Can Capitalism Survive?
By Benjamin A. Rogge
One of the signs of advancing age in the American college professor is a tendency for him to write less and publish more. This seeming paradox is easily explained by the phenomenon of
Collected Works, that is, by what on television would be described as reruns. As in television, no great public outcry is needed to bring forth the reruns; a question from his wife, a polite suggestion from a colleague, and the cut-and-paste operation is under way.I have put together here what I believe to be the best of the rather meager output of my professional career up to this point. For reasons (mostly financial) that always seemed adequate at the moment, I have been more of a speechmaker than a writer. Thus, you will find that many of the pieces in this collection are but speeches put down on paper…. [From the Foreword]
First Pub. Date
Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, Inc. Liberty Fund, Inc.
The text of this edition is under copyright. Picture of Benjamin Rogge: file photo, courtesy of Liberty Fund, Inc.
- Part I, Introduction
- Part I, Chapter 1, Can Capitalism Survive
- Part II, Introduction
- Part II, Chapter 1, The Case for Economic Freedom
- Part II, Chapter 2, The Libertarian Philosophy
- Part II, Chapter 3, Who is to Blame
- Part II, Chapter 4, Paradise in Posey County
- Part III, Introduction
- Part III, Chapter 1, Adam Smith, 1776-1976
- Part III, Chapter 2, Christian Economics: Myth or Reality
- Part III, Chapter 3, College Economics: Is It Subversive of Capitalism
- Part IV, Introduction
- Part IV, Chapter 1, Profits
- Part IV, Chapter 2, The Businessman
- Part V, Introduction
- Part V, Chapter 1, The Labor Monopoly
- Part VI, Introduction
- Part VI, Chapter 1, The Long-Run Economic Outlook
- Part VI, Chapter 2, Alleged Causes of Inflation, Corporate Monopolies
- Part VII, Introduction
- Part VII, Chapter 1, The Problems of Cities
- Part VIII, Introduction
- Part VIII, Chapter 1, Financing Higher Education in the United States
- Part VIII, Chapter 2, The Promise of the College
- Part IX, Introduction
- Part IX, Chapter 1, The Businessman and the Defense of Capitalism
- Part IX, Chapter 2, Reflections on the Election of 1964
- Part IX, Chapter 3, The Foundation for Economic Education, Success or Failure
Part IX, Chapter 1
The Businessman and the Defense of Capitalism
The question before this house is not whether the survival of capitalism is in doubt (this is admitted). The question for us, as it was for Lenin at an earlier time, is, What to do? His concern was how best to hasten the collapse of capitalism; our concern is how to postpone or ward off that collapse.
symptom of our problem. Our problem is in the form of a set of ideas whose implementation calls for the use of force, and government is that agency of society given a monopoly of the right to use force. For so long as those ideas are dominant in society, Behemoth will continue to grow. Nor is it useful for those who hold and espouse those ideas publicly to regret the associated growth in government and all its instrumentalities. Thus Senator Edward Kennedy has said recently that “one of the greatest dangers of government is bureaucracy,” and Senator Gaylord Nelson has said, “The federal bureaucracy is just an impossible monstrosity.” All well and good, but that growth in bureaucracy which they so rightly lament is the necessary and inevitable outcome of the ideas that these two (and others) have so well and so convincingly espoused.
(1) There exist individuals and groups in society who know not only what is best for them but what is best for others as well.
(2) This wisdom, when combined with the coercive power of the state, can be used to produce “the good society.” An accurate verbalization of these ideas is to be found in the statement of Newton Minnow, who said as chairman of the agency controlling television in this country, “What is wrong with the television industry in this country is that it is giving the viewers what they (the viewers) want.”
