Can Capitalism Lead to Human Happiness?
Capitalism is good at meeting many of our wants but has "big blind spots when it comes to others," such as family relationships, a sense of community. Capitalism, by unleashing rapid changes in technology, business organization, and social and economic status, sometimes undermines institutions and systems of beliefs that evolved in quieter and more slow-paced times or cultures. Sometimes this is good, as when capitalism helped end slavery and elevated the status of women. At other times, however, such creative destruction is thought to undermine widely shared values. One of the structural and natural moral weaknesses of capitalism as a system is that the creativity, inventiveness, and questioning spirit that make it
dynamic have a moral downside and impose a heavy human cost, sometimes even on top executives and investors. Recognizing the challenge capitalism presents to some of our traditional notions of morality does not mean that capitalism is an immoral way to organize an economy.
The most common error made by critics of capitalism is failing to recognize that greed or ambition (the desire to gain power or distinction without regard to its effects on others) long predates capitalism. Greed, Max Weber wrote in 1904, "exists and has existed among waiters, physicians, coachmen, artists, prostitutes, dishonest officials, soldiers, nobles, crusaders, gamblers, and beggars. One may say that it has been common to all sorts and conditions of men at all times and in all countries of the earth, wherever the objective possibility of it is or has been given." (6Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Talcott Parsons) (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1958). All political and economic systems must cope with greed. Societies that rely on tradition to shape their economies allow some people--usually those with inherited...