Compassion and the Free Market


Conservatives are evil, our opponents like to say. Conservatives are selfish. Conservatives are only interested in the acquisition of material wealth. Whereas Socialists are kindly. Socialists wish to redistribute. Socialists want to use the apparatus of the state to take money from the undeserving and redistribute it to those in need. They’re the good guys.

That’s the narrative and it is completely, demonstrably wrong. To quote the late, great Milton Friedman, “So far as poverty is concerned, there has never in history been a more effective machine for eliminating poverty than the free enterprise system in the free market.” The key is that capitalism works with human nature, rather than against it. As the great Christian capitalist Adam Smith explained in his seminal tome, The Wealth of Nations:

“…man has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favour, and show them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them. Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this. Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such offer; and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of. It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages. Nobody but a beggar chuses to depend chiefly upon the benevolence of his fellow-citizens. Even a beggar does not depend upon it entirely. The charity of well-disposed people, indeed, supplies him with the whole fund of his subsistence. But though this principle ultimately provides him with all the necessaries of life which he has occasion for, it neither does nor can provide him with them as he has occasion for them. The greater part of his occasional wants are supplied in the same manner as those of other people, by treaty, by barter, and by purchase. With the money which one man gives him he purchases food. The old cloaths which another bestows upon him he exchanges for other old cloaths which suit him better, or for lodging, or for food, or for money, with which he can buy either food, cloaths, or lodging, as he has occasion.”

The logic is simple. Unhindered by government interference, the market will provide the greatest benefit to producers and consumers, whilst allowing charity as well. And the conclusion is obvious: If you want to help your fellow man, embrace free market economics.

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