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Free Market Capitalism is Immoral

An Essay on the Immorality of Capitalism, Given that the Economy is a Thermodynamic System

So here we are:

Just a few years into the Information Age and barely two centuries after the Industrial Revolution, the Western world is experiencing the excruciating convulsions of withdrawal. Looking to the future while reflecting on the past, can science explain our present pain?

And if so, what are the moral implications?

Before proceeding, note that these two questions examine two sides of a coin.

The first side—scientific explanation—deals with objective facts of existence, to the extent that they can be discerned. It serves to provide insight into causality, and thus into what is predictable (or knowable) about nature. While science acknowledges that not all facts can be discerned with certainty, some, like the pull of gravity, are indisputable.

The other side of the coin—morality—deals with subjective responses to existence. It serves to provide for the common good. As individual subjects engaged in the ongoing creation of reality, we each behave morally or immorally to the extent that we positively or negatively affect the wellbeing of other subjects, and to the extent that this matters.

The objective lessons that we learn through science can be combined with our subjective sense of morality to inform the choices we make—choices that contribute to development of a socio-economic system of interdependencies that one way or another constrain our activity.

We have discovered many facts of existence since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. For example, we have learned that no engine can ever work with 100% efficiency. We have also learned that all life on earth, including human life, is composed of cells derived by cell division from a common ancestor that lived over 4 billion years ago. We are kin to all creatures.

At the same time, our subjective sense of morality has not changed, and spans all cultures. Unlike objective reality, it is quite simple, and can be distilled down to a single criterion: The Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. By this rule it is immoral to (knowingly) do things that increase the suffering of others, because none of us would have others do things that increase our own suffering.

So again, we may ask: what has science taught us about our present predicament? And given the Golden Rule, what are the moral implications of those lessons?

Jumping to the punch line—

From a scientific perspective, the economy is a thermodynamic system. As such, it is governed by the laws of thermodynamics. Our present predicament is a consequence of free market capitalism, an economic system motivated by acquisitive activities of some individuals that, by virtue of the laws of thermodynamics, predictably (and hence knowingly) increase the suffering of others. Since this violates the Golden Rule, we must conclude that free market capitalism is immoral.

I will now unpack and defend each of these statements in turn.

Sadi Carnot

Sadi Carnot

The economy is a thermodynamic system

Thermodynamics literally means the movement of heat. The science of thermodynamics began with the Industrial Revolution, as engineers sought to maximize the work efficiency of the steam engine. Sadi Carnot (1796-1832), considered by some to be “the Father of Thermodynamics”, discovered that some of the energy that is used to create the steam that forces the motion of the pistons is always lost as heat that cannot be recovered in a useful form. In other words, whenever potential energy (for example, that stored in coal) is converted to a functional form of kinetic energy (for example, the directed movement of a steam engine) some of the potential is irrecoverably lost as heat that is incapable of fulfilling the same function. We now know that this is due to friction, which always of necessity occurs when material bodies interact. This fact of existence eventually became known as the Second Law of Thermodynamics. It is the reason that it is a “perpetual motion machine” is a physical impossibility.

The fact that the Industrial Revolution led to the discovery of the Second Law was not a coincidence, and is quite pertinent to what follows. For, the Industrial Revolution was an economic revolution, whereby the power of energy locked away in fossil fuels was transformed into the power of machine-driven commerce. Fuel-burning engines greatly increased the power of anyone clever enough to construct and use them, and thence the amount of wealth that could be amassed by leveraging that power to create things of value. To whom that wealth goes depends of course on the laws of the land, and is hence determined by history and politics (not to mention sociology, culture, psychology, biology, and geography).

The Industrial Revolution did not create the laws of thermodynamics; it only motivated their discovery, owing to the increased interest of scientifically-minded engineers in pushing the limits of their newfound power. Like gravity, the laws of thermodynamics are merely facts of existence, which presumably originated at the beginning of time. In addition to the so-called Second Law, described above, there is the First Law: energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed from one form to another. In other words, the First Law says that nothing comes from nothing, while the Second Law says that nothing comes for free. Any transformation of energy incurs an irrecoverable cost. The technical term for that cost is entropy: the amount of energy that is lost forever whenever something is made to happen—energy that will never again suffice to accomplish the same end.

An economy is a system of interactions in which goods and services are exchanged between individuals and organizations. Since those individuals and organizations exist entirely by virtue of energy use, and since the creation and exchange of goods and services also uses energy, an economy is a thermodynamic system. Hence, it is bound by the laws of thermodynamics. It does not create energy, it simply transforms it. And some of the energy that is transformed becomes entropy that is “dissipated”, lost forever.

For a system that is striving to persist this is not a problem as long as there is enough energy coming into the system to replace that which is dissipated. Terrestrial ecosystems are complex living economies that grow and are sustained by energy from the sun, which more than compensates for what they dissipate away.

However, the Second Law is consequential beyond the simple fact that no machine can ever work with 100% efficiency. As a consequence of friction things wear out over time. As a consequence of combustion (or other forms of energy release such as nuclear fission) fuel is converted into material waste that is less useful but which is nevertheless consequential. For example, CO2, a major by-product of carbon fuels, is a greenhouse gas. And many byproducts of energy use are toxic. Since these are unwanted side effects of energy use that do not contribute to the end toward which the use was intended, they constitute entropic effects of that use.

In biology the major consequence of the Second Law is that organisms get old and decrepit and eventually die, owing to accumulating wear and tear and metabolic toxins. But in the economics of ecology most everything gets recycled, so there is very little waste other than the heat that must (according to the Second Law) be dissipated.

Obviously that is not true for human economies that developed after the Industrial Revolution. For one thing they do not run on a limitless source of free energy, but rather on highly concentrated energy stored in deposits within the earth. Those deposits are being withdrawn far more quickly than they were made and can ever be replaced. And while much of the potential energy stored in them is converted to the kinetic energy of commerce, much of it is dissipated, not only as heat, but also as entropic (unusable and/or toxic) waste. All the while the machine infrastructure undergoes continuous frictional degradation, requiring repair and replacement fueled by the same high grade energy deposits. We are burning it as fast as we possibly can, and as a direct result the human population has exploded, leaving in its wake a considerable accumulation of toxic waste. Why is that? Why don’t we exert more self control? Why have we gotten ourselves into the fix we are in?

Adam Smith

Adam Smith

Our predicament is a consequence of free market capitalism

“Capitalism” refers to an economic system wherein individuals accumulate wealth (capital) by selling things of value for a profit, which presupposes that individual ‘ownership’ is a good thing, and a right that deserves legal protection. It is essentially motivated by the self-interest of individuals, which stimulates competition. But it can and does (under some circumstances) benefit societies, because the wealth accumulated by individuals can be shared through trade, thus providing for the common good. The Scottish philosopher Adam Smith (1723-1790) articulated the theory of capitalism in his magnum opus An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. It was Smith’s second major work, the first being, appropriately (and ironically) enough given the present discussion, The Theory of Moral Sentiments.

Smith was a product of the European Enlightenment that gave birth to the Industrial Revolution, and his thinking was very much in line with that late historical development. A key to Smith’s definition of capitalism is a division of labor, wherein individuals specialize, like parts of a machine, at carrying out certain jobs according to their unique talents. Specialization—devoting most of one’s time to a specific task—allows one to create something that is more refined, and hence of greater value, than is possible if one’s time is spent doing many different things. An economic system composed of specialists with different but complementary talents can be much more efficient and effective at completing a specific project than one that is composed of generalists that all do similar things—and hence more competitive in the marketplace. And so the specific project of creating and accumulating wealth—a form of power—is greatly facilitated by a division of labor.

Note however that the more specialized one becomes, the less aware one need be. This is true not only for humans, but for all animals. Focusing on a specific task both promotes and is facilitated by ignorance of what is happening outside of one’s limited sphere of influence. So by selectively favoring specialization, capitalism fosters ignorance of what is happening in the world at large.

The division of labor also fosters the stratification of society into economic classes. In a mature capitalistic system those who own and thus control the capital are usually not those who do the work to create it. The latter—the laborers—generally do not have time or energy, much less the necessary capital, to successfully compete in speculative investment, because they must spend so much time working just to make ends meet. This is because in capitalism value derives entirely from the marketplace, which ascribes no value to labor.

A division of labor requires a system of trade that uses currency—a universal quantitative proxy for the actual things of value. So capitalism develops naturally, through occupational specialization, toward the use of currency as a vehicle for trade. Accumulation of wealth can then be quantified by the amount of currency one has at one’s disposal, based on the amount of capital that one owns. And the more capital one owns, the less one has to labor to survive.

