The Lesson of the Twentieth Century

A reader asks:

I’m used to hearing leftists say that capitalism (free markets) are driven by greed, and therefore bad. Now, since I know where their end game leads (mass graves), I don’t feel any serious need to rebut their claims. I’ve recently heard some sincere Christians, non-leftists, say something much similar, and I honestly didn’t know how to respond.

What would you say in response to this charge?

My response: What I would say depend on whether I am answering a Christian or a Leftist, because the same words, in their two different mouths, come from two different backgrounds, hence mean two different things.

If your Christian friends mean to say that anything, no matter how good, becomes an idol when elevated above God, then it becomes corrupt and evil, then I say “Amen.” They are exactly right.

The free market is a good thing the way marriage is a good thing. It is an institution calculated to channel otherwise harmful passions into productive uses: a way to harness the dragon to a chariot, so to speak. But keeping a harem is overdoing it. The bridegroom makes marriage an idol, a source of pain and woe, if he starts gathering wives and concubines like Solomon.

Likewise, my libertarian friends are mesmerized by the beauties of the free market to the point where they forget that some things, like drug addiction and prostitution, are bad. The wish to maximize human liberty becomes counterproductive once we liberate from all restraint certain passions and addictions that discourage the virtues without which liberty cannot be exercised.

Like fire, liberty is a good servant but a bad master. Freedom is a great watchdog when kept leashed, and the government cannot be trusted to hold the leash, only the culture, the cult, the consensus. Us. Only a moral and upright people can be trusted with freedom or with a free market.

Whether or not any non-Christian nation could long exist in freedom without collapsing into collectivism remains to be seen: the witness of history so far says not.

In the mouth of the Christian, who says the free market is based on greed, and is therefore bad, the sentiment is true. Greed is part and parcel of the evil that afflicts all sons of Adam.

No Christian who reads even a summary of his Bible thinks men are sinless and heaven on earth is reasonable, so no Christian, when he says “that is evil” is saying “abolish it and replace it with Utopia.” He is saying, “Be watchful. Watch and pray. Be vigilant against the evils and temptations luxury brings.”

All good things to say.

In the mouth the Left, on the other hand, “the free market us driven by greed and therefore is bad” is not an argument, but an assertion, akin to saying that marriage is driven by lust and it therefore bad.

In fact, marriage is an institution that harnesses the lust of young men so that they can only slake it by becoming husbands, fathers, and productive members of the community.

The other option to marriage, anarchy aka free love, does not deter lust but encourages it, and directs it into destructive channels. See the modern hook-up culture and the concomitant suicide rate, for example.

I am also unclear on the cause and effect. If my motives are impure, the end result is undesirable?

If I save a little girl hoping for a reward from grateful parents, my motives may be indeed up for review by Christ at Doomsday, but meanwhile the little girl lives. If I suffer a qualm, and realize my motives are bad, and I let the girl drown, is that better? The badness of base motives is a different thing than the badness of bad results.

The badness of base motives is a matter the Church was created to handle. Go to confession, if greed is your sin. Do penance. Give alms. Mortify the flesh. (Joining a Marxist bandwagon is none of these things, despite what those who climb on the bandwagon pretend.)

How to turn poverty into wealth is a matter political economics was created to handle. Blaming the political economics for not being a Church is a typical scurrilous trick of those who do not seek salvation from Christ, but from Caesar. To them, political economics is their religion.

In any case, the “free markets are driven by greed” is not an argument as much as it is a lie by omission.

If the only other option to a free market is a commissar who assigns each man his labor but grants each man a stipend, from each according to his talent and to each according to his need, then the only other option to the free market is serfdom.

Well, let us compare those two options:

The choice is between free trade within a legal framework where man is secure in the fruits of his labor, aka the free market, and the absence of such a framework, so that the fruits of a man’s labor are taken from him by the stronger, which is serfdom.

Socialism is a type of serfdom that is ashamed of its corrupt and evil nature, and so disguises its endless murders, lies, and crimes under a variety of excuses and justifications. In much the same way, socialist totalitarianis are ashamed of their totalitarianism, and called themselves republics and people’s republics and sometimes they pretend to have elections.

