Our forgotten heroes

By Steven Martinovich
web posted June 1996

"The...businessmen, as a class, have demonstrated the greatest productive genius and the most spectacular achievements ever recorded in the economic history of the world. What reward did they receive from our culture and its intellectuals? The position of a hated, persecuted minority. The position of a scapegoat for the evils of the bureaucrats." - Ayn Rand, America's Persecuted Minority: Big Business, 1962

The left has always been able to rally around even the least-worthy in support of their ideology. With their attacks on a rational power structure in our society, the left often manages to sink to demagoguery. The right is capable of it too, witness Pat Buchanan's recent assault on capitalism during the Republican primaries. Largely though, it is the left that often times have a rallying point.

What then is the natural rallying point of the conservative? The conservative tent is a large one. In our home we have libertarians, pro-choicers, pro-lifers, red and blue Tories, isolationists and free traders, social conservatives, fiscal conservatives...the list goes on and on. Does this disparate group have a banner to flock to that can overcome these differences in opinion on major issues?

We do, but in today's society, our heroes are attacked daily. They are called leeches and greedy. Their motives are often explained as anti-society and contrary to the 'brotherhood of man.' At some point or another, every societal problem has been blamed on them. Who are these anti-heroes that conservatism must protect? The business person.

They are considered immoral whenever they pursue their natural self-interest. When they layoff workers the salaries of management are attacked. When unions go on strike the business person is often assessed blame. Economic downturns are blamed on the 'defects' of capitalism. When a business is too successful, there is an attempt at anti-trust laws, regulations, and sanctions (witness the continuing assault on Microsoft by the computer industry and the U.S. government or the recent comments by our Federal government concerning the credit card industry).

Yet it is this class that has produced the wealth that Canada enjoys. Because of the efforts of the business person, we are one of the wealthiest civilizations that history has ever recorded. Because of business, we work fewer hours, our lives are easier, we enjoy material luxuries barely dreamed of a few decades ago. The economic power of capitalism has provided us the ability to do nearly anything, including demonize those directly responsible for our prosperity.

What then is conservatism's role in this? In the defense of capitalism, conservatives have often tried to justify it as the greatest agent of social good. Only capitalism, our movement has often argued, can solve the problems of our society. What conservatives generally do not understand is that their promotion of capitalism in this manner is what is responsible for Canada's problems. By tying capitalism to the whims of the mob and bureaucrats, we have put a yoke on our potential and perverted the real aim of capitalism. To put it bluntly, capitalism is 'only' the free exchange of goods between free people. Because of leftist's (and some conservative's) efforts, capitalism and the business person has paid a dear price.

What then is the solution to this problem? If you accept the reasoning that I have laid down, then you recognize that the agents of capitalism are our greatest heroes. Only by freeing them will conservatism live up to its mantra of freedom of the individual. First a few concrete proposals.

The greatest impediment to capitalism is statist intervention, of which are we treated to examples daily. We must immediately begin working on ending the role that government plays in the economy. To that end, we must dismantle social programs, end the regulatory power of governments, remove anti-trust laws, and end the government's role in the direction of the economy. All of these are immoral because they use the legitimate power of the government to limit the freedom of individuals in this society.

We must begin a defense of capitalism, not on the grounds of its nebulous societal good, but its individual good. Laissez-faire capitalism generally rewards those who are the best and brightest of our society. Because of the intellectual efforts of relatively small group (a minority if you will), individuals in our (semi-free) society have tremendous liberties. By expending a fraction of the original intellectual effort needed to create something new, we are able to do things that we would not normally be able to. For that we should thank the heroes of society.

We must also provide these people with the philosophical tools to understand why they are the legitimate heroes of our society. To do this, we must educate the business person to some basics:

* Capitalism is the freest form of exchange between individuals. No one is forced to enter this relationship if they do not agree with the terms. The business person should realize that even the smallest exchange is the very expression of their intellectual production and freedom. This sounds grandiose, but it is true.

* The very act of engaging in commerce is the exercise of the intellect. Fools do not prosper in a free society.

* They have a right to keep the efforts of their intellectual labour. No government or agency has the right to take the legitimate products of the human mind, which is what money is in the intellectual sense. Money is the symbol of the productive human mind.

Are conservative's afraid of capitalism? I've often thought that they distrust laissez-faire capitalism because it is a force that they, and everyone else, cannot control. That which cannot be placed at the yoke of an ideology often terrifies people, but capitalism does not exist to serve anyone's needs, except of the individual...in the purest sense of that miss-used word. Conservative's often pine for the 'old days,' when an altruistic capitalism was practiced. If you don't believe it, look at the popularity of people like William Bennett or Jack Kemp. Let's not blame liberals for everything. Conservatives helped lay the groundwork for the state we are in today, and if you look through your economic history, it was failing businessmen who called for anti-trust and regulation because they could not compete with their more efficient and productive peers.

If we do not begin a sustained effort to defend capitalism and the agents of that system, we will never create any real change. All the alternatives we are currently weighing are variations of the same statist doctrine that burdens us now. It is the business person who practices freedom with every exchange. It is the intellectual efforts of this class that is responsible for what freedom we have now. This persecuted class is one of our few bulwarks against collectivist and statist efforts to 'take care' of us. If we lose this battle, we lose the war.

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