A Capitalistic Commandment

Mr. Young is a free-lance writer in Santa Barbara, California.

Man, in his effort to keep himself alive and prosperous, has had an impressive record of success. Al­though serious misfortune or even extinction has, now and in the past, accrued to this or that indi­vidual community, man as a spe­cies has survived and survived re­markably well. He has progressed far from the primitive, naked hom­inid who cringed before nature and his imaginative representa­tion of it—his gods; and now one of the few characteristics he still has in common with his half-human ancestors is his imagina­tion. But it is an imagination no longer satisfied to remain simply the spinner of fanciful myths, but rather, through discipline, has be­come a highly efficient manufacturer of ideas pertinent to man’s success and well-being.

This discipline has meant a continuous process of adaptation. Man has found it fruitful to have his beliefs reflect and correspond to reality, and profitable to act in accord with the nature of the physical universe. Man has flat­tered himself as being the wise animal; and insofar as he intelli­gently takes into account the laws of reality and those of human ac­tion, he is. It can be said, then, that man’s welfare depends on the products of his reason and on their practical application, or, in short, on technology.

But it would be a mistake to infer from this that technology alone is responsible for the signif­icant increase in favors bestowed on man since his beginning. Technology is a tool, and as such de­pends for its effectiveness on how it is made, and to what use it is put. The decisive factor here is man’s mind, or, to be more pre­cise, man’s reason. It is a well-known fact to students of animal behavior that man is not the only tool-producing animal; chimpan­zees, for example, also share this distinction. But one of the most salient ways in which man differs from the chimp is his increased ability to produce effective tools and to more efficiently use them. In a word, what distinguishes man most from the rest of the animal world is his intelligence.

An increase in man’s use of his intelligence (rationality) is essen­tially an increase in his compe­tence in the role of tool-producer. Man in his struggle for existence and his pursuit of happiness has found, over the centuries, that better tools have meant a better life. And, deeming this good, he has taxed his intelligence with this goal in mind. Hence, the more he used his intelligence, the more productive were his tools.

Tools, then, are not the basic instruments of production. In and by themselves nothing, man’s im­plements depend on man. Ultimate­ly, it is solely his mental and phys­ical labor which is productive—all other factors of production being of a secondary and derivative nature. Of these two principle means of production, the mental labor is the more important since it has been primarily through the use of man’s reason that he has ad­vanced.

The Individual in Society

Although existing as an indi­vidual, the normal member of the human race lives in a society. This communal aspect of man’s nature finds its expression in most as­pects of life, and affects every one of us individually. Community in­volvement in the individual’s per­sonal life may take the form of ordinances governing his sexual conduct, or in a claim by his soci­ety for its share of the fruits of his labor—that is, taxation. It may be voluntary (as in the demand that he vote or marry), or invol­untary (as in conscript labor). It may be just or unjust, benign or pernicious, but it is always present and profoundly alters the life of the individual. The point is this: although it is always individuals who develop and manipulate the means of production, they do it as members of a society. Whether it be the improvement of his mind, his talents, or his estate, man is dependent on his neighbor for the satisfaction of his desires. As a consequence, requisite for the ef­ficient development of the means of production is an intelligent organization of man’s communal life.

Such an organization of soci­ety is inextricably bound up in the creation of an effective mode of production. By mode of produc­tion, I refer to a specific way of organizing the principal instru­ments of production, namely and primarily, man’s mind. Obviously, the most effective mode of produc­tion would entail the improvement of man’s material estate and pro­vide for industrial progress.

Using the Mind of Man to Overcome Obstacles

If man’s reason is his most val­uable asset in his pursuit of hap­piness, and if such is to be man’s goal, then it would seem to follow that the most desirable mode of production is the one which utiliz­es man’s intelligence to the fullest. It is only common sense that such a system is the most efficient.

Man’s survival and well-being are both predicated on his ability to master the world he lives in. Such mastery turns on his pro­ductivity. Anything but peak effi­ciency in production will generate needless frustration and pain. It is clear that if the good for man involves his prosperity, then it also involves the fullest use of his reason, and calls for the form of economic organization which allows and demands such use.

Under what circumstances, then, does man’s reason work its best?

First, both the normal and the brilliant of mankind can work at peak efficiency only with unham­pered abilities. It is not only the highly creative person who lan­guishes when unfree, but the fac­tory employee, the clerk, the small shopkeeper, the landowner, the in­vestor. In the broadest sense of the word, it would be the worker. The individual works his most effectively when it is in his mate­rial interest to do so; as a good general rule, the better off mate­rially he is for his efforts, the more productive he is.

Moreover, the reason flourishes when allowed full freedom to ex­periment. But such a condition would be inconsistent with any form of centralized planning. Cen­tralized planning involves a con­sensus among the planners, or no work is accomplished owing to in­decision. But under such a con­sensus, valuable alternatives to any given program are often shelved. Thus neglected is the need to experiment and to explore alternatives.

The most important factor in the use of the mind is largely psychological. It is necessary to take into account the psychology of the creative individual. If the individual views himself as a hu­man sacrifice, or is so viewed, he cannot do his best work; and under such circumstances, creativ­ity is often impossible. If the cre­ative person’s labor and life are not his own, his work will suffer for it. The calling of the creator must allow him the products of his labor, for he must know he is working for himself—know he is free and independent.

