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Capitalism called ‘most just, fair system,’ but religionists push back
Monday, 16 July 2012 17:27

From Staff Reports

SKYLAND — Brian Balfour’s presentation of the Civitas Free Market Academy workshop on “The Morality of Capitalism” triggered a concerted pushback from several attendees with strong religious convictions on June 28 at the Skyland Fire Department.

After Balfour outlined a mainly secular development and foundation for capitalism, a man attending the program said he had “trouble with his derivation of capitalism from primitives societies ... Most are not classless.” He contended that Christianity made a major impact on morality and the development of capitalism.

In response, Balfour said, “What I was trying to explain was that what developed as moral behavior contributed to the survival of the tribes.”

The man persisted, “But that’s not right. There was slavery ... And it doesn’t change much through medieval times, when the king takes over with his ‘Might makes right,’ which is a typical tribal concept. That’s not what capitalism is about,” with its “idea of individual rights ....

“I think you’ve chosen to ignore a very important concept — and that is the 10 Commandments — what is right and wrong.”

Another man told Balfour, “You’re avoiding the existence of religious morality” and instead “putting it on a secular explanation.”

In response, Balfour said bringing religious explanations into such a discussion tends to be divisive and counterproductive because people tend to respond emotionally, making it hard to have a rational discussion. 

He also said that the development of morality and free enterprise “happened over long stretches of time, certainly in fits and starts.”

Afterward, Balfour told the Daily Planet in a brief interview that, “As I tried to lay out, there were certain moral codes that emerged before organized religion.”

About 35 people attended the nearly two-hour free program sponsored by the Civitas Institute and hosted by Buncombe Forward, a Buncombe County conservative activist group.

The Civitas Institute, based in Raleigh, is a conservative policy think-tank. 

In his presentation, Balfour addressed issues, such as “Is capitalism evil?” “The importance of making the moral case for capitalism,” “Understanding morality,” “Applying morals to economic systems,” “Free enterprise is the only moral system,” “Why the moral foundations of free enterprise work” and “Addressing specific arguments of anti-capitalists.”

He noted that the so-called “99-percent” of the Occupy movement charge that capitalism is immoral and evil. Later, Balfour said, “In a free enterprise system, it’s the 99 percent who determine who the 1 percent are.”

The workshop is designed to equip attendees with a better understanding of why the most compelling case for free enterprise is not merely economic efficiency, but rather its consistency with moral principles, he said.

In opening remarks, Balfour said of capitalism, “It is the most just, fair system for organizing our economic activities.”

He said the term “capitalism” derived from the 12th and 13th centuries, when the term “capital” started becoming popular. “Then, in the 19th century, the term ‘capitalism’ originated as a derogatory” reference to the free market system by Karl Marx in his work, “Das Kapital.”

However, Balfour stressed that, “what we’ve had in recent years — and today — is crony capitalism.”

He added that he prefers to use the term “free enterprise,” as do many others, because of a widespread feeling that the word “capitalism” has so many negative connotations unfairly attached to it.

He then turned to “understanding morality,” which he said “What is moral is defined as what is good and what is bad behavior.”

Balfour said experts believe emotions are the coordinated response to stimuli. “Hard-wiring of our emotions were built around our surroundings ....

“Through much of man’s history, the goal was to survive from day to day,” he noted. “Throughout a large share of human history, mankind was comprised of small bands of hunters-gatherers ... A moral code began to evolve around the little tribes .. Those groups who adopted certain customs enhanced their ability to survive over time.”

Balfour said those “certain customs” included self-sacrifice, intentionaly helping others and providing help to identifiable beneficiaries with shared goals -— specifically putting the survival of the group over that of the individual.

As for “magnaminous morality,” he said, “it’s very easy to praise this type of moral behavior and it is easy to observe ... for the good of the survival of the group, it’s important to share with the rest of the group.”

Balfour reiterated that “those tribes that were more likely to follow these moral codes were more likely to survive.”

As societies grew larger, Balfour said the tribal instict moral code “was not conducive in their new locale,” and its was dropped.

Under the “extended order,” the new moral code include respect for individual rights (self-ownership), refraining from harming others, free voluntary exchange and property rights — “no one has an entitlement to the property or effort of another.”

Balfour said, “Over time, these moral guides helped to codify the idea of ‘rights.’”

He then discussed applying morals to an economic system. “When you want to evaluate an economic system, you want to see how it affects people in their relationships with one another.”

The ethic of capitalism included respect for individual rights, property rights and equality before the law.

“Capitalism was the first system to embrace a moral code,” Balfour said. “Most nations were based on altruistic code of sacrificing native people for common goals.”

Up until that time, people gained weath by seizing political power, but “capitalism distinguished itself by enabling people to earn wealth” by engaging in free enterprise.

Magnaminous morality breaks down under a larger social order. Further, Balfour said, “Success in capitalism means serving others ... In capitalism, to receive you must first give.”

He showed a film clip showing the late economist Milton Friedman leaving TV talk-show host Phil Donahue speechless when he asks him, “Tell me, have you seen a society that hasn’t run on greed? The world runs on people pursuing their self-interests.”

Balfour concluded by saying, “Free enterprise promotes happiness,”  favoring earned success over learned helplessness of those opposed to capitalism.

Under “learned helpflessness,” Balfour said there is “a disconnect between your efforts and your rewards. When you get to that point, you blame others.”



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