Friday, March 30, 2012

Only Capitalism can work for Mary

This is a fable adapted from a child's storybook. It involves three people living on an island, Jack, Tom, and Mary. Jack is industrious: he likes to work hard, to be industrious, to make things, to have a nice house, and to have excess reserves stored in the case of an emergency. Tom, on the other hand, is unlucky: his ventures fail more often than they succeed, and he is also afflicted by poor health and has no money. Mary is a free spirit: while she has the skill and intelligence to earn more than Jack ever could, she prefers leisure to labor and only earns enough to sustain herself and her love of camping, hiking, and artistry. Natural resources are abundant, and they all have equal amounts of time.

This is of course a very constructed setup designed to get to weed out as many extraneous elements as possible. If there really were only three people on one island then the three would all be working hard at basic survival, and there would be no money to speak of. The question of who the medicine for Tom is purchased from is also glossed over for the sake of setting up a simplified system to analyze basic roles. Jack spends his time acquiring wealth while Mary spends her time acquiring leisure.

Most economic systems concern themselves only with the question of how to take some "excess" wealth from Jack and give it to Tom on the basis that he needs it so badly. It has to be Jack on the basis that he is the only one with wealth enough to have some transferred to other people.

This scenario, when presented to progressives, presents a riddle to them, because at first they are only concerned with the relationship between Jack and Tom. That will be their first answer, that of course some wealth must be transferred from one to the other and anything else is unfair. So it has to be pointed out that they missed the most important part - how their system deals with Mary.

At first, the answer is that progressives accuse Mary of "going Galt," that her failure to work up to her potential was some sort of political protest. Mary is accused of failing to pay taxes and leeching off the system by using the roads that taxes are supposed to pay for.

But once it is pointed out that Mary doesn't work hard because she liked leisure and not for political reasons, the answer is that she obviously must come from an upper class white background in order to be able to choose to not work. Except that was also not in the original description, which failed to list her race or class but did mention she had only enough money to get by because of her greater desire for leisure.

Once all the distractions are dispensed with, and it is very clear that Mary is nothing more and nothing less than someone who simply prefers leisure to labor in spite of a greater potential if she applied herself, a very different picture of how progressives would handle her emerged.

The more progressive a person is, the more they feel it is proper to take from Jack and give to Tom. Interestingly, they also feel it is more proper to require Mary to work hard in spite of her desire not to in order to produce enough to give to Tom. It is seen as unfair that Jack alone is made miserable, in that his pleasure is enjoying the fruits of his labor and that is taken away from him. Mary must also be made miserable in that her leisure is also taken away from her and given to Tom.

When it is pointed out that this basically makes Mary a slave, because unlike Jack she actually desires to not work, rationalizations are offered that her freedom is not restricted because "what is forced in one sense may be freed in another; what is restricted in one place may be relieved elsewhere." The argument was actually offered that she is not made a slave. "Yes Mary must work. Liberty and freedom simply shift their point of emphasis." Ironically, the person arguing Arbeit macht frei was actually arguing in favor of socialism replacing capitalism, and not arguing in favor of fascism. Jack also allegedly benefits because his "mind is freed from material pursuits."

Socialists and Communists have no problem with forcing Mary to work, as her labor choices do not belong to her but belong to the people. Fascists have no problem either, as her labor choices do not belong to her but belong to the state. Corporatists would force Mary to work through debt slavery, forcing her to labor far more than she would otherwise choose to in order to pay off an impossible debt. Keynesians and Monetarists would shrink back from using force, but would instead use fiscal or monetary policy in order to "guide" her decisions into a more "productive" direction.

Only Capitalism, the economic system which is often accused of dehumanizing people and reducing them to nothing more than commodities, can recognize that Mary’s choice is valid. Only in Capitalism is it recognized that people work to their level of satisfaction, and that people have different levels of satisfaction. Only in a free market is Mary able to work enough to get by because of her greater desire for leisure. And that is why only Capitalism is the only moral economic system.


Anonymous said...

I agree that Capitalism is the only morally viable system, here and the real world. I'm curious how you deal with Tom's plight in this situation. Is it up to Jack and Mary to offer whatever aid they are willing to provide, and perhaps Tom's demise if it's not enough? Or is there some inherent obligation to provide for Tom, and must that come from Jack if he's the only one with apparent means.

Ayn R. Key said...

I believe Jack and Mary have a moral obligation to help Tom. I don't believe they have a political obligation to do so.

And that is the difference between libertarian and progressive.