The worst thing regarding “Occupy Wall Street” and related anti-capitalist protests is that most popular defenders of capitalism—aside from Ayn Rand—do not understand capitalism well enough to defend it against the absurd arguments offered by public figures who support the chanting, mindless–and now violent–protesters.
Consider the arguments by union leader Arthur Cheliotes, music producer Russell Simmons, and leftist activist Sally Kohn in this confrontation with capitalist Charles Payne in Zuccotti Park, the site of Occupy Wall Street.
Cheliotes: Success occurs in a society because of the infrastructure of the society. Some people will excel. But we have to remember that there’s a whole matrix of things that happens. For example, government serves as a foundation on which commerce in a civil society is built. … Charles [Payne]’s individual success had a lot to do with the fact that that infrastructure was in place that gave him the opportunity to excel. …
My message is one of community. It says that if we all do well, then each individual can do well. But unless we all do well— [Interruption.]
As Charles Payne mentions in his response, this communal argument has been making the rounds among leftists such as Elizabeth Warren, (Democratic candidate for U.S. Sentate from Massachusetts), who said last month,
I hear all this, you know, “Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever.” No. There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own—nobody.
You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police-forces and fire-forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory—and hire someone to protect against this—because of the work the rest of us did.
Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless—keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.
Then Russell Simmons spoke:
This argument, it is a fundamental, it’s whether or not we are part of a collective and if we should be responsible even— it goes all the way (?) to the health care, or to decent education, or people are suffering in poverty, should we be responsible for them? People out here believe we should be. And they believe that our government in some cases, should fund decent health care, a decent education, a decent opportunity. And there are others who believe—I did myself—but we know that that isolation he’s [Payne?] referring to is a sickness. And we as a society have to represent the people and the individuals, and not the corporations.
Then Sally Kohn spoke:
… The larger issue is, in this country, you can’t just work hard and get ahead and do well anymore. That used to be the American Dream. Now listen. … There are legal structures in this country that are enforced: your patents, your policy, they’re all enforced by our courts which we paid for. You drove, if you drove a product to roads, there are roads to be paid for. … All I’m saying is we should have an oppportunity for other hard-working people to do well. [Interruptions.]
Right now, the wealthy are paying a lower tax rate—
In defense of Charles Payne and all capitalists, here is my reply to all the nonsense that was thrown at him. (The style of my reply is deliberately colloquial and confrontational, as it is a response in kind.)
Unlike the Occupy Wall Street protesters, who revile the police and military and defecate on police cars, capitalists support the police and the military and the courts in the protection of individual rights to life, liberty, and property. Unlike the anti-capitalists, we capitalists support patent law and copyright law and contract law and all law that protects property rights. But I reject your package deal, your false assumption that because some government is good, all government is good. The part of government that I condemn is the anti-capitalist part: the welfare state, which is what four fifths of government spending—and all government controls—go to: public health care, public housing, public schools, public food programs, and so on.
Whenever government provides a service, you anti-capitalists take credit for it. You claim that society paid for these services, and you invoke the collective ‘we’. But who in society paid for the services? Most of the government’s money comes from robbing the rich. Most of that money is spent on the poor. And then you claim to have helped the rich. You rob my dollars and then brag that you give me dimes.
You argue about taxes as a percentage of income. That’s a smokescreen. A man who makes 50 million dollars a year pays more than a thousand times as much in taxes as does a man who pays 50 thousand dollars a year. Does the millionaire have a thousand times as many of his children in public schools? Does he receive a thousand times as much in Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security benefits, food stamps, and public housing?
When you pay for groceries at the supermarket, would it be right and just for the cashier to say, “That will be 5% of your weekly income, please”? You don’t want justice. You just want. You want what we earned. You attack greed in the name of envy.
Yes, a factory owner benefits from having employees who are educated. But he pays for that benefit by paying a higher salary to educated workers than to non-educated ones. And if a capitalist chooses to invest in the education of his employees or prospective employees, he does not need the government to do it for him, and a lousy job of it at that.
A capitalist benefits from many individuals, not by robbing some and being robbed by others, but by trading with individuals by mutual agreement, by offering fruits of his labor in return for fruits of theirs. Yes, a small percentage of what the government robs from me and from other producers is spent allegedly to benefit me, but I would benefit infinitely more if that robbed wealth instead remained in the hands of us producers so that we could trade with each other for private roads, private fire-fighting, and—above all—private education. Don’t assume that robbing on my behalf gives you the right to rob. Don’t assume you may rob my dollars because you return me dimes.
When Charles Payne was poor, he benefited from the wealthy by trading with them, not by receiving government handouts paid for by robbing them.
You claim to help me, but you spend most of my money helping those whom I do not trade with, those who say they want to work but who want from me more than their work can produce. You hide the fact that these individuals do not want to trade but to take; you hide this fact by lumping these individuals together with the honest, productive individuals I do trade with, and then you give the whole lump the name of ‘society’. You try to give equal moral credit to all for the virtue of the most productive few. You try to ride our backs spiritually as well as materially.
You speak as if socialism held a monopoly on the idea of social interaction, as if capitalism meant isolation of each individual from every other. If capitalism meant isolation, then there would be no advertising, no Web sites, no bookstores, no movie theatres, no cell phones, no factories, no skyscrapers, no clothing stores, no supermarkets, no stock markets, no farmers’ markets, no markets, no agreements, no contracts, no trade.
Both capitalism and socialism are social systems; both entail society and social interaction. Under capitalism, social interaction among individuals is chosen solely by the interacting individuals by mutual agreement for mutual benefit. Under socialism, there is only forced obedience to the directives of the largest gang: the ‘majority’, a.k.a. ‘society’.
Under socialism, there is no looking for a job or taking a low-paying job as a stepping stone to something better, or any similar endeavor decried by so many of the Wall Street “Occupiers” who claim to deserve a high-paying job because they went to college (and learned less than nothing from their anti-capitalist professors). Under socialism, there is having a lifelong job assigned to you in childhood based on your genes. If you have good feet, you are made a dancer. If you show an aptitude for arithmetic, you are made an engineer—and no dancing for you, because ‘society’ needs roads. And if you seem ordinary, you are assigned an ordinary life.
Under socialism, there is no helping your own friends or loved ones or particular individuals you respect—there is no helping even your own children—because there is no money set aside for such personal preferences or personal judgments. There is no individual judging of individual virtue. There is only the collective ruling on who are the most in need.