The accumulation of capital is a form of growth. Growth is simply an increase in capacity, throughput, or physical size—that is, an increase in power to do more and expand one’s domain of influence. In the real world growth is limited by resource availability, a consequence of the laws of thermodynamics (“nothing comes for nothing, and nothing comes for free”). When a system grows to the limits of its resource base it must stop growing.

However, it may nevertheless continue in its attempts to grow. But such attempts meet with success only to the extent that resources tied up somewhere within the system are sacrificed (‘liquidated’), which ultimately can only lead to one thing: death of part or all of the system.

Free market capitalism is a system motivated by the accumulation of wealth. As such it exists for one reason and one only, and that is to grow. Growth is its sole project, its raison d’etre. But the laws of thermodynamics do not allow unlimited growth—as any astute observer of nature knows. When the growth of a system reaches the limits of its resource base, continued efforts to grow cause some part of, and possibly the whole, system to collapse. This is a thermodynamic fact. It is the reason why cancer kills its host.

Like cancer, free market capitalism does not recognize the limits to growth, and it does not self-regulate for the greater good. It is an engine of growth—nothing more, and nothing less. When Adam Smith articulated his theory the world afforded an abundance of natural and human resources that could be exploited and thence transformed into wealth by the capitalistic engine. Most of those resources are now gone, and what is left is barely enough to sustain the system in a state of homeostasis. The system has stopped growing because it has reached the limits of growth. But capitalists still work on the growth project, and as a necessary consequence of their work, the system has begun to collapse.

And so, to answer the questions posed above at the end of the last section: Why don’t we exert more self control? Why have we gotten ourselves into the fix we are in? The answer is that long ago, in a world that was very different from the one we live in now, human beings became enchanted with the power that free market capitalism grants under conditions that favor growth. That enchantment fostered, and was in turn reinforced by, the “nose to the grindstone” ignorance that comes with increasing occupational specialization demanded by the capitalist Economy.

Although the Laws of Thermodynamics were articulated just a few decades after Smith published Wealth of Nations, their clear implications were largely ignored. Many (perhaps most) of us have yet to come to grips with those laws, much less the limits on growth that they impose. We have thus failed to recognize that the ultimate consequence of our capitalistic enchantment is widespread suffering and death. Free-market capitalism establishes an economy that is, in essence, a cancer growing on earth.

Free market capitalism predictably increases suffering and is therefore immoral

The aptness of the cancer metaphor cannot be overstated. Unregulated growth always becomes cancerous. Unless a system regulates its growth (as all organisms do genetically) it will grow to the thermodynamic limit. At that point something has to give—and it usually starts with the weakest (i.e. poorest) parts of the system.

Ask anyone who has known the ravages of cancer: unregulated growth invariably causes suffering.

And so it is with free-market capitalism, a system based solely on acquisitive growth-promoting activities of individuals. Eventually such activities predictably, and hence knowingly, cause someone somewhere to suffer. And this violates the Golden Rule.

Free-market capitalism is therefore immoral.

The Rich Young Man Went Away Sorrowful (Le jeune homme riche s'en alla triste) - James Tissot  (1836-1902)

The Rich Young Man Went Away Sorrowful (Le jeune homme riche s'en alla triste) - James Tissot (1836-1902)

Postcript (for those who believe that morality requires religion)

I am not the first to argue that capitalism is immoral. Jesus said as much when he pointed out that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The moral of that story is clear enough.

So, capitalism is not only immoral, it is un-Christian. Anyone who claims to be both a devout Christian and a free market capitalist is a bald-faced liar, because it is impossible to be both. So if you are a true Christian, and you come across someone making such claims (perhaps a politician asking for a donation or your vote), it behooves you to follow Jesus and say to them: “Get thee behind me Satan!” For that person is, if anything, the anti-Christ.


Scott Belford from Keystone Heights, FL on June 04, 2015:

So long as you keep using the adjective "unfettered", we are in harmony. The reason is "unfettered" implies the human element is at work who may or may not be moral.

While I am not an adherent to the original sin theory, there are two givens, it would seem, about human nature; 1) most people want to live a basically ethical life and 2) those who do not, or at least to a much lesser extent, often rise to power and influence. Occasionally you get group pragmatically ethical people together who create something good; and those who wrote the Constitution are a prime example. Previous and current Congresses have such examples floating about in small numbers as well, e.g., the "problem-solvers caucus.

"Fettered" Capitalism, I have always argued, is the only way to keep the unethical from bubbling to the top and ruining things.

Joyus Crynoid (author) from Eden on June 04, 2015:

It can be argued that a harmful act is not immoral if it causes harm unknowingly, that is, you are not acting immorally if you do not know that your actions are hurting others. To the extent that that is so, it can be argued that there was a period of time when capitalism was not immoral, merely amoral, as you suggest, or even moral, to the extent that it was thought to alleviate suffering. But we no longer have that excuse, as (thanks to science and the discovery of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics) we now know that unfettered capitalism is inevitably harmful. That knowledge allows us to recognize the inherent immorality of the system.

Joyus Crynoid (author) from Eden on June 04, 2015:

My Esoteric, I disagree. Capitalism by its very nature as a system is immoral because it is an acquisitive engine that depends on exploitation of nature and humanity. That fact is generally ignored however. Your claim that an economic system cannot be immoral is incorrect. Another example of an immoral economic system is that which supported the Southern aristocracy in the USA prior to the Civil War. That system, by its nature, depended on slavery, which is immoral. I am making a similar claim about free market capitalism. And it's not true that by my standard (the Golden Rule) "no economic system ever developed was moral, nor can there ever be one". Any system that respects nature and humanity, that does not predictably cause avoidable or unnecessary suffering, is moral. Many indigenous, pre-industrial economies probably can be said to be moral by that criterion.

Scott Belford from Keystone Heights, FL on June 04, 2015:

I have basically agreed, in my comments so far, with @mortimerjackson;a comment three years ago; Capitalism, per se, is amoral. It is amoral because it would work fine if capitalist followed the Golden Rule, and it works fine in the real world where many capitalist don't. Saying 'Capitalism' is immoral is the same thing as saying 'humans' are immoral, which is the Christians basic foundation, all human are born sinners.

What I am saying is that capitalism is no more immoral than a rock is. The person using capitalism or throwing the rock is what is moral or immoral. By your standard, there is no economic system every developed that was moral, nor can there ever be one.

Joyus Crynoid (author) from Eden on June 04, 2015:

I didn't delete you nicomp, your comment was automatically flagged as spam by HubPages, and so was invisible until I approved it. It should now be visible. But it doesn't really counter or even address my argument, which stands. Free market capitalism is immoral simply because it is a choice to engage in the market. And as I argued in the hub, doing so inevitably leads to the degradation of the environment and humanity, inequality, and suffering, which violates the Golden Rule, the foundation of all morality. Your comment misses the point.

nicomp really from Ohio, USA on June 03, 2015:

Ah, I was deleted. Have a nice day.

nicomp really from Ohio, USA on May 30, 2015:

Stick with biology because you have completely misinterpreted free-market capitalism.

The free market allows goods and services to move freely, without government interference. It has no inherent morality. You, as an individual, may choose to operate immorally within a free market system but that is independent of the system. An individual can also be an immoral communist, socialist, fascist, astronaut, or biologist.

Free market actors who discern what people want (cars, entertainment, pizza, broadband, etc.) and provide those things will tend to get rich. Once rich, moral and immoral behavior are both possible. Simply possessing more money then your neighbor does not imply a good or bad moral standing.

The free market is voluntary. Exchanging money for goods and services at prices agreeable to both parties is the epitome of personal freedom. No one is forced to buy or produce something they do not want or need.

The free market is in no way a cancer. You see activity detrimental to the Earth, I see antibiotics, Tyvek, 8-core CPUs, electric cars, and The New York Times. I see art, literature, leisure time, and the NBA. Without goods and services moving freely we would all be subsistence farmers falling asleep at sundown because no one has time to invent the electric light. Are parts of the Earth a little dirty? Sure. I see opportunities to make money cleaning it up.

Joyus Crynoid (author) from Eden on May 30, 2015:

So do I nicomp. Read the article.

nicomp really from Ohio, USA on May 30, 2015:

"I am not the first to argue that capitalism is immoral. Jesus said as much when he pointed out that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The moral of that story is clear enough."

Well, yes, but Jesus presupposed a moral framework.

