By Michael Strong, Conscious Capitalism
Those of us who are committed to a better world for all know that capitalism (i.e., a system of free enterprise based on private property and rule of law) is the only path forward.
In The Ten Commandments of Capitalism: The Secret Recipe for Equitable Prosperity, Ralph Benko provides a concrete set of guidelines to preserve and enhance capitalism for the sake of equitable prosperity.
A distinctive aspect of Benko’s advocacy of capitalist prosperity is his neutrality between the Scandinavian model, Ordoliberalism, on the one hand, and the Singaporean model, laissez-faire, on the other. Both models are systems of free enterprise based on private property and rule of law. Scandinavian nations famously feature a generous social insurance (such as health care coverage) and universal services (such as fully subsidized college education) system. Singapore, ranked first in the world on the economic freedom indices for decades now, is arguably the freest form of free enterprise actually existing in the contemporary world. But Benko rightly argues that whether or not we choose to provide citizens with generous public services, we must first be committed to the ongoing benefits of wealth creation. Poor, declining nations are not generous nations. Both the Nordic and Singaporean models of capitalism have been demonstrated, repeatedly, in practice to support the general welfare. Socialism, in the dozens of instances it has been tried, has degraded the general welfare.
The rise of “socialism” as a political identity is rightly horrifying to anyone who knows anything about the 20th century. While few contemporary advocates of “socialism” currently advocate for government ownership of the means of production or a “dictatorship of the proletariat,” they are often inspired by Marx to connive at class warfare. Moreover, they are often motivated by a hatred of capitalism and a bitter resentment towards the rich. Given our atavistic instincts, stimulated by the veneer of intellectual respectability provided by many intellectuals, if the “socialists” take over we can sadly envision a future for the U.S. that leads to an Argentinian or Venezuelan economic catastrophe.
On the other hand, if we follow Benko’s advice, we can look forward to a U.S. in which our entire society is incredibly prosperous for all. Contra the dirge of headlines, with the exceptions of health care and education, Americans are already amazingly prosperous. Put differently, with respect to material wealth, we are already the richest mass society in human history. The consumption of the poorest 20% of Americans is roughly equal to that of the average Dutch or French person, higher than that of the average Brit, Swede, Dane, or Japanese person. Our poor people are richer than are the middle class of most nations! As a table of national consumption produced by JustFacts.org dramatically shows, as of 2010 the poorest 20% of Americans are better off than the middle class most of the developed world and substantially better off than the middle class in New Zealand, Israel, South Korea, Poland, Turkey and Mexico.
With respect to consumption, we are already well on the path to “making everybody rich” (see poet Frederick Turner’s charming essay by that title). This, of course, comes close to achieving the mission of capitalism first set forth by Adam Smith in Wealth of Nations (well before the term capitalism had been coined) “that universal opulence which extends itself to the lowest ranks of the people.”
We can, of course, continue to spend more on education and health care, but I would emphasize (more than Benko does), the importance of introducing entrepreneurial dynamism into education and health care, in alignment with “Strong’s Law.”
Properly structured free enterprise always results over time in higher quality, lower cost, and more customized products and services. This principle applies just as forcefully to the entrepreneurial supply of law, governance, community, housing, education, health care, and other environments supportive of happiness, and well-being as it does to technology. Our world suffers because we have not allowed entrepreneurial initiative to fully address the most important issues facing humanity.
In combination with entrepreneurial initiative in education and healthcare, Benko’s Ten Commandments of Capitalism will allow all Americans to lead meaningful, productive lives. It will also allow the United States to remain the most important moral influence in the world.
For those U.S. citizens who are inclined to focus on our many flaws, I ask you to consider: Would you really prefer the Chinese Communist Party or Putin’s Russia to be a global hegemon? The most passionate believer in social justice should consider how much uglier the world would be if the U.S. falls into Venezuela-level economic and political chaos. The EU is not going to pick up the slack, but China and Russia are already demonstrating their eagerness to take advantage of every weakness. Zeal for social justice must not lead to a world ruled by the CCP.
While informed observers of capitalism could quibble over Benko’s “Ten Commandments,” in broad outline he has sketched a practical recipe for a prosperous and humane future for the U.S. If we don’t take care to avoid both inflation and deflation, avoid profligate spending, onerous taxation, and feckless regulation we are on a path to economic ruin. Moreover, neither political party has demonstrated any kind of sustained commitment to long term equitable prosperity. It is urgent for us to create and sustain a transpartisan commitment to a capitalist future leading to prosperity and justice for all.
Finally, note that nothing about Benko’s “Ten Commandments” prevents us from caring for the environment. Trammel Crow, Jr., and Bill Shireman’s recently released In This Together: How Republicans, Democrats, Capitalists and Activists Are Uniting to Tackle Climate Change and More provides a proposal for addressing climate change, one that could be adapted for alignment with Benko’s “Ten Commandments.”
Thus, the two primary concerns of those who traditionally identify as “left,” generous social benefits and environmental protections, are both fully supported by Benko’s “Ten Commandments.” Benko is focused on ensuring that we continue to have the prosperity needed to provide a generous social safety net and pristine environment.
What many advocates of universal social insurance and the environment don’t realize is that until and unless they take the preconditions for prosperity more seriously citizens won’t take them seriously. Consider Benko’s “Ten Commandments” as a framework within which one may create transpartisan successes that address the concerns both of advocates for the poor and advocates for the environment within a framework of both pragmatic and humane economic policies designed to provide the means to achieve both of these crucial objectives.
Finally, beyond prosperity vs. equality, beyond global hegemony vs. failed state, there is the issue of human dignity. Meaningful work is the most important element there is with respect to providing us with dignity. Each of us wants to stand on our own two feet, provide for ourselves and our loved ones, and contribute something to our society. The subtext of a successful “capitalist” society is a society in which an ever-growing number of people are producing goods and services that they can be proud of.
We are in the midst of a historical moment in which “socialism” as a rallying cry is more prevalent than it has been since the fall of the Soviet Union. We should be focused on how to create equitable prosperity through free enterprise. If the Republicans continue to practice cronyism in the name of capitalism while engaging in an orgy of deficit spending through tax cuts and defense spending, and the Democrats continue to practice cronyism in the name of social democracy while mortgaging the nation’s future with feckless, romantic, utopian schemes, we are lost.
Our only hope is to start from a foundation of capitalism and then have a constructive conversation about how, in the words of the preamble to the US Constitution, “to establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”
We are counting on you to join us in leading this conversation.
A version of this essay appeared as the Foreword to The Ten Commandments of Capitalism: The Secret Recipe for Equitable Prosperity, published September 2020 by The Websters’ Press. Michael Strong, a radical social entrepreneur, is the lead co-author of Be The Solution: How Entrepreneurs and Conscious Capitalists Can Solve All the World’s Problems.