Anticapitalism in Many Lessons: Incoherent Posturing
December 21, 2010 Economic Illiteracy

Even the most ardent anti-capitalists would agree that money is a “good” like any other. And these same anti-capitalists would likely argue that consuming “too much” of that good is unnecessary, greedy, and all that bad stuff.  Hence there are no dearth of student pamphlets on colleges like mine expounding the mantra, “Production for People, Not Profits,” or “Corporations versus Nature, You Know Who Should Win!” and so on.

But think for a minute about how absolutely incoherent these claims are. And I am not arguing here on the economic evidence that production for profit IS production for people. Ignore that – we wouldn’t want some good solid evidence to get in the way of some armchair theorizing. Ask yourself how it is possible at all for someone to generate profits? Unless some looting corporatist has used the power of government to force us to do business with them, the only way they can make profits is by discovering what the preferences of people might be, and then figuring out a cost effective way to satisfy them. In other words, private profits come from a very public evaluation of “good” and “bad.”

But there is much more to say here. Suppose that the anticapitalists wish to argue that the preferences for an egalitarian outcome should trump the preferences for the acquisition of more money? Or better yet, that the preferences, their preferences, for more trees or ostriches or hiking trails are superior to some corporation’s “preference” for making more computers, cars or iPads in the pursuit of profits. Do we not see the philosophical absurdity here? If we were to accept this, then we would be saying that preferences for certain goods trump preferences for others. But it is even worse than that. If there is a harmless preference for any good, it has to be that of money. After all, money can be used to buy just about anything, including more hiking trails and trees. Whereas the preference for trees precludes the ability to produce some of the things that we produced in order to satisfy some greedy capitalist’s preference for money.

So there can be no coherent intellectual basis for arguing that a preference for trees (which I share) should trump a preference for profits, but I will be 6 feet tall before I ever see an religion teacher environmentalist make this point clear when she is indoctrinating her students about it. Generally, the point above is true in regard to not only trees, but claims to the moral high ground for other preferences too. And there can be no “winner” or “loser” in a battle over preferences, so long as one is not doing violence to property. There must be something other than “the moral high ground” to appeal to. And for that we have economics.

"3" Comments
  1. Well said. I like to frame this in terms of Econ 101. If our resources can be categorizied into land (natural resources), labor, and capital, environmentalists are making an unqualified claim that land is inherently, always and everywhere, more valuable than labor or capital. They would force me to spend my Saturday mornings (labor) sorting my trash, and as you point out, force households to accept a lower “profit” rate of return on their capital in order to satisfy their personal preference for trees and trails. How to I put this delicately; Screw them!

  2. Right on, jb.

    They accuse us of poisoning our cows’ pasture, but what they want is our land.

  3. Apparently the California legislature just recently adopted measures that will impose a cap and trade scheme on the Californicators, where businesses will pay indulgences to assure the preservation of more trees, in order to trap more carbon.

    Meanwhile, the state circles the economic drain with lavish pensions for the many public employees, including perfessers at state universities. You shoulda taught economics at UCLA, Wintercow.

    Another news item on Drudge today cited a British concerned scientist (is there any other kind?) who says the sun’s output may be on the decline, and that we are overdue for a mini-ice age (or even a regular ice age, which would cover most of New York). The snows would then cover all those trees in California and keep the carbon trapped for, say, 20,000 years. But would an ice age help or hurt the California fiscal crisis? The good news is that immigration may reverse and send millions of illegal aliens back to Central America.

Leave a Reply