Joyus Crynoid (author) from Eden on October 12, 2014:

Miks7--sorry, this is no place for trolls. I'll allow your two comments above because foolishness speaks for itself and has some entertainment value, but don't bother leaving any more unless you have something of substance to say that actually speaks to the argument of this hub.

Scott Belford from Keystone Heights, FL on October 12, 2014:

" Is that why so many people are leaving their country for Africa? Lets see...put some reality in your fact here pal!" - I thought I did, Pal, with the numbers I provided, which you seem to be lacking.

Your non-sequitur arguments, use of hyperbole, as well as your frequent ad hominem attacks put a clear lie to your claim to be an economist and finance professional; the only thing you appear to be a professional at is being a Right-wing extremist.

Ah, "Go hop a root", a racist as well as a bumpkin, I see.

Mike Dempsey from Sioux Falls SD on October 12, 2014:

No...I don't believe you have a fricken clue what you are talking about! Africa outperforming the US and Europe? Is that why so many people are leaving their country for Africa? Lets see...put some reality in your fact here pal!

Since you seemingly are brain dead, and probably believe in global warming, which I can give you a dissertation on that too, but the fact is GDP and free market capitalism is what drives economies. Why is it that 3/4 of the world is living in absolute poverty my friend? It is because government does not have the mechanism in place for the best people to be their best.

Answer me this. What has the other countries of the world brought to the economy and advancement for prosperity, and a higher standard of living? Standard of living means we don't have to live in a shit hole any longer! The answer...I am waiting?

While the United States continues to innovate by intellectual property rights, such as Apple, the PC, GE engines on aircraft, satellite communication (do you have a portable GPS or GPS on your phone?), see, you are too incompetent to handle the intellectual conversation.

While all you socialist look for the utopia view on how we can make it fair, the facts are capitalism has provided the means for excellence and it benefits EVERYONE in society, and I can PROVE IT with ACTUAL DATA!

Any other "causes" you provide are just fictional fantasies, as for over 1,750 years I can prove to you that socialism has failed every time it is tried, and you can only lie to try to prove your point. Want some real data, try me and I will send you to school on your fictional viewpoints. There is a fact the US economy...less than 250 years old became the largest economy in the world and the most powerful nations...and it wasn't socialism that brought this about.

If you don't get it, or believe that the continent of Africa is a utopia with the economic muscle to get it done, go on and believe it for yourself...my question is, why don't you go live it? That's right, go on and live in those countries and show me what a utopia it is! I look forward to the new car and satellite navigation systems from that continent? Am I supposed to wait on the technology and/or medical discoveries to come from this location...you bet, hopefully we can treat any illness by the draconian method of draining some blood! Good point you made...if you are basically mindless and don't have a freaking clue about economics. Are you sure you haven't graduated from a US university lately?????

Seriously, you are a clueless hack, but I think I have made my point because you are living in some fantasy land called liberalism...which doesn't rely on facts, it relies on some utopian dream that has never occurred in the history of the world. Go ahead and compare date for 2,000 years and you can't back up your claims with real date, if so I invite you to meet me and I will take you to school and put in on Youtube as a proof of concept because the truth tells no lies!

So go hop on a root and enjoy yourself, since you are a hack and you know it?

Scott Belford from Keystone Heights, FL on October 12, 2014:

And what kind of economies do Western Europe have today, @Miks7? What kind of economies did Western Europe have shortly after WW II? Who had the fastest growth rate between 1950 and 1975, the US or Western Europe? Who has had the fastest growth rate between 1975 and today between Western Europe, US and Africa?

Would you believe that Africa has out performed the US and/or Europe in 25 out of the last 53 years and in every year since 2001?! So please show me your data.

Now, I am a committed capitalist and have earned a comfortable living being one; but today 50% of American society is not, and another 40% is sort of getting by. Why is that?

Mike Dempsey from Sioux Falls SD on October 12, 2014:

I understand if you admit your incompetence in the value of free market capitalism...because it has improved the lives of hundreds of millions of people and explains the United States economic power. If you can't admit that fact, I would have to accuse you of economic theory malpractice and hopefully you will have some jail time to think about how confused you really are.

Although I would freely admit Capitalism is not perfect, I will show you without any lack of FACTS, that Capitalism IS the way to freedom, opportunity, and prosperity. If you believe poverty is the key to happiness and early death, then I won't be able to help you my friend, but I have the data that supports capitalism if you have the guts to accept reality.

Want it? Compare socialism/communism to free market capitalism. How? Take the top 10 free market capitalist countries, and compare them to the top 10 socialist countries for income, lifespan, opportunity, etc. Guess what? Capitalist countries not only provide a four to one income, BUT even better, the POOR have income levels five times higher!

Ever heard of the Ebola plague? If you have capitalism, you have exceptionalism whereby people live their lives according to their God given talents, not the talents that the government said they can use! In Africa you have all the elements of socialism in play that does not favor free market capitalism and opportunity, therefore you do not have the economic power to provide serious medical and hospital services to prevent illness and plagues. It's a fact here Jack!

My question to you, and you obviously are brain dead, is why the thought that capitalism is the problem, when in reality it is the solution. You can go about your theory all you want, but in the last 2,000 years, socialism has never worked, but Capitalism has brought more people out of poverty, to live a healthy life and opportunity?

I am an economist and finance professional, and have the data to support my claims. Without looking at any of the data, can you simply consider the facts? What is with the economy of South Korea compared to North Korea? Do you want prosperity and opportunity...or the government killing your family and living on a bare minimum of a rice meal every day?

That's right pudding for brains, what about East Germany Vs. West Germany in the years from 1945 - 1985? Why build a wall to keep the people in? It's a simple answer, don't deny the facts that capitalism provides a much better lifestyle, income, quality of life, and opportunity!

Ricardo on December 27, 2013:

Capitalists enterprises for the most part start out as amoral endeavors. At some point, not overnight of course, many will pass into the realm of immorality. We can look at the tobacco industry as an extreme example, or Fords bottom line analysis with the Pinto. Of course corporatism is a one of the diseases of capitalism. This is were the power of the state controlled by the majority, not by corporate business interests, needs to play a role.

Zily Popygaj on July 16, 2012:

Hello, Esoteric,

First, apologies for my belated replies - I'm a bit sporadic when it comes to my on-line time, and especially about checking e-mail.

About a source, it's an amalgamation of what bits'n'pieces I've read, and thought about, over the past few decades.

Here is a link to download a PRF of an interesting paper I'm reading now, titled "Restoring the General to the General Welfare Clause", by John C. Eastman:


Another good website is http://www.usconstitution.net/ , which has links to a large variety of documents, and specifically, regarding the Preamble, http://www.usconstitution.net/consttop_pre.html .

The meaning and extent of the "general welfare" mandate (which, interestingly, also appears in the Constitution under "The Powers of Congress") has been debated since the days of the Constitution itself, but we do know that the phrase didn't mean "welfare" in the sense that it's now meant (i.e., as created by Johnson's "great society" programs). It meant something more along the lines of "the national well-being"; the Eastman paper includes some interesting and important notes regarding the difference -and separation - between "general" welfare (i.e., that of the nation as a whole) and the "non-general" (i.e., that of a particular state of municipal area or so on).

Anyway, I hope that the website, and the link to the paper, will be useful to you!

Micky Dee on July 16, 2012:

Thank you.

Scott Belford from Keystone Heights, FL on July 13, 2012:

Well said Zily. While I certainly don't disagree with your statement:

"Now, one of the duties cited as being a responsibility of government is to "promote the general Welfare" which, at the time of its writing, meant "prosperity, well-being, health, happiness". " - Can you source your assertion that this is so? I have been looking for a good one.

John Locke was one of the first to come up with the Life, Liberty idea, but his trilogy ended with Property. Our good founders changed that to Happiness, where the "quiet enjoyment of property" was a subset of that term.

I think it would be a wonderful project if someone had the time to consolidate and publish this hub and its comments as an anthology. I think it would make an excellent text.

Zily Popygaj on July 13, 2012:

I read your link, Bob, thank you for reminding me of it ((if anyone else forgot, it's at https://soapboxie.com/economy/Why-capitalism-works... )), and it did indeed clarify your thoughts on the matter. I'm beginning to wonder whether the topic in general doesn't need a re-think of the terminology being used, or at least, we (myself included of course) need to be more specific and attach descriptors, such as you applied in your hub-page article. What's happened is that there are currently too many people (both politicians, and private individuals) who are pushing for a *lack* of rigor in discussions because they are gaining, and stand to gain more, if they can fracture the nation along an artificial line.

