order to obtain the other person’s valuable property. I give up my cash to obtain your TV, you give up your TV to obtain my cash. We trade value for value.Trading value for value is how capitalists morally obtain things they want but do not yet own. Click To Tweet
Truth #3: Capitalists See Beauty in Trade
I bought your TV because I wanted your TV more than I wanted my cash. You sold the TV to me because you wanted my cash more than you wanted your TV. With me so far?
Get this: we are both better off as a result of our trade. As mutually consenting adults, we freely decided to trade our valuable private property so that we could each improve our lives. As a capitalist, I find the concept of trade to be absolutely beautiful, because trade makes all participants better off. That’s one reason why we capitalists so often voice our support for “free trade.”
3 Myths About Capitalists
Myth #1: All Capitalists Love Money
A lot of people think that capitalists love money. And some do. But there are plenty of socialists and communists who also love money, which means a person’s ability to love money is independent of economic systems. Loving money doesn’t make you a capitalist, and being a capitalist doesn’t make you love money.
As a capitalist, I do not love money. I love other human beings and – as a person of faith – I love God. But money? No. I appreciate money for the good it can do for me, my family, and other people in this world – but ultimately, money is nothing more than a tool. It’s like a carpenter’s hammer: Money can be used to build great things and improve the world, or it can be used to destroy. Carpenters surely appreciate the way their hammers empower them to craft the world, but appreciation is a far cry from love.
Myth #2: Capitalists Are Selfish and Uncompassionate
Some people accuse capitalists like me of lying about the “not loving money” bit. They say that if we truly don’t love money, then we should have no problem handing our money over to the government to help other people. Their rationale is appalling. It’s even worse when the accusations are made in the name of Christianity, as if Christ instructed His disciples to offload their moral responsibility to “love one another” onto Rome.
Remember, money is a tool capable of doing wonderful things or terrible things. It all depends on who wields the tool. And evidence shows that governments (run by Republicans and Democrats alike) handle money in shockingly irresponsible and immoral ways. I refuse to be lectured about money by politicians and bureaucrats who have racked up over $18 trillion in debt, who use taxpayer dollars like free heroin to get the most vulnerable among us hooked on government, and who cut crony deals with big business to keep them on corporate welfare.
Taxes and government do have appropriate roles to play in society, but given government’s record, keeping most of my money out of the hands of politicians and bureaucrats isn’t selfish or uncompassionate – it’s a moral responsibility. Because whether it’s to heroin or to government, people cannot effectively do their thing while struggling with addiction.
As a capitalist, I help other people directly (yes, person-to-person!) or through private charity. And when I do, I know my dollars are helping to build up the most vulnerable among us instead of turning them into voting-block dependents. I know my dollars aren’t being diverted to some taxpayer-teat-suckling, politically-connected corporate entity. Quietly watching my hard-earned dollars actually help other people is morally right. It’s one way I try to live out my faith. And it’s some of the most fun I’ve ever had.Keeping my money out of the hands of politicians isn't selfish or uncompassionate, it's a moral responsibility. Click To Tweet
Myth #3: Capitalists Are Cronyists
This one drives me crazy. Crony capitalism – a misnomer – runs rampant in our nation. Big businessmen and women “know the right people” in government and land a big government contracts, secure taxpayer subsidies, or obtain special tax breaks. Big business climbing into bed with big government can be called a lot of things: cronyism, corporate welfare, and generally disgusting are all good options. But don’t you dare call it capitalism.
Capitalism is about providing valuable products and services to others in a competitive, free, private marketplace. Cronyism is about having connections with the right politician or bureaucrat. It’s insulting to me, as a capitalist, to share even part of a title with cronyists. So please, show us capitalists a little respect by distinguishing us from the cronyists of this world. They disgust us just as much as they disgust you.
This is Just the Beginning
This topic is far too big for a single post, so I’m making a series out of it. You’ve just read Part 1. If you want to make sure you read future posts, sign up for LTP’s mailing list using the form below! I’ll keep you up to date with what’s going on with LTP, but I won’t bombard you with emails every day. You have my word.
Read More from the WICMAC series!
- Part 1 (current selection)
- Part 2
Do you share any of my capitalist beliefs? If so, do you call yourself a capitalist? Why or why not? Do you agree with this post’s assessment of what it means – and what it doesn’t mean – to be a capitalist?