At­ten­tion, Shop­pers!

Cap­i­tal­ism was born with a soul

Times of the Islands - - Departments - BY DR. RAN­DALL H. NIEHOFF Dr. Ran­dall Niehoff has been liv­ing, din­ing and shop­ping on Sanibel since 1991.

That un­bri­dled avarice “is the equiv­a­lent of cap­i­tal­ism” is a “naïve con­cep­tion” that should be ban­ished to the “nurs­ery school” of his­tory. So ob­served Max We­ber in The Protes­tant Ethic and the Spirit of Cap­i­tal­ism (1904) —Darrin M. McMa­hon (Pro­fes­sor of his­tory, Dart­mouth Col­lege)

In our so­ci­ety the hol­i­day sea­son seems to ar­rive like a bailiff pound­ing on the door with a sum­mons to shop! Here on our Gulf Coast we get to go shop­ping in a truly free mar­ket—free from bad weather, cum­ber­some cloth­ing, dis­grun­tled crowds, com­muter grid­lock and a man­u­fac­tured hori­zon. Such free­doms are the re­sult of our be­ing blessed with a pris­tine nat­u­ral set­ting and the con­ser­va­tion-minded cit­i­zens who care for it.

We are also fa­vored by a po­lit­i­cal com­mit­ment to our coun­try’s found­ing goal of “life, lib­erty and the pur­suit of hap­pi­ness.” The demo­cratic cap­i­tal­ism of our com­mu­nity makes it a won­der­ful place to do busi­ness—in or out of sea­son. Ris­ing above the naïveté of anti-glob­al­ists who ac­cuse all cap­i­tal­ists of greed and some un­scrupu­lous busi­ness­men who ar­gue that “greed is good,” we need to fo­cus on the orig­i­nal vi­sion of how goods should be ex­changed in a free so­ci­ety.

Adam Smith (the fa­ther of mod­ern eco­nom­ics) the­o­rized that ra­tio­nal self-in­ter­est and com­pe­ti­tion would lead to eco­nomic pros­per­ity. In The Wealth of Na­tions (1776) he ob­served that 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.” Yet Smith (who gave the bet­ter por­tion of his own for­tune to char­ity) also ob­served that along with pos­sess­ing self-in­ter­est, we, the peo­ple, are gifted with an in­stinc­tive con­cern (“sym­pa­thy”) for the wel­fare of oth­ers.

There­fore, as the mar­ket brings men and women into ever wider net­works, our ties of mu­tual ben­e­fit urge us to gauge our con­duct through the eyes of oth­ers while we ex­tend our sym­pa­thetic bonds. Far from re­ward­ing naked greed, the free mar­ket en­cour­ages: a) self-re­straint; b) trans­par­ent in­tegrity; and c) fair deal­ing with the pro­tec­tion of pri­vate prop­erty. In short, the mar­ket is good not only for busi­ness, but also for hu­man be­ings. This ex­plains the con­fi­dence of test pi­lot John Glenn (the first U.S. as­tro­naut to or­bit the Earth—on Fe­bru­ary 20, 1962), who re­marked af­ter land­ing: “As I hur­tled through space one thought kept cross­ing my mind—ev­ery piece of this rocket was sup­plied by the low­est bid­der.”

Wise Mr. Smith also un­der­stood that the sys­tem would at times need gov­ern­men­tal help in pro­vid­ing an op­por­tu­nity to those who are poor. He ad­vo­cated in­vest­ing eco­nomic cap­i­tal into so­cial cap­i­tal (e.g., pro­vid­ing uni­ver­sal school­ing and send­ing es­sen­tial goods and ser­vices to where the mar­ket had not yet reached on its own). No eco­nomic or po­lit­i­cal sys­tem by it­self guar­an­tees the re­di­rect­ion of self­ish pas­sion into pro­duc­tive be­hav­ior. As Zsa Zsa Ga­bor put it, “I’ve been mar­ried to a com­mu­nist and a fas­cist, and nei­ther would take out the garbage.”

Well, wel­come to our home, where we not only re­move the trash, but also re­cy­cle it. Come en­joy this sea­son, made warmer and brighter when you go out to eat or to shop be­cause our busi­nesses op­er­ate in a way that is responsible both to them­selves and to their cus­tomers.

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