To elaborate of some of your ideas, and mine also:

The US has long had a mixed economy (meaning, an economy that balanced private enterprise with some "socialistic" features, such as taxpayer-funded federal, state, and city services), and we got into trouble when that balance was pushed too far, and we ended up socializing risk by allocating it to the vast majority, while privatizing rewards and allocating those to a very tiny minority.

I do have to note (because I'm admittedly obsessive that way, Heh! ;) ) is that, improper usage by the right wing aside, socialism technically is not "equal work and equal distribution" - that is communism.

Getting back to the idea of "balance", though, regarding the eventual ownership of the democratic process by the wealthy, yes, that's one of the by-products of completely unregulated private enterprise. It leads to an aristocracy based initially on assets rather than on family history, but quickly morphs into a hereditary aristocracy - we already see aspects of that in our society.

I'm going to elaborate on the idea of balance, in that I think it's even more to the point that the fact is, both the US as a nation, and its government, were created simultaneously, as a whole, by the Constitution, and the preamble sets out the duties mandated to the government, sets out the goals and responsibilities of that government which is then formed by the body of the Constitution and refined in the Bill of Rights.

Because of this, in a sense the US, more than other countries, *is* the Constitution, in that the two things are inextricably intertwined - so, to reject the Constitution is to reject the Nation. And vice versa.

Now, one of the duties cited as being a responsibility of government is to "promote the general Welfare" which, at the time of its writing, meant "prosperity, well-being, health, happiness". This is not restricted to the wealthy - it applies to the entire nation. Private property is not mentioned until Amendment 5 in the Bill of Rights, which states that "No person shall...be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." This restriction is later, in Amendment 14, specified as also being applicable to State governments.

Although Amendment 3 does state that "No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law", it only states that any such quartering has to comply with the Law, although which law that would be is not specified, nor is the specific phrasing "private property" applied.

Far from "capitalism" being "ensconced" in the Constitution as is often claimed by far-right capitalists, private property (which is the foundational concept of capitalism) is indeed subject to both "due process" and what is now called "eminent domain": the government can indeed take property, if it fairly compensates the owners of said property.

Nor is there anything in the Constitution which forbids various types of "socialist" institutions, especially given that Article 1, Section 8 specifically states, as the Powers of Congress, *first and foremost* that: "The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States..."

It seems obvious, then, that the Constitution itself establishes and promotes the idea of a mixed economy, wherein private property was to be respected, but not at the expense of the Nation as a whole, or the People in general.

We have seen that the greed of the few has obviously harmed the many, and we see that the Nation's prosperity as a whole is diminished by the hoarding behaviors of the few. Given that the government is mandated to "promote the GENERAL welfare", it technically has the right, *and duty*, to rectify the situation. Anyone who claims that it does not have either the right, or the duty, to do so is working off of self-interest, *not* the National interest.


So, those are some points you might be interested in mulling over to see what you think, and how they fit into your ideas.

I think this is an important area of discussion and (as I'm sure is obvious!), I've had my fill of the people who falsely reduce it to a "black-or-white" issue, mostly because they personally stand to gain from that disingenuous oversimplification. I'll be following this post to see what additional ideas you and others present.

"Auf wiederschreiben" =;-)

Bob Zermop from California, USA on July 10, 2012:

Zily- I didn't mean to imply that it was an either-or black and white choice in any sense. In fact, I believe freedom is the product of balance between the extremes; both the far right and the far left restrain freedom, albeit in different ways. I don't want to repost links, but in an above comment I put down a link to a hub of mine that explains my position. Freedom (and happiness) isn't easy to maintain in a society, and it requires a constant balancing act to keep it viable. My views are conservative and capitalist, but I do not advocate a far right world. If I didn't explain my response well, please check out my hub.

Zily Popygaj on July 10, 2012:

Bob, presenting something as complex as even a local economy (never mind a *global* economy) as a simplistic either:or "choice" between one extreme and another is at best misguided, and at worst, utterly absurd.

Also, human nature is not "naturally compassionate with freedom" - yes, studies do show that the majority of people have an innate sense of empathy which is manifest at a very early age, *however*, this empathy is shaped by both the immediate family, and by the larger culture. And enough near-feral children have been discovered and observed for it to be well-known that, without family and culture from which to learn, a child does not magically develop into a full human being. In fact, one of the most basic human qualties or drives is, quite simply, self-preservation, and this is elaborated by the human brain into selfishness.

Humans, like everything else in biology (and "nature" in general) is neither "good" nor "bad" - we are complex combinations of traits. One thing we are not, however, is capable of thriving as isolated entities; we are neither eagles, nor lynx. Even lions and wolves group together to increase their chances of not just surviving, but thriving - and humans most certainly do not have the physical attributes of either. We are, by comparison, puny and ill-adapted creatures, and our main survival strategy is to work together with others, to apply individual talents to the benefit of the group, *and* to apply the benefit of the group to the well-being of the individual.

Societies work when they *balance* freedom with responsibility, *and* have some system of laws which establishes a system of punishment plus restitution for those who reject that responsibility.

And economies work when they are also *balanced*(also called "mixed economies"), and not any sort of simplistic, nonsensically absolutist, "either:or" construct.

I personally find the entire "either:or" arguments to be endless, tedious, and frankly, just plain stupid, because each "side" inevitably assumes an opposing absolute, when no absolute in fact exists. Total laissez-faire capitalism eventually fails because humans are *not* "automatically" programmed to be all sweetness and light in the absence of laws - if that were true, humans would never have needed to develop laws in the first place. At the same time, authoritarianism (which is, also ignorantly, what is typically assumed when one mentions "socialism") eventually fails because people *are* individuals, and not ants or bees - or mere machine-parts.

Liberty works when there is a way to inhibit most people from acting in ways that impinge upon the rights and liberties of others - and when the deterrent fails, and someone does violate someone else's rights, to exact punishment and, where applicable, restitution.

Economies - or the buzzword people prefer these days: "markets" - are similar in that they are only sustainable when one person's right to engage in business does not impinge upon other people's rights: their right to be dealt with fairly; their right to not be sold something that is known to be harmful but which they are told is not; their right to have access to choices; and so on. Additionally, given that economies *are* human constructs, which exist because of humans, and develop with most humans expecting those constructs to work fairly, i.e. to offer benefit and prosperity to all involved, it seems to be obvious to deduce that there are certain things which are necessary for life, which should *not* be dictated by the profit-motive of a few people and should instead be administered to the benefit of all people.

The fact is that unregulated "markets" do *not* self-balance - we've seen that proven time and time again throughout history. Capitalism, as it is currently defined and discussed, is all about winners and losers, with a few people "winning" at the expense of the majority of "losers". What it is *not* about is fair exchange, in which one can make a modest profit, which one then puts back into the community in various ways. Not at all - what currently passes for "capitalism" is a robber-baron mentality, where the one and only goal is maximum short-term profit for a minimal number of people, and regardless of the costs to the community, the 'customers', or the overall economy.

As with the term "democracy", the word "capitalism" has several variants, and what is currently being used, and argued for, is the variant that is the most harmful. The worst part is that, in the long run (and probably not even all *that* long...), it will also harm the wealthiest 0.5% to 15, because they refuse to learn the lessons taught by the French Revolution.

So all of this "capitalism versus socialism" arguing is worse than useless - it's *destructive*, because it forces people into a false and absurdly-simplistic either:or choice, and thereby destroys thoughts, ideas, and discussions about how to *balance* things so as to form an economy that is both *sustainable* and *human/humane*. Because, in the end, it *is* about Human Beings, because it is not natural, but a human creation, a human construct. And if it is not about Human Beings, then it's meaningless, and has no reason to exist at all.

Bob Zermop from California, USA on July 01, 2012:

The fact that humans are not always "rational" (in that they don't always act in their best interest) is the exact reason capitalism is the better alternative to socialism. Our essential empathetic and compassionate nature does not come with a complete understanding of others, which is why misunderstandings occur. This is why we need a system where individual demand creates individual supply (the market) and individual actions result in individual consequences. With freedom, human nature is naturally compassionate (think drowning child). Our compassionate nature is exactly why a society with liberty can work, with all of its positives, and its negatives can and will be negated by human nature.

Joyus Crynoid (author) from Eden on July 01, 2012:

Zily, you are spot on. It is inappropriate and dangerously misleading to have this discussion without consdering the human element, and all that it entails (including psychology, front and center). The "system" (the market) is a direct outcome of human behavior. Therefore to the extent that it predictably increases suffering it is immoral.

