At its heart, capitalism is all about freedom. It is not the kind of freedom enshrined in the Bill of Rights; it is not an intellectual set of sanctioned activities. It is unlikely to be discussed in complicated court cases and academic settings for hours on end, and it is unlikely to be hailed as a great moral accomplishment any time soon. Indeed, many people truly believe that capitalism is tyranny and that it ought to be destroyed from the Earth. Often, these people are South American revolutionaries who don military uniforms and give themselves titles that do not exist in real armies. Some of them have recently become quite powerful in places like Venezuela and Bolivia. These men talk a lot about liberation and liberty against profit. I have but one question for them:
What could possibly make me freer in my day to day life than to be able to spend the rewards of my work on virtually whatever pleases me, given by whoever I want it from, as often as I like without answering to anyone? I do not tend to exercise my freedom to criticize my government quite as often as I purchase food from cafeterias, nor do I attend church (quite) as often as I surf the internet provided by Comcast. I do not bear arms as often as I pay term bills to Harvard. Thanks to money and free markets, I have every right in the world to study where I place, browse whenever I want, and eat when I feel like it. How can I possibly be freer than that?
There are many voices out there, fortunately not many in America, that believe that collective choice and social control of capital somehow makes us freer. They believe that the state should provide health care for all, educate everyone, tax as much as is needed to meet everyone’s needs, give guaranteed wages to everyone, and build houses for every person. This, they say, makes people freer. After all, they protest, why should $40,000 be spent on a luxury car for a rich executive when it could provide textbooks for needy schools?
Every now and then, something comes up that makes me think another two seconds about how we distribute wealth in a capitalist society. This article was one of those things:
Girls as young as eight getting bikini waxes. What an absolutely barbaric practice and a completely immoral waste of money. If people really are this stupid and materialistic, perhaps the socialists really are onto something. The people who came in to eat at the soup kitchen today could certainly have used the $115 or more it costs to strip off hair down there on a PRETEEN to keep from going hungry for the next week. One guy really, really could have used that money: he has been living out of the back of his VW Golf for quite a while now. He does not mind, though. After all, at least he has his own place for his stuff. If people really are superficial enough to make their tweens into bikini beauties, maybe we do need the state to come in, tax away, and redistribute money towards better causes.
Three things keep me a capitalist: people are not this stupid, the state is not any smarter, and the law is a pretty awful way to get people to care about each other.
I say again: people are not this stupid. Our airwaves are filled up with this crap because it still has the capacity to shock us. That is a really good sign that society may not be as bad off as the naysayers maintain. I will go out on a limb here and suggest that this article did not exactly inspire more mothers to decide to morph their kids into the next pinup girls. The overwhelming majority of people are still entirely disgusted by these kinds of priorities and still believe that no child should be made into a plastic princess before she even hits high school. Indeed, thanks to those feminists I am not generally a fan of, there are even hot-blooded secular opponents to the exploitative, falsely aesthetic culture out there. Most people are still content to spend their money on house payments, utility bills, food, medicine, schooling, and education. As for those who are not, well, they are nothing new. Their philosophical ancestors were sitting around ancient Rome making love to statues of Venus and caking on lead makeup in Victorian England. Evidently natural selection does not work mentally as well as it does physically nowadays. Pity.
If I am wrong and the people have fallen into true disgrace, though, the government is the last place I would look to right the wrongs. As a student of government who may well run for office some day, I feel quite comfortable saying that getting political power means diving to the absolute lows of society. Washington is chock full of adulterers, liars, egoists, pansies, and all-around moral wusses. If you are smart enough not to trust John Edwards with your girlfriend, Brownie with your disaster relief, Ted Kennedy with your keys, and Larry Craig with your boyfriend, why the hell would you be stupid enough to give these people your money? These are the guys who subsidized Viagra, mohair production, and research centers that may not even exist: http://www.clubforgrowth.org/2007/10/the_10_dumbest_votes_in_the_us.php
The government’s guilt and people’s general intelligence might skewer the socialists in a pretty big way, but they cannot exonerate the bopper bikini waxers. Nothing does. Nothing can justify the gross materialism and addiction to money that lets markets for fourth houses, fully-functioning replica Batmobiles, and botulism toxin (where do you think the name BoTox comes from?) face injections flourish.
Instead of restricting the right of people to the money they have worked for and letting bureaucrats organize economic activity, how about teaching people to blush again? Where is the social pressure against disgraceful spending? We have learned through many years of experience that it is okay to hate Nazi rallies while still defending free speech and that we can call Scientology a whacked-out cult without offending freedom of religion. It is high time that we start calling for respectful self-restraint when it comes to money.
Every freedom is able to exist and flourish because it is used respectfully and to make a point. We do not cringe when we see violent or even suggestive art with biting social commentary, but we do and should slam artists who love the avant-garde for its own sake. Pushing the envelope must serve a greater means and not trespass the basic notions of decency held by society. Yale art student Aliza Shvarts learned that after a deluge of criticism came in when she told reporters that she had filmed herself aborting for the sake of challenging expectations. Our freedoms are alive and well only when we do not abuse them for our own warped pleasures and ideas of novelty. We need to realize that the same truth applies to the free use of money. Spending simply for the point of spending, pampering, and proving that you can is worthy of serious rebuke.
Noblesse oblige, asceticism, humility, and plenty of other fine moral ideals offer a different way to live. Rather than restricting personal wealth and forcefully redistributing capital, morality is the mechanism by which we call on the wealthy to remember the duties that come with their freedoms. It is not that we ask for duties as a consolation prize in exchange for giving the rich total freedom; it is that we all share duties in society in order to preserve our freedom. When each of us believes in life without intoxicating materialism and acts accordingly, our freedoms flourish and give us the prosperity that we hope for in them. When we ditch our own duties and leave morality for the philosophers, preteen girls lose their pubic hair.
And that, fellow Americans, is something we should never let the commies hold over our heads.