Anyone who has worked with the more brilliant members of the creative professions knows of their fierce desire for independ­ence and their equally strong re­sentment of interference. When this desire is projected beyond the individual, it logically becomes a mutual respect for the freedom of all concerned. If such mutual re­spect is absent, so is full produc­tivity. This follows regardless of the type of creative group. Wheth­er it be the scientist, the business­man, the artist, or—to the extent that there is a little creativity in everyone—the man in the streets, this simple truth holds true.

Freedom and Property

Again, under what circum­stances does man’s reason work its best? Under the system which corresponds to the above outline? Indeed. But the prerequisite for such a system is freedom, or more precisely, the right of property. This should be clear from the following: Under such a system the worker (in the above-mentioned sense) must have unhampered abilities. But any intervention by the government or by individuals in the smooth running of the free market implies a narrowing of the possibilities for individual devel­opment, a narrowing along the lines preferred by the intervening individual or group. Any limita­tion on intervention, then, amounts to recognition of the right of the individual to use and develop his talents. But such a right, if it is meaningful, implies that the in­dividual has control over this sphere of his life. This must, in some sense, imply ownership and the right of property.

The better off he is material­ly, the more productive a worker is likely to be. Here, the right of property is also implied. And not only must it extend to the indi­vidual’s person, but to his posses­sions. Material improvement means control (hence, ownership) over the economic goods which come to him as incentive to work; and such control must be guaranteed, for without such a guarantee, own­ership is vitiated. If, to provide the most incentive to the most in­dividuals, this right is extended to everyone, we have the right of property.

The creative individual must have control over the products of his labor, and he must be free and independent subject only to his like consideration for others. This means both the right to what one has earned, and freedom from con­trol or restriction. When taken to­gether, they entail the right to free trade or property—the right to use and dispose of one’s prop­erty subject only to the respect for a similar right in others. If this is absent in some respect, the individual is either unfree or is deprived of his earnings, or both. Since every individual is to some degree creative, the application of this right of each to his own per­son and property would be uni­versal.

"Thou Shalt Not Steal" the Moral Basis of Capitalism

We are now in a position to de­fine the mode of production req­uisite for the improvement of man’s well-being. Free trade, ab­sence of centralized planning, a many-centered (private) base for the ownership of the means of pro­duction, lack of governmental in­tervention in the economy—all of these were mentioned or implied above and all can be stated in a word: capitalism. So it may be rightfully inferred that man furthers his survival on this planet by the establishment of the right of property, and of capitalism. Each entails the other: when prop­erty rights are observed, it has been seen that so are the basics of the capitalistic mode of produc­tion; when capitalism is firmly rooted, the right of property must be present as a support.

A necessary foundation for cap­italism, then, is a supportive phi­losophy—a code of ethics that can and should serve as a bulwark for the free market. Such a code is familiar to the (classical) liberal and should be to the Christian; it is summed up in its most uncom­promising form as the Eighth Commandment. The command­ment, "Thou shalt not steal," and its absolute recognition of prop­erty rights fundamentally deter­mines capitalistic relationships, in many respects is the capitalistic manner of production. When the right of free trade, or property, is established, so is private own­ership. Only the owner of a piece of property has rights over it; but such full title implies not only that another cannot (with right) coercively obtain it from him, but that he did not coercively obtain it. Ownership rightfully derives from a ban on the initiation of force against another. Theft, if it is to have any meaning at all, is the violation of the right of own­ership, and as such inherently in­volves the violation of property rights. A taboo on theft, then, would be by its very nature an establishment of the right of prop­erty. Hence, it would seem that the eighth Mosaic imperative is the basis for capitalism, and for man’s improvement in his well­being on this planet.

Capitalism, then, as a correla­tive of this fundamental point of traditional Western morality, has its roots in pronouncements made centuries ago. It is hardly surpris­ing that such an ethical precept has survived over the centuries. Man has found its observation fruitful, and under the social system most perfectly embodying the formula has done more to better himself than under any other so­cial arrangement. It is reasonable to expect that as he continues along these lines, he will continue to prosper. But it is equally rea­sonable to expect that if he fails to obey this elementary law of hu­man morality, he may perish by the very tools such obedience has given him—tools which have made possible his mastery of the world, but also make possible his own destruction as a species.



Religion at Work

The kingdom of God is a kingdom of productive power at work, and not a kingdom of aesthetic self-indulgence or emotional happiness, much less a kingdom of mere talk. It therefore re­quires no mystical interpretation to give credence to the promise of prosperity to those who seek first the Kingdom of Heaven. Neither does it require any miracle to bring about the literal fulfillment of the promise that other things will be added unto them, for that result would come about through the normal working of economic law. When all the latent energy of a people is made active, when it is directed in the most intelligent manner toward the satisfaction of real human needs, when none of it is wasted or dissipated in injurious, antagonistic or destructive effort, such a people will attain to a degree of real prosperity hitherto unknown.

THOMAS NIXON CARVER, The Religion Worth Having