As you say, the problem stems directly from the reductionist view that nature is a machine that can be fully understood through objectification. As I have argued in several hubs, that view is not only wrong, it verges on insanity.

Thank you!

Scott Belford from Keystone Heights, FL on July 01, 2012:


I might add one thought that crossed my mind while reading your comment about the Austrian school theory that the forces of supply and demand will always bring the market back into balance (partly due to the false premise you mentioned regarding the rational human); it might be correct, but only in the very long-term, if the economy gets really out of whack. In the meantime, we all suffer terribly.

Zily Popygaj on June 30, 2012:

Here is where, I've begun to think, lies the crux of the problem.

Economic systems, like belief systems and ethics/moral systems, are all *human creations*. What's happened, however, is that those who have been benefiting the most from increasingly-laissez-faire capitalism (exactly, BTW, like those who had benefited the most from early "communism", which quickly became stalinism and maoism - meaning, tyrannical dictatorships) have tried to 'justify' their benefit, and their support of that from which they benefit, by first throwing the veil of "science" over it, and then claiming that the "science" of it removes the human element from it.

When that sort of specious reasoning is taken to its equally-specious logical conclusion, one arrives at the conclusion which, at the start of the industrial revolution, wealthy factory-owners (see note at ** below) also had reached: if muscular responses to electrical stimuli were to source of life, that supposedly meant there was no soul, and if humans had no soul, then it could not be claimed that it was immoral to treat them as mere replaceable parts, like belts or screws, of the machines of industry.

Today, the people who daintily select their favorite parts from the smorgasbord of Ayn Rand's pontifications seem to follow the same "logic".

But the logic is flawed from the start, because an economy is in no way a "natural" system that exists apart from humanity, but rather, is an entirely human artifice, a human creation; without humans, there are no "markets", no "economies".

Also flawed is the claim that "markets are rational", because it's based upon the fantasy that humans always act in their own self-interest. If this were true, our language would not have phrases like "shooting oneself in the foot", or "cut off one's nose to spite one's face", or "too good for one's own good". Anyone who has made even the most rudimentary observations of human behavior, and has any minimal understanding of human psychology and motivations, knows full well that humans do *not* always act in their own best interest. A great many people seem to *seldom* act in their own best interest. The psychology of this could fill a large book, but the fact of the behavior does not. And this fact in and of itself negates any claims as to the rationality of "the market", since, as above, "the market" is not an entity separate from humans, but rather, is a word used to refer collectively to a certain type of human behavior.

Additionally, people cannot act in their own best interest when they lack sufficient information to do so, which also impinges upon the “rationality” of “the market”, in that a perfect rational system would, one assumes, also be a fair system, since the “playing field” would be level. Obviously, this last is in no way true of “the market”.

Meanwhile, the specious reasoning of the “market mentality” has seeped into the vocabulary, and the ethics, of the national culture, of society at large; every act, every form of behavior, is reduced to the question of personal profit, personal advantage, even as individual thought has been steadily eroded by the proclaimed “voice of the market”, and by the atomization of jobs. This, in turn, erodes trust, because one must constantly assume that others are out to “get” one, are out to take something away from one. And the learned inability to trust, the constant suspicion, also destroys the foundation needed to build relationships.

Most commenters on this subject are currently working backwards, starting with the amorality of “the market”, which now in interpreted and maniulated in such a way that it rewards unethical and immoral behavior richly, and hammers the ethical/moral person into the dirt. This can only be done because “the market” has falsely been made to appear as though it is divorced from humanity. This lie should be exposed and rejected; humanity should be placed back at the center of “ any discussion, any theory, of “markets”, because, again, markets are ultimately a human concept used to describe ONE type of human activity; it is false and dangerous, then, to manipulate society into placing that type of activity over and above any and all other human activities, because doing so reduces human life – all human life, including the lives of those who benefit from the currently-skewed markets – to nothing more than a machine part. And if we are all nothing more than objects, it makes no more sense to follow any rules, any sense of order, whatsoever, especially rules that insist the wealthy are better or more deserving than are the poor.

Far from being "useless", or "reprehensible", empathy is what initially brings value back into human life, a value that's more than merely a dollar figure in a bank ledger.

Bob Zermop from California, USA on June 30, 2012:

Yes, all resources are limited, but there is still a great deal of positive growth potential. Is there enough food to feed the world's population at the same standard as an upper-class American? Is there enough (sustainable) energy for everyone to use? Technology as "basic" as stable shelters and running water haven't even spread through places like poverty-level India and much of Africa. You said, "the capacity for healthy growth has already been exceeded." I can't agree with that.

A properly functioning, fair capitalism allows the top contributors in a society to reap benefits. I believe this is fair. I absolutely agree that in many ways today we have a "capitalism gone wild" (like stated in the "Both extremes fail" section of my hub), but that is no reason to give up and settle for leaping left. With persistent regulation and development, capitalism has the potential to be the means for the best society.

Joyus Crynoid (author) from Eden on June 30, 2012:


"Growth IS the goal, until we, as a society, come to the point where we have enough resources for anybody to do as they wish, so long as that doesn't infringe on another's happiness."

How does that work? All resources are limited.

"The thing to remember is that our society is still in a growing period, not in a state where it can simply be rearranged to make it work better."

Yes, we are still in a growing period, but the capacity for healthy growth has already been exceeded. That's why suffering is increasing, as a direct result of the system's continued attempts at growth (as discussed in the hub). Capitalism is not increasing the happiness of any but perhaps a small minority (the "1%"), and I wonder how many of them are truly happy.

Scott Belford from Keystone Heights, FL on June 30, 2012:

Yeah, having no way to emphasize things is a bummer. I think we are on the same wavelength, I just look at capitalism as a mechanical thing with no intrinsic values included. It is the people who employ the tool who impute the values and goals they want to achieve using capitalism as the vehicle to do so. They could other tools to achieve the same end but they didn't because they felt capitalism, when used properly, produces the best outcome.

Bob Zermop from California, USA on June 30, 2012:

Growth IS the goal, until we, as a society, come to the point where we have enough resources for anybody to do as they wish, so long as that doesn't infringe on another's happiness. (Sorry about capitalization, no rudeness intended, just can't find italics.) Capital and profit is a GOOD thing, because the only way to grow is for us to create. By creating competition in the marketplace, we allow the best ideas to grow to the top, and we reward those who work hardest to contribute the most, whether in the form of product or labor. The thing to remember is that our society is still in a growing period, not in a state where it can simply be rearranged to make it work better.

I have no problem with regulation; in fact, I am a strong supporter of it, as stated in the hub I linked to above. Both ends of extremes (left and right) suffocate liberty and individual rights for different SPECIFIC reasons, but with the same OUTCOME, a lack of freedom. This is my response, if anything is still unclear, let me know.

Joyus Crynoid (author) from Eden on June 30, 2012:

Bob, I stand by my contention that free market capitalism is immoral, for logical reasons detailed in this hub. While its 'goal' may not be growth, it only works by way of growth--that is how it generates profit, and without profit you don't have the capital that defines capitalism. If it is not regulated by government (i.e. by some form of socialism) it invariably increases suffering. Do you have anything to refute that? Statements of faith don't count.

Bob Zermop from California, USA on June 30, 2012:

My esoteric and Joyus- I agree. Capitalism as a system has no goal; it's just a system, to be used for whatever end. However, I remain confident in my view that capitalism is the best system to adopt on the way to the happiest society possible. Socialism, for many reasons, is definitely not applicable now and I don't think it ever needs to be. I actually wrote a hub on why I'm a capitalist a while back. Here's the link: https://soapboxie.com/economy/Why-capitalism-works... .

Joyus Crynoid (author) from Eden on June 30, 2012:

Bob--I would say that we rationalize the goal of whatever system we choose as being the one "to allow the most happiness". But I don't see capitalism as being the one to do that, given the widespread suffering that it predictably causes as a consequence of the 2nd Law. It may have been the "best" for that ostensible purpose at one time in history (at least for white European males--I don't think it brought much happiness to the Native Americans), but times and conditions have changed (largely as a result of unfettered industrial capitalism) so that it can possibly benefit only a vanishingly small minority, at the expense of everyone else.

My Esoteric--I agree.

Scott Belford from Keystone Heights, FL on June 30, 2012:

I would assert pure capitalism, per se, like pure socialism, doesn't have a goal; they are just economic systems based on certain fundamental assumptions on how they should work to produce a good outcome. (Communism, on the other hand, clearly has a goal, the defeat of capitalism.)