Wealth of Nations:
What is the species of domestic industry which his capital can employ, and of which the produce is likely to be of the greatest value, every individual, it is evident, can, in his local situation, judge much better than any statesman or lawgiver can do for him. The statesman, who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals, would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it.
am prepared to argue in a more strenuous way is my conviction that our struggle is at the level of ideas and not that of men or institutions. In the words of the celebrated John Maynard Keynes,
The ideas of economists and political philosophers both
when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is generally understood. Indeed, the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.
as businessman even get involved in the struggle?
against the principles of capitalism. Is it a tariff against foreign steel producers? or an export subsidy that would increase the demand for the company’s products? or a government-enforced price or interest rate that adds to the profits of the company? How now the businessman? How can the president of the Mobil Oil Company be a convincing spokesman for free enterprise when his job seems to require that he oppose immediate decontrol of oil prices? How can the president of General Electric stand four-square for capitalism, yet support export subsidies for many of the products sold by his firm?
*98 Nor, as I have argued elsewhere, is it the administrator-businessman who has the most to lose from the passing of capitalism. Most of them will end up as administrators of socialist enterprises if and when full socialism arrives. It is the masses who have the most to lose—and who also have the least understanding of that fact.
are interested in doing something as business and professional people to counter the drift to collectivism, here is what I would suggest that might be both useful
and consistent with the profit-oriented role for which you draw your pay.
(1) Work with your own staff members and employees. A work force that has some understanding of the marketplace and of where its own goodies come from
may (and it is only a
may) be a less troublesome, more effective work force over time. Any number of such programs, of varying effectiveness, are now in operation and available for general use.
(2) Work with the appropriate audiences in the communities where you have operations. Here again, there may be some payoff in terms of a better political environment in which to function. Again, there are a number of such programs now in operation.
shouldn’t do rather than what he should do. Moreover, it requires that the individuals involved must have done their
very successful businessman) that automatically endows one with an understanding of or an attachment to the principles of freedom—a statement I could support with a hundred examples, if time permitted. In fact, some of the great fortunes of America have been made by those who have learned how to use government intervention to their own advantage.
(1) I am arguing that the first and indispensable step for any person who wishes to be a part of the effort to save capitalism is a determination of precisely what he believes and why. This will usually involve, not just putting down the already determined, but active study, reflection, and discussion. This is your intellectual and philosophical armor, and without it you are not only vulnerable but as likely to be a handicap as a help in the struggle.
(2) Try as best you can in this imperfect world to live by those principles.
(3) In using your professional role or your company in the struggle, do only those things that seem consistent with the long-run interests of those whose money you are using. Remember, not all stockholders will wish to have their money used in this or any other crusade.
(4) If you wish to play a personal role, apart from your company or professional connection, then you must dig deeper into what you believe and why; you must know even more fully the arguments and values of those with whom you disagree; you must continually seek to improve your skill in expressing your ideas and in demonstrating the errors in contrary positions. My guess is that only a few of you will carry through to this level of participation—but it is not a numbers game anyway; it is a game in which it is the quality of the few that finally counts.
not do but didn’t specify them. What are they?
(a) Don’t make a pest of yourself by trying to force your free-enterprise ideas down the throat of every passerby—whether in your home, your office, or at the cocktail party. In the words of Leonard Read, founder and president of the Foundation for Economic Education, who has taught me everything I know on this and many other questions, “Go only where called—but do your damnedest to get good enough to be called.”
(b) You may not be able to avoid involvement in departures from principle, but at least don’t lend your voice or your money to the support of those departures. You may have to pay into social security or submit to a system of wage-price controls but you don’t have to join committees or groups who support such programs.
It is not a man’s duty, as a matter of course, to devote himself to the eradication of any, even the most enormous wrong; he may still properly have other concerns to engage him; but it is his duty, at least, to wash his hands of it, and, if he gives it no longer thought, not to give it practically his support.
you believe to be best is well and ably represented in the ranks of the faculty.
The Wealth of Nations (New York: Modern Library, 1937), p. 423.
The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1936), p. 383.
Human Action (Chicago: Henry Regnery Co., 1963), p. 864.
Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, 3rd ed. (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), pp. 144, 137.
Walden and Other Writings (New York: Modern Library), p. 645.
National Review, August 11, 1964, pp. 683-86.
The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1936), p. 383.
The Road to Serfdom (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1944), particularly the chapter on “Why the Worst Rise to the Top.”
War and Peace, Inner Sanctum ed., p. 193.
The Public Interest, Fall 1970, p. 74.