It was an epistemological train wreck. To understand today’s appeal of socialism and why capitalism remains an “unknown ideal,” one need look no further than to the December 4 Munk Debate on capitalism held in Toronto. The motion: “The capitalist system is broken. It’s time to try something different.”
Speaking in favor of the motion were Yanis Varoufakis (economist, author, Greece’s former finance minister) and Katrina vanden Heuvel (editorial director and publisher of the Nation, Washington Post columnist). Speaking against the motion were Arthur Brooks(Harvard professor and author) and David Brooks (political commentator, New York Times columnist and author).
Despite their credentials, none offered even a subjective definition of capitalism, and despite being presented as debate opponents, all effectively spoke in favour of the motion. In fact, as noted in the National Post coverage of Dec 6, “Munk Debate opponents find common ground.”
That common ground was their mutual hatred of capitalism and what Ayn Rand described as “a hatred of the good for being the good.” All of the debaters praised capitalism’s role in lifting billions from poverty, yet all condemned capitalism with their next breath.
The entire debate was spoken in the language of fools. As Isobel Paterson explained in her book, The God of the Machine: “the deficiency which is indicated by the word ‘fool’ is the incapacity to understand categories and the relation of things and qualities.”
Without exception, each of the speakers wanted to ‘fix’ capitalism. A myriad of adjectives were concocted in vague attempts to redefine ‘broken’ and ‘fixed’ versions of capitalism. Each wanted to ‘democratize’ capitalism, yet another foolish contradiction in terms. Each had a plan on how to ‘redistribute’ the wealth created by capitalists and those successful enough to be considered wealthy.
While one can always expect those on the Left to oppose capitalism and freedom, thanks to the Munk Debate, it’s clear that with ‘conservative supporters’ like Arthur Brooks and David Brooks, capitalism needs no enemies. Each having explicitly opposed capitalism on moral grounds, there was not a single voice speaking ‘for’ capitalism on either side of the motion.
Objectively defined, “capitalism is a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned.”
However, among the many ‘flavours’ of capitalism described by the panel were: ‘robber baron’ capitalism, ‘Canadian style’ capitalism, ‘Nordic’ capitalism, ‘Western European’ capitalism, ‘extractive’ capitalism, and more. All glaringly eliminated the moral principles on which capitalism is actually based. Tragically, none seemed aware of how epistemology demands that capitalism be objectively defined without an adjective because that’s the only way to defend capitalism that’s Just Right.
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