In truth, the human and mathematical dynamics of both systems ALWAYS lead to disaster when left unregulated by pragmatic governments, properly elected, and which conatain the right set of checks and balances on their actions.

Bob Zermop from California, USA on June 29, 2012:

I have heard "growth cannot be infinite" comment before, and of course it can't be. But capitalism's goal isn't to infinitely grow, but to gain enough technology and resources to allow anyone to be as happy as possible.

The goal of any system of society is not to be the most "free", but to allow the most happiness. If we keep that goal in mind, capitalism is the best system for many reasons.

Scott Belford from Keystone Heights, FL on March 25, 2012:

You hit the nail on the head.

Joyus Crynoid (author) from Eden on March 25, 2012:

I think at this stage of our development the only possible solution is government regulation. Ideally everything would be controlled locally, but I don't think that is realistic with the size of the population, and with the infrastructure we have developed and on which we now depend. Beyond that we all have to learn to do with a lot less, and change our basic way of life: our values, our way of acquiring knowledge, our conception of meaning and purpose, everything.

In short, my solution is for humanity to grow up and take responsibility for the power that our knowledge has granted us. That will only work if it happens from the bottom up, but government can provide context that facilitates that IF we can wrest it from corporate control.

Taylor Smith on March 25, 2012:

So what's your solution Joyus?

benzino84 from Saint Joseph, Missouri on January 26, 2012:

I've thought about anarchy and how things would get done. Yes that would be the free market in raw form. It is good to have the security of knowing there is law enforcement. It is possible to help get new laws enacted and ultimately is the will of the people. If the majority wants it, then they can rightly assemble and rightly petition. I like how Ron Paul voiced his stance on NDAA. I am definitely for him in that he wants to uphold the original constitution. And also that he seems to get it when he talks about prohibition to SSDP at campus press conferences. He seems to know how fund managers think. To have a president who is like taking out your credit card and multiplying your debt by 14 just to buy you food says something. Why would you allow him to live in your house for another 4 years? Buffet has clearly good reasoning. And able to reason without emotion. I wish he would run for presidentl. I would give him the benefit of the doubt to live another 20 years.

It is true some may lean to think others have an advantage when making laws. It really comes to look at history and what happens when people are beneath tyranny and injustice. That's when they make a stand and confrontation initiates change. It happened when the original colonies were under British rule and didn't think it was fair to be excessively taxed. It's happened throughout all of history. Just remember everything can be improved. I would like to see a system where voting can take place on the internet. If something trends then it can be voted on. And votes to take place frequently. It would be a seemingly fluid process. Liquidity is good in anything. No president. Relatively small government. Big enough just to function. It would seem people have an upper hand if born into money. They do and they don't. Like anything you have you have a few on either side of the spectrum but most of it is in the middle. Look at Carnegie and Rockefeller for example. Look where the started-at the bottom of the ladder. And look what they did for education, science, and medicine. No one thought a public library was possible. Self made from scratch from rags to riches. Rockefeller without a dad around for the majority of growing up. You have never seen a company have to be split up into 38 separate companies because it was a monopoly. We need to get rid of some of Nixon's crappy leftovers such as the Certifiicate of Need in healthcare. Here's were I would like to see integrative medicine spring up in a more free market.


Joyus Crynoid (author) from Eden on January 26, 2012:

benzino84: indeed. As for the link between free markets and evolution, and the role of competition, you might be interested to know that Darwin was highly influenced by Adam Smith.

You raise a good point about the need to abide by laws for any economic system to function. That gets to the meaning of "freedom", which is not as trivial as one might think. Laws are constraints, which means that they reduce degrees of freedom. So whatever system we do have depends on who writes and enforces the laws. And in a system that is based on free-market capitalism, that is generally those with the most capital. So you get a positive feedback loop where those with the most capital (power) get laws enacted that stack the deck in their favor, making it easier for them to acquire even more capital and thus become even more powerful, to the detriment of everyone else.

If we were to have a "system" that is truly free, we would have anarchy, every man and woman for him or herself, taking whatever they could get from wherever and whomever. There would be no laws. Then you would really see Darwinian evolution in action, red in tooth in claw. Let's hope that it doesn't come to that.

benzino84 from Saint Joseph, Missouri on January 25, 2012:

Free markets create competition. Competition says you must be a better innovator to beat me. Innovation means progression. Free markets and capitalism to mean fast paced evolution. Look at the information age and the internet. It has evolved nicely within a free market. Granted people are entitled to their intellectual property and have the right to earn and peddle their property within a free market. Something being immoral is a subjective and opinion based (usually instilled growing up and tied with environment). Albeit some or a substantial amount of goodness is inherent to all humans, for we know we must abide by societies laws in order to function in any economic system. There's always room for improvement in all areas though. Nothing's ever going to be perfect though, never 100% efficient.

Zily Popygaj on December 26, 2011:

Hello, Joyous,

Thank you, and I'm glad the clarification helped.

And heck, a little embarrassment is good for the soul - it keeps me from being *too* conceited, LOL!

Meanwhile, I'm enjoying some of your other essays as well. I'm new to Hub, so this is an interesting introduction!

Joyus Crynoid (author) from Eden on December 24, 2011:

Thanks for the clarification Zily. Don't be embarrassed--your comments are excellent, and I appreciate you making them.

Zily Popygaj on December 24, 2011:

Hello, Joyous, I didn't mean my comment as a contradiction, so much as an addition to, or expansion of, what you wrote. I should have explained a bit better as to why I used the word "merely"; the reason was that the word "subjective" is often taken to mean something similar to "imagined" or even "illusory" - I ought to have specified that I had meant to contrast human reactions to real situations, as opposed to imagined events. Which also is not to say that your essay implied those - I just felt compelled to note that reactions are usually rooted in reality, in real situations, as opposed to being illusory.

I also did not intend to negate the existence of empathy - my intention was actually to strengthen the argument for its existence. Again, I ought to have been more clear, and was remiss in not being so. I was, in essence, "pre-answering" the claim, based in Ayn Rand's praise of selfishness, that empathy is somehow illusory, or that it is nothing more than "brainwashing".

As you note, empathy is the root of morality, and I'm embarrassed for having failed to clarify that my intent was to strengthen that point, not oppose it.

You are also correct in noting that the laws of physics are merely objective, and in fact, their only importance to our practical lives as humans is our experience of them. If they didn't affect our daily lives, they'd be nothing more to us than obscure curiosities.

Human-created problems cane be solved by humans - as long as humans realize that we are both individuals, *and* social beings capable of empathy and, therefore, morality, and that neither of those aspects of human nature can be ignored without consequence. And, to a large extent, what gets called "free market capitalism" is, as your essay implies, a rejection of empathy (humans' social nature: empathy, morality, and the sense of a Common Good) and not just an embrace of individualism, but an elevation of individual self-interest to The Supreme Value, such that its pursuit superseded any consideration whatsoever of whether that pursuit caused harm to others and/or to society in general.

So, again, my intent was not at all to contradict you, but to add an additional dimension to your analysis.

Joyus Crynoid (author) from Eden on December 22, 2011:

Sophia: Thanks for reading and commenting. I'm glad you agree:-)

PC: Thanks for the plug, which resulted in a big surge in hits--much obliged!

I agree that some of us were never asleep. And while I am encouraged by the awakening evinced by the OWS protests, I am not holding my breath for things getting better after the next election.

Zily: I agree with what you say. Nevertheless, I stand by my claim that morality deals with subjective responses to existence. This is indeed a statement of fact. I suspect that what we have here is a semantic issue. For me "subjective" doesn't merit the adverb "merely". Empathy is a subjective response, because it is something that is experienced by a subject. While you are correct that there are good objective reasons for its evolution, this does not negate either its reality or importance. Since morality requires empathy, it cannot be understood without reference to subjective experience. This contrasts with the laws of physics (for example), which are "merely" objective.

Zily Popygaj on December 22, 2011:

I'm still reading through the essay, but I'm compelled to note that the claim "The other side of the coin—morality—deals with subjective responses to existence" is not factual.

The fact is that studies have shown that empathy normally begins to develop even before speech, and by grade-school age, children innately understand that:

1) what hurts them, also hurts others, and

2) since they don't like being hurt, it's other people don't like being hurt, so hurting them is wrong.

It usually takes training to overcome this innate empathy; the exception to that is psychopathy/sociopathy, where there is little or no communication between the amygdala and the frontal lobes (psychopathy); or that lack of communication, plus a small amygdala (sociopathy).

