Misdiagnosing Our Health


The March issue of The Atlantic has a heartening–especially for the venue–defense, in a fine Hayekian style (without ever mentioning Hayek, or any of the other libertarian thinkers who have been saying the same things for decades), of American capitalist freedom and a lament for how little most Americans seem to understand or appreciate it. The piece, "Capitalism: The Movie" by Clive Crook, is hooked to some of the usual (correct) observations about how the output of most of our big-deal pop culture storytelling is casually and consistently anti-capitalism as it is practiced in the U.S. of A.

Only the first two paragraphs of Crook's piece are available for free online to nonsubscribers. But some summational excerpts for you:

The point is not that…movies or the culture more generally, argue that capitalism is evil. Just the opposite: it is that they so often merely assume, innocently and expecting to arouse no skepticism, that capitalism is evil.
It is astonishing that in an economy of America's size–to say nothing of the world economy as a whole–a limitless variety of goods and services is continuously offered at prices people are willing to pay, without persistent gluts or shortages, entirely without central direction. That the system also calls forth an endless flow of innovation and improvement is a miracle…..And it gets better, because this infinitely complicated, decentralized system has an obvious affinity with personal liberty, in a way that a centrally directed system never could. Market exchange, after all, is voluntary; under central planning, you are told what to do–or else.

This popular unease with capitalism is important and regrettable, Crook says, because

the mood of discomfort and suspicion is a pity in itself, to the extent that it is unwarranted. Also, it fosters a demand for, or tolerance of, frivolous or wasteful interventions by government.

He goes on to blame economists mucked up in specialization unable to sell or explain the larger story of economics: the glorious and complicated and life-giving spontaneous orders that arise from free exchange. And he blames businessmen for talking free markets out of one side of their mouth while calling for subsidies and import protection from the other.

I similarly argued in this Washington Post book review that popular misunderstanding and disdain for free markets is an important dog that didn't bark in Gregg Easterbrook's musings on why increased wealth hasn't led to universal glee.