On Capitalism, Selfishness, and the Human Condition

by Eric Smith, Guest Writer

Over the past 233 years we have been participating in a massive case study. It has been a look into the giant social experiment of true republican democracy and capitalism.

We have been met with striking success during our time here. We have developed a country and a system of government which has been widely emulated and even more widely envied. Even those countries who do not agree with us are inevitably jealous of us. We wear this condition with great pride but few of us stop to consider how it is that we reached the lofty position we are in today. Even fewer consider why the capitalist system has worked for us. Adam Smith was one of the visionaries who created our system. He wrote about the same concept I’m discussing here when the idea was new. I hope to pass on now the same essential concept he conveyed back then but in the terms of our modern world and the situation we find ourselves in today. Such vital work cannot be forgotten.

History is a palette which is easily smeared. Facts run together, are combined, or are forgotten entirely depending on what whoever is reporting them wants their audience to believe. There is a reason that the police look for a motive when confirming a crime. When the facts fail to be conclusive, or there are simply too many facts to consider at any one time, the motives of those involved always shed more light on the subject.

So what is the driving motive behind capitalism? Our capitalist system and our democracy, two ideals which, at least in America, are inseparably interwoven, have been the generally acknowledged source of our success. What makes it work?

I am here to offer the humble opinion that the highly underrated human characteristic of selfishness is the ultimate reason for our success.

Everything in capitalism works under the idea that the individual citizen controls his own welfare. Whatever he is able to conjure up, through innovation, creativity, special skills, dumb luck, leadership, or plain hard work he gets to keep. Since all of us inevitably want to have nice lives for ourselves, want more than we actually need, and want to make more and more money for ourselves, we work hard. We put everything we have into our work, whatever that work may be, and in our small part contribute to the larger national economy.

The inevitable problem with socialism and, I’m sorry to all of my Democrat friends, the Democratic Party is that it operates on the idea that everyone pitches in and everyone gets back equally. It might be that they get back through welfare or social security, maybe food stamps or some other method, but the gist of it is, everyone puts in however much they make and everyone gets out roughly the same amount. It’s fair.

Here’s the rub: this method of government doesn’t stimulate our basic human condition of selfishness. Is it wrong to work into the underpinnings of your government the ideal of selfishness? Absolutely not. Any government that does not count on the greed of humanity is failing its populace. As long as we can count on this most basic human motive, we can count on our original system of government to work.

Please note that I say ORIGINAL system of government. Sadly, over the years we have forgotten the motive which inspires our economy to function. We’ve forgotten that it’s a good thing for businesses to constantly try to run their competition into the ground. We’ve forgotten that the average Joe who knows the government won’t be funding him during his time of unemployment will find a job much faster than one who is receiving an unemployment check. We have forgotten that the obscenely rich CEO who pushes his company a little harder that year just so he can put another million he doesn’t really need into his paycheck is actually providing a tidy little stimulus package all his own when he spends that money on goods and services later.

The less we try to fund our citizens in affording their lives, the happier (and wealthier) our citizens will end up being.

This is my message to you. Don’t be offended that I call you, and the rest of the world, selfish. It’s the human condition, baby. Better get used to it, because you’re living with it.

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One comment

  1. But if you’re lazy it is wayyyyy easier to get a free check in the mail than work for your own well-being!

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