The fact is that human survival as a species long depended upon empathy because even bare survival for a human alone in nature is exceedingly difficult, and exceedingly rare. Humans are therefore, like our cousin-species, social animals. Additionally, when some member of the genus _Homo_ turned up with a modern mind, and benefited form the survival advantage that was afforded by the ability to create complex plans for everything from hunting, to tool-making, to erecting shelter, the modern-brained descendents also learned that, when they worked together, they not only had a better chance of survival, but also, they could build lives that were more comfortable and more secure than bare survival. Also, in a group, human inventiveness was able to become specialized, and therefore increasingly refined, because individual inventiveness/specialization benefited the group, while the group provided support for the specialist.

Therefore, the fact is also that humans evolved as a varied species: a "night owl" had value when it came to standing watch over the group at night, while others slept; the person who today is demeaned for "not sitting still" in a classroom might, in ancient times, have been the individual who constantly scanned the environment for threats while the rest of the group was focused on collecting food.


"morality" is *not*, in fact, "merely subjective" - it is the translation of an evolutionary biological trait into thought, into a code of behavior.

Morality is rooted in the innate empathetic understanding that others feel hurt as we ourselves do, and then expanding one's feeling that one shouldn't be hurt by others, and extending it such that one realizes what precisely it is to hurt others. It is also rooted in the simple understanding that humans do tend to treat one as one treats them (a.k.a. "The Golden Rule"), and that if one hurts others, one is likely to be hurt by them in return; although animals, especially domesticated animals, can be taught that certain behaviors (such as biting) elicit negative consequences, "morality" is the application of human thought, planning, and understanding to that learning such that a human understands that it's wrong/immoral to hurt someone else.

Thus, morality, in it's nascent or most basic form, is biology that's been refined by the human capacity for abstract thought.

The "subjectiveness" of morality arises because people form derivatives of the basics, and then derivatives of those derivatives...

Tony Lawrence from SE MA on December 22, 2011:

By the way, Joyus, you say we are "now waking up to reality".

*Some* of us were never asleep, and I'm really not sure how may others are really waking up at all. Maybe this upcoming U.S. election will tell us - I hope it is not bad news.

Tony Lawrence from SE MA on December 22, 2011:

Did I say brilliant? If I did, it was only because I could not think of a better word.

Bravo, Joyus. Oh, and ignore Evan: he means well but he has been seduced by Libertarianism.

Sophia Angelique on December 22, 2011:

Pcunix posted a link to your hub. I agree with him. Your reasoning and explanations are brilliant and I agree with you. :)

Joyus Crynoid (author) from Eden on November 12, 2011:

Indeed. Although, I might say that the wolves were let loose again in 1980, and the good times that came since then were all bubbles, the biggest of which burst in 2008. Reagan got elected on the power of fantasy (i.e. delusion), a reaction in part to Carter telling it like it is. We are now finally waking up to reality.

Scott Belford from Keystone Heights, FL on November 03, 2011:

Yes, it does, in the infamous boom-bust cycles of the 1800s. We had a true Conservative heaven up until Teddy Roosevelt, and paid for it dearly with human suffering and misery followed by wonderful good times only to dashed five to fifteen years later with crushing poverty for most of the country again; that stopped after 1937 until the wolves were let loose again in 2001. In between 1937 and 2009, we had many a good times, as good or better than we ever had, with only so-so bad times, compared to what they used to be.

Joyus Crynoid (author) from Eden on November 03, 2011:

Thank you My Esoteric! You make many good points. I lived in Pasadena in the 1990s so I know what you mean about the San Gabriel Mtns. I remember sunny days in late summer you couldn't see them from 5 miles away.

Evan is right, in a way. Sooner or later capitalism "regulates" itself, of necessity. But that kind of "regulation" involves a lot of suffering, because it is generally too little too late, coming as it does after the resources are gone and the environment is trashed.

Scott Belford from Keystone Heights, FL on November 02, 2011:

Rated it awesome; also clicked on a couple of your more interesting Google ads for good measure.

While I might argue with you about some of the details, I can't in its basic premise. As to @Evan and your discussion, I noticed when talking about American deforestation, or the lack of it, it was never mentioned what it was like 100 years ago. Then, America WAS running out of forests and doing so at an amazing clip! It wasn't until the government intervened, over heavy Conservative opposition, with regulations Requiring reforestation as the forests were cut down; the loggers did not do this of their own free will.

Nor did they stop polluting the environment so badly that it literally was killing lakes, like Lake Erie, and rivers; and I mean dead. It didn't bother them that they made cars so dirty that, as a kid, I watched the San Gabriel mountains disappear from view. It wasn't until the 1960s and the era of government regulations did things start to change. It took 30 years for Lake Erie to come back and 35 years for the San Gabriel mountains to slowly come back into view; they are only partly their now, not what I remember yet.

Please don't tell me Capitalists are moral and the unregulated free-market system works to the long-term betterment of society; it doesn't; it only works to the short-term betterment of the capitalists themselves.

What does work to the betterment of the society as a whole, labor and capitalist alike, is a REGULATED free-market system where the regulation is sufficient to protect the environment and the rights of the workers angainst the natural exesses of capitalists; that way all benefit. You also need the Federal Reserve system to regulate money supply and stop the boom-bust cycle Joyus referred to in the hub, created because of the 1907 Panic (caused by two capitalist trying to corner the copper market). It came into being at the beginning of 1914 (after two more recessions). From that point on there were only two or three more financially-based serious recessions/depressions, 1929, 1937, and 2008. In the 70 years prior to 1929, there were 21 major monetary-based recessions/depressions.

Enough with this hub of mins, sorry.

Joyus Crynoid (author) from Eden on October 30, 2011:

Thank you WTS. Let me know if anything doesn't follow or make sense!

Wesman Todd Shaw from Kaufman, Texas on October 30, 2011:

I'm very impressed with this well written and thought provoking article! Glad to have found it! Now the harder part - thinking about it.

Joyus Crynoid (author) from Eden on October 27, 2011:

Wow Evan, you just proved my point. Thank you!

Evan G Rogers from Dublin, Ohio on October 27, 2011:

Sustainable free-market enterprise: The Drug trade.

It's illegal, so it's not just FREE-market, it's Free-Market PLUS avoiding the law.

Government is a parasite. Deal with it.

Joyus Crynoid (author) from Eden on October 27, 2011:

Evan, your lack of logic is exceeded only by your cluelessness. But perhaps that is just youthful naivety. You are clearly enchanted by an idea.

If you could name one example of an actual (as opposed to hypothetical) free market that is sustainable and non-exploitative I might be willing to cede your point. But I don't think you can, or you would have already.

You don't even see the clear implications of your own comments. Maybe you should put your thinking cap on before making them.

I'd wish you well in your delusions, except that it is just such delusions that are the downfall of humanity.

Evan G Rogers from Dublin, Ohio on October 27, 2011:

I never once implied that "humanity' is a bunch of spoiled children. I was arguing that YOU are demanding one thing in your article, but are ignoring that very demand in your replies.

... at least, I think you're talking about humanity. You suddenly started using the plural pronoun "we" in that last post...

Your last statement here has proven to me that it will futile to pursue further discussion with you.

Capitalism presents us with opportunities... BUT SO DO DRUG DEALERS!!

Wow. That is THE definition of a straw-man argument.

Have a good life. Always remember that just because two things have mild similarities, they are not always equivalent. After all, the number "two" is made up of two "ones", and thus - by your horrific logic - the number two is actually number one.

See ya.

Joyus Crynoid (author) from Eden on October 26, 2011:

Evan, your arguments have as much substance as the economic bubbles that are bursting all around us--all because of government de-regulation. Your statement--

"Blaming the US businesses for buying lumber from states that refuse to let their people protect their forests is like blaming a child for being spoiled by their parents"

--is very telling. It implies that we are spoiled children. And yet you seem to think that we can nevertheless behave like responsible adults in commerce. Sorry, you can't have it both ways.

The fact is, we may be spoiled, but we are not children, and we are not innocent. By taking advantage of market opportunities that present themselves (as any good free marketeer must do) we are to blame for the negative consequences that ensue, because we have brains with the ability to foresee what those consequences are.

The system (free market capitalism) always presents such opportunities. In that way it is like a drug pusher. And that is immoral.

Evan G Rogers from Dublin, Ohio on October 26, 2011:

Your argument was that Free-Markets are immoral and cancerous. Then you went on to say that we should blame US businesses for buying lumber that came from nonrenewable deforestation.

