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Why Not Capitalism?

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Following the financial crisis of 2008, taxpayers demanded explanations, feds implemented programs, and auditors tightened surveillance to reduce the likelihood of a repeat travesty. Meanwhile, overlooked philosophers investigated the collapse through the depths of human nature and structure of economic societies.

In his new book titled Why Not Capitalism?, Jason Brennan, assistant professor of strategy, ethics, economics, and public policy at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, responds to claims that the financial crisis showed a fundamental moral dilemma in capitalism. Published in May 2014, the book challenges Marxist philosopher Gerald “Jerry” Cohen, author of the book Why Not Socialism? (2009).

In Why Not Socialism?, Cohen argues that capitalism is a compromise with selfish human nature. Rooted in theories of economics and morality, Cohen claims that capitalism is the favored economic structure while socialism wins the moral high ground. To date, many hold the widely accepted view that socialism would be the desirable society, and would properly function, if humans were not inherently corrupt. 

In Why Not Capitalism?, Brennan challenges Cohen by arguing that capitalism would remain the best system even if humans were morally flawless.

“Everybody concedes the moral high ground,” said Brennan. “Why Not Capitalism? analyzes markets in the languages of morality and economics, using socialist values to support capitalism as a morally superior system.”

Throughout the book, Brennan addresses flaws in Cohen’s arguments including what he perceives as an unfair comparison of fictional socialism to realistic capitalism and an inaccurate claim of market-oriented societies corrupting humans. Drawing lessons from the Utopian society depicted in the children’s CGI-animated cartoon, The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Brennan illustrates how ideal capitalism ranks superior to ideal socialism and how market-oriented societies cultivate citizens who are trustworthy, tolerant, and giving. Brennan claims that even in an ideal world, private property and free markets would be the best way to promote mutual cooperation, social justice, and harmonious prosperity.

Private Property
Brennan argues that individuals are inherently project pursuers – feeling accomplished, secure, and fulfilled through their personal and direct ownership of private property. In order to feel complete, Brennan points out that humans need to have access to resources, possess material goods, and feel self-sustainable in a society. Brennan discusses how capitalism grants individuals the opportunity to possess private property and therefore create an environment that promotes harmony and prosperity.

Free Markets
In addition to private property, Brennan addresses the difficulty in encouraging cooperation on a large scale without markets, as prices of goods encourage individuals to work together. Brennan points out that even in a capitalist Utopia, members of the society would have the opportunity to form a commune if they desired. However, in a strictly socialist Utopian society, everyone would be required to adhere to a certain way of living.

“The arguments in Why Not Capitalism? will encourage readers of all political persuasions to re-evaluate where they stand vis-à-vis economic priorities and systems as they exist now, and as they might be improved in the future,” said Brennan.