One endlessly repeated justification for reducing men serfdom is to criticize the free market falls short of the land of the Lotus-eaters, where all men dwell in abundance without labor. The abundance is merely presumed to occur naturally, perhaps by sparkly fairy magic, out of nowhere.

In actuality, the fruit of labor only comes from labor. Instead of the land of Lotus-eaters, all socialism produces is the land of tax-gatherers, where the taxation rate is not only one hundred percent, but the hours and lives of the serfs are also subject to arbitrary levy.

These justifications evaporate upon examination.

First, “greed” as defined by the Catholic Church is the sin of turning away from God to pursue material goods in an unlawful or disproportionate way.

A workingman putting in extra hours to bring home more wages for his wife and kids, and then donating to charity one tenth his goods, is not lawless nor disproportionate hence is not “greed” by the real definition. Nor does it become “greed” is he buys himself frivolities and luxuries. Only when love of gain begins to eclipse love of God does it become the sin of greed.

Actions of trying to keep the fruits of one’s own labor from despoliation at the hands of tax-gatherers  are only called “greed” by people who want the tax-gatherer to be omnipotent, because they wish to take away that man’s freedom to earn a wage, and to render him impotent.

But, second, what is the only other option?

If a man wants money for my wife and kids, either he must work for it honestly, as in a free market, or he must join with the strong to despoil the weak, as in serfdom.

The reason why those are the only two options is because the fruits of labor only come from labor. Either we are secure in our rights, or we are not.

If we are secure, the beggar’s penny is as sacrosanct as the bullion of the millionaire. The hovel of the poor is as much a moated castle against invasion as a mansion of the rich. Both are equal (not in wealth, but in rights).

If we are not secure, the strong despoil the weak and the weak suffer.

The whole argument of “freedom is greed” depends on a studious ignorance of mankind and of the basic truths of the science of economics.

In a free market, if a man has an excessive or ungodly love of money, but theft or fraud is illegal whereas barter is legal, the only way he has to have a fortune is to inherit it and keep it, or to earn it.

In a serfdom, a man does not earn nor deserve a wage. He is given a stipend, whatever amount his master sees fit, and he is assigned work to do, again, in whatever amounts or under whatever conditions as his master sees fit.

The serf also barters and trades on the black market, which grows more extensive the more tightly the master regulates his miserable and meager life.

So the only way in a serfdom to get a fortune is to be a master. Be a member of the ruling class, the sole political party, the master race.

This is a political, not an economic question. Everyone knows how to climb a social hierarchy based on political power, because we have all seen cliques in highschool: trample those lower than you, attach yourself to a powerful alpha male, act as his loyal toad, until you are given enough power to betray him comfortably. The client-patron system of ancient Rome and modern Mafioso acts this way; the Japanese system of senpai-kohai act this way; it is the default social behavior of ape bands and human gangs alike.

Those are the two possible systems for dealing with strangers: mutual respect of mutual rights, or mutual hatred as strong despoil weak.

The first system rewards honest labor, thrift, and cooperation. Love. The second system reward ruthlessness, treason, suspicion and dishonesty. Hate. Whatever you reward, you get more of.

Now suppose, like the lustful bachelor, I am a young man with cravings and desires for goods and services I cannot obtain without effort. There are only two choices: in a free market, I work and save and try to find something I can do that other men find valuable to them. Honest and hard work is rewarded: fraud and shirking is punished.

In serfdom, if I am a serf, shirking and fraud do not shrink my weekly stipend. It stays the same, no matter what I do. Putting in extra hours or working above and beyond the call of duty does not shrink my assigned duties by the master. If anything, I am more likely to have my burden of work increased.

Every slave knows this. That is why one and all work in as slow and lazy a way as possible. Each slave encourages other slaves not to work more efficiently, lest the masters realize how little effort is being expended.

And all slaves lie. They lie all the time and they live by lies, because the truth about practically anything is disadvantageous to them.

Slaves consume any good that falls into their hands immediately, with no thought of saving for the future. This is because saving for the future is actively discouraged by the master. See for example, the case of a welfare Mom who put a little bit aside each week over decades in order to save enough to put her child into college, and save her child from a life of demeaning poverty: New York State, growing aware of the thrift, immediately seized her bank account and took it from her.