The point I made is that, generally, the countries that don't protect or renew their forests are usually the ones that are NOT Free-Market; they are the countries with strict governments, like most of South America. The forests in the US, however, are almost entirely being renewed as they are being torn down.

Yet you insist that the problem is the market side, when it is clear that the real problem lies in government.

Blaming the US businesses for buying lumber from states that refuse to let their people protect their forests is like blaming a child for being spoiled by their parents.

Free-markets are sustainable, and state-controlled markets lead to death and poverty. Yet you are mad at the Free Markets.

Joyus Crynoid (author) from Eden on October 26, 2011:

I'm afraid it seems you've stopped making sense. I fail to see the relevance of anything in your last comment. You said:

"Blaming the US's free markets for taking advantage of state-led deforestation is merely to acknowledge defeat."

What does that have to do with the price of beans in China? It seems to me that if anything you are agreeing with me, but are striving mightily not to admit it (as that would be "to acknowledge defeat").

You haven't won the argument, because you haven't even addressed it (much less the points that I made in the essay).

Evan G Rogers from Dublin, Ohio on October 26, 2011:

Don't be fooled: I'm not a Keynesian Economist. Too much aggregation has led Keynes (and our government) to play us for chumps.

But these are not Free-Market enterprises - government and central banks are State institutions.

Next: The US surely does buy the lumber, but as I stroll down the isle, I can see "Chopped from renewable forests" labeled - without the aide of government - on the lumber.

Blaming the US's free markets for taking advantage of state-led deforestation is merely to acknowledge defeat.

And, yes, your statement did have hypocrisy: You claimed that people don't bother worrying about things in the future, nor of things that don't affect them...

... yet here we are talking about foreign countries' issues of deforestation.

I'm afraid it seems I've won the argument.

Joyus Crynoid (author) from Eden on October 26, 2011:


"Complexity doesn't change the rules, it - at most - masques the addition."

Clearly you (like most folks) don't understand what complexity is, because it changes everything. Reality is complex, whereas our models (such as free market theory) are at best oversimplifications, and at worst dangerous distortions. But as they say, ignorance is bliss.

"As for "deforestation" - the US (a relatively free-market country) doesn't have much of a deforestation problem. The areas that DO have the problem are those that are less free."

Who owns the land, and who is buying the wood? Surely you don't believe that US corporations don't contribute to that problem. You appear not to understand globalization or the meaning of multi-national corporations.

As for your last series of statements, ending with "You have NOTHING to gain from forestation or deforestation, yet here you are writing about its problems!!" There is no hypocrisy here (and even if there is that is no argument--show me a human being and I will show you a hypocrite). Deforestation affects, among other things, the world's climate, which affects me directly, and the diversity of species, which I hold dear. So I have plenty to gain from its prevention. As do my descendents, for whom I also care.

Your arguments hold no water. But thanks for commenting!

Evan G Rogers from Dublin, Ohio on October 26, 2011:

Just because you're adding more and more and bigger and bigger numbers doesn't mean you're still not doing addition.

Complexity doesn't change the rules, it - at most - masques the addition.

As for "deforestation" - the US (a relatively free-market country) doesn't have much of a deforestation problem. The areas that DO have the problem are those that are less free.

And let me address this statement you made by merely pointing out the hypocrisy of it:

"people generally don't concern themselves with problems ("externalities") that are way outside of their immediate concern or domain of influence."

... said the person who's claiming that deforestation is a serious problem throughout the world...

Surely you see that your statement is false! You have NOTHING to gain from forestation or deforestation, yet here you are writing about its problems!!

And, to MotimerJackson, if you wish to speak of broad ideas such as the generation of wealth through free trade, or the ideas of an entire faith of people, or the belief system that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the belief system that no person is allowed to infringe on your own God-Given rights...

... then labeling the ideas just aides in communication.

Joyus Crynoid (author) from Eden on October 26, 2011:

Evan: Clearly you are well-versed in Smith's theory. Unfortunately the rather simplistic ideals (illustrated by your forest into pencils scenario) are thoroughly contradicted by complex reality. But your faith is admirable, if mis-placed.

You said "The price of chopping down lumber increases because the person owning the forest would realize that his future livelihood would plummet when the forest was depleted. Thus he is encouraged to manage the forest much more stingily." If that held true we wouldn't have the serious problems with deforestation that we have.

Your argument rests on the assumption that human beings are aware and enlightened enough to self-regulate by taking into account long-term and far-reaching consequences. But that is unrealistic, particularly in a global economy, because people generally don't concern themselves with problems ("externalities") that are way outside of their immediate concern or domain of influence. So if the forest I own is on the other side of the world, and chopping it down is going to make me a huge profit, I am going to have it chopped down. The fact that doing so will contribute to global warming, ruin the livelihood of indiginous people, and cause the extinction of species doesn't enter into my calculation, because it is quite easy for me to simply ignore (or even deny) those inconvenient truths.

You said "Free-Market Capitalism is nothing more than the exercise of being human. Humans produce, and then trade what they produce to make their lives better. If you claim that this is wrong/immoral, then you are simply saying that humanity is wrong/immoral." This is true. And I would indeed say that humanity, in its present stage of evolution, is "wrong/immoral".

However, regarding "And, REALLY, you're arguing that all life is immoral -- for all living things act as best they can to increase their livelihoods." While the latter part of that statement is true, the difference between humanity and "all life" is that being human, we (presumably) know what we are doing, and have the ability to choose how to behave morally based on that knowledge. Morality is a human construct, and does not apply to non-human life.

Joyus Crynoid (author) from Eden on October 26, 2011:

Mortimer: I would agree with you, except that we have now gotten to a point where we should all know better. You are right that "morality isn't factored in the mind of the capitalist." But that itself is immoral, as it is willful ignorance. And we really can't afford that any more, given the state of the world.

I don't define immoral as doing "evil for the sake of it". Few if any of us do that, but many (perhaps most) of us behave immorally in some aspect of our life, if you take the Golden Rule seriously. If there is anything to the Christian notion of sin, that's what it is.

Your statement "Like with all things, there has to be a balance" is spot on. Laissez faire capitalism has brought us far out of balance and the world is suffering for it.

So I stand by my claim that free market capitalism is immoral.

mortimerjackson from California on October 26, 2011:

I have concluded that Evan G Rogers is immoral. Because he cares more about "isms" than reality.

Evan G Rogers from Dublin, Ohio on October 25, 2011:

I simply must protest the fallacies of this argument.

Under Capitalism, things don't grow unchecked. This is a false assumption.

Your argument: If I tear down entire forests to build pencils, then there is no lumber to build anything else.

The fallacy: That growth is unregulated.

In Truth: Growth is always regulated.

The correct way to look at things: If I begin to chop down lumber, that I supposedly own, and were to begin making pencils, then the price of lumber would slowly increase as people would be unable to build things that they really want AND the price of pencils would dramatically decrease.

Thus, the horrendous overusage of lumber to build pencils is checked very thoroughly by the greed to build houses.

But that's not the end of it!

The price of chopping down lumber increases because the person owning the forest would realize that his future livelihood would plummet when the forest was depleted. Thus he is encouraged to manage the forest much more stingily.

Result: usage of resources are used to their most profitable, and most useful, uses; depletion of resources is minimized; waste is minimized; and growth in each sector is kept in check by the simple act of trading.

From a purely Utilitarian perspective, Free-Market Capitalism is a win-win system.

And from the perspective of humanity, there is no system that ensures freedom BUT free-market capitalism. One can not be free to buy and sell as he so chooses lest he is free.

Black markets are nothing more than a symptom of tyranny.

Free-Markets are both utilitarian-ly better, and the ONLY system that allows for freedom.

Also: To claim that Christians can't support Free-Market Capitalism is just utterly and completely false. It's impossible to know where to begin with such a claim.

Here's a Free-Market Economist / Christian discussing the issue


Finally: I want to emphasize that Free-Market Capitalism is nothing more than the exercise of being human. Humans produce, and then trade what they produce to make their lives better. If you claim that this is wrong/immoral, then you are simply saying that humanity is wrong/immoral.

And, REALLY, you're arguing that all life is immoral -- for all living things act as best they can to increase their livelihoods.

mortimerjackson from California on October 25, 2011:

Capitalism is not immoral. It is amoral. That is, morality isn't factored in the mind of the capitalist. As opposed to immoral, in which capitalists do evil for the sake of it.

You bring a point that I hope more people will understand. America is not a free-market country. Laissez faire contradicts the needs of a society. Like with all things, there has to be a balance.

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