Friday, August 06, 2010

Only Caring about Money.

In late spring my parents returned from Central America and told me that one decision they had come to both in the few months they were there, and in the longer time they were in South America, was that they were now both opposed to capitalism.

Naturally, I took this as a challenge!

When pushed further, they explained that what they were opposed to was "caring only about money." The trouble is that opposing people "only caring about money" is neither necessary nor sufficient to be a good reason to oppose capitalism.

First off, nobody, except coin collectors maybe, "only cares about money." If the opposite were the case, then nobody would buy anything, because nobody would want to get rid of the money they had obtained. People don't only care about money; they try to get money in order to get the things they [i]do[/i] care about. If all people cared about was money, then trade would cease, capitalism would collapse!

So the notion the under capitalism people "only care about money" obviously needs to be cleared up. Beyond this, is it only under capitalism that people "only care about money"? The more "capitalist" a country becomes, does it become less and less the case that people care about other things than money, or that the more and more capitalist a country, the more and more greedy people become? That doesn't seem true. I doubt we could say that the teacher in Cuba who quits his job to become a taxi driver for tourists because it pays more is not "caring about money" in a similar sense to most people in more economically free countries like the US or Britain. This guy seems to care about getting money to me!

So, since people care about getting money in economies that have less free markets, plainly opposing people caring about getting money is not sufficient to oppose having free markets. However, as I have already said, people don't "just care about money" - they care about getting money so that they can buy, shortly, or sometime in the future, the things that they do care about. Or so that the can buy what they need to support them getting what they care about. The majority of people working for money in Great Britain right now do so to deliver their families a livelihood that is amongst the highest in the world. They sell labour services, or work as part of a company that itself sells goods that people like and value enough to spend money on, so that other people they love and care about can live well. Not just live, but live well. Of course, this doesn't just occur under capitalism - the teacher that quits and becomes a taxi driver in Cuba probably does so because he can better support his family that way, too. But this sheds further light on the nonsense that people "only care about money."

The odd thing about this "only care about money" criticism, though, is that it condems capitalism, not because of [i]what[/i] people do, but because of [i]why[/i] they do it. Despite being hampered by one of the strictest regulatory regimens in the world, the US pharmaceutical industry still makes a large portion of the world's medicines. The objection is not that they do this, but that they do so for the wrong reason. They should do so because they want to give people medicines, I suppose, not because those that want the medicines will give the pharmaceutical companies, and those that work in them, money for doing so.

But this just means that people should have one fewer reasons for doing things. Why is that a good thing?

In light of the fact that "doing things for money" is not something restricted to capitalism, I am reminded of this film, with Milton Friedman interviewed by Phil Donahue:

However, these two films, acting a part of Ayn Rand's [i]Atlas Shrugged[/i] are interesting, too.


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