The greed still exists, but serf greed is rewarded by a growth in lies, in fraud, in black market activity, and in immediate consumption.

In a free market, as in a marriage, the only way to slake your greed is by honest and hard work, and perhaps some good luck. Greed may be a back thing in some cases, but in this case, it is harnessed to a chariot that only allows the beast to pull toward the common good, at least, the common good as found by a basically decent and wholesome people. The same powerful engine when harnessed to vices, harlotry, alcohol, modern Hollywood, is as rapidly destructive of a vice-riddled people as it is productive of a productive people. But that is a whole different discussion.

I noticed the last fifteen times I went back to a store with some complaint, or to return something, the company went way out it its way to please me and keep my customer goodwill — even when I did not have a receipt. The clerks went way out of their way to make my visit a pleasure. Contrast that to your last fifteen visits to, let us say, the Department of Motor Vehicles.

If my only way to be a greedy and heartless son of a bitch is to hide my heartlessness and show up on time for work sober, and be pleasant to my customers, courtesy and goodwill now have very potent motivations.

Hell makes evil come out of good intentions. The slippery slope to hell is famously paved with them. The only way to get rid of greed in an economy is the anti-life equation: this is, to get rid of free trade, free will, and the freedom to select one’s own fate.

Hell says that if you feel sorry for Little Nell, chain her up like a dog. But tell her chains are freedom. Lie. Live a lie. Turn everything into a lie.

You get rid of the vicissitudes of the price system, but you do not get rid of the vicissitudes of the changes in supply and demand which is what the price system renders comprehensible and orderly. You get rid of irksome bosses whose employment you can quit and replace them with taskmasters whose tasks you cannot quit. You allegedly get a stipend which cannot be diminished due to nonperformance, and so nothing a matter of being earned. You have no right to it: it is the grace of the taskmasters.

But no, it is not even that. Charity at least provokes gratitude. A stipend is yours by right: another man’s labor is yours by right. This means, willy-nilly, you and that man are deadly enemies. The more he keeps of his own labor, the worse it is for you. The more you falsify a demand, such as by pretending to have an illness or an extra child, or by pretending your dead mother is still in the attic, the more stipend you get, the more of that other man’s life work you absorb.

Serfdom does not abolish greed; it makes greed the supreme and overriding sin.

One would think that the Twentieth Century, with its hundred million murdered souls fed into the holocaust of socialism would silence all such deceptive talk forever. How many more people do we need to butcher like hogs in a slaugherhouse before we realize that Utopia is not coming?

Hell seeks bad from good. Heaven seeks good from bad.

Under socialism, the good intention is that all men will act like angels, and, in return, the law of supply and demand, and law of cause and effect, will somehow by fairy unicorn sparkle magic no longer burden mankind. The reality is a heap of corpses taller than all the previous eras of darkness and barbarism combined. The reality is an empire of lies.

Under the free market, the bad in man’s souls is that they will not share all their goods to those in need like the early Apostles. We are greedy. In order to bring glory out of that crooked nature, we devised a legal framework that enforces contracts and renders men secure in their goods. The more egregious defects in the system, fee entails, harlotry, are restricted or abolished by law.

In return, we have the industrial revolution, and the abolition in the First World of famine and grinding poverty. We may not have abolished poverty altogether in the West, but it says something that our poor die more often of obesity than of starvation.

And if greed is what motivates you to work hard and cooperate with your neighbor, you can still go to confession and try to get your soul right with God before your last day. In a socialist country, God is illegal.

So I am not sure on what grounds those who curse freedom because it turns sins to good uses can complain. They are the ones promising heaven on earth but delivering hell on earth.

The shorter answer is to ask anyone who says “free markets are based on greed” what lesson he learned from the Twentieth Century?

Having seen socialism kill one hundred million people, and tell billions of lies, and rob whole nations blind, turn art and literature to rubbish, strangle poetry, ruin marriage, ignite a firestorm of perversion and fornication, abolish god, and make everything it touched horrid and ugly, what are we to learn from this?

That we would have created a godless utopia if only the atheists had killed more people?