By Jason Brennan
Most economists believe capitalism is a compromise with selfish human nature. As Adam Smith put it, "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest." Capitalism works better than socialism, according to this thinking, only because we are not kind and generous enough to make socialism work. If we were saints, we would be socialists.
In Why Not Capitalism? Jason Brennan attacks this widely held belief, arguing that capitalism would remain the best system even if we were morally perfect. Even in an ideal world, private property and free markets would be the best way to promote mutual cooperation, social justice, harmony, and prosperity. Socialists seek to capture the moral high ground by showing that ideal socialism is morally superior to realistic capitalism. But, Brennan responds, ideal capitalism is superior to ideal socialism, and so capitalism beats socialism at every level.
Clearly, engagingly, and at times provocatively written, Why Not Capitalism? will cause 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.
The book is a response to G.A. Cohen's 2009 book Why Not Socialism?
Grant Babcock on libertarianism.org wrote:
"Brennan’s book has many of the same virtues as Cohen’s. He writes engagingly and clearly; the book will be accessible to students and non-specialists. Given their length and style, the two books would make excellent companion pieces for a course in political philosophy or ethics or even economics. One need not have previously read Why Not Socialism? to understand and appreciate Why Not Capitalism?, although anyone interested in determining which author makes the better argument will certainly want to read both."
Alex Sager on Marx & Philosophy Review of Books wrote:
"In his reply to Cohen, a new book called Why Not Capitalism?, philosopher Jason Brennan [...] asks the same two questions about capitalism that Cohen asked about socialism. Is capitalism desirable? Is it feasible? The centerpiece of Cohen’s argument is a fictional camping trip where people behave in ways Cohen characterizes as both socialist and obviously morally appealing. Instead of a camping trip, Brennan uses a community of Disney characters living together on the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse animated television show in a way he characterizes as both capitalist and obviously morally appealing. [...] Where Brennan’s argument in Why Not Capitalism? breaks down, it fails in interesting ways—and I don’t mean that to sound like damning with faint praise. [...] Why Not Capitalism? stands out for its inventiveness and ambition and demonstrates that developing the moral defense of markets is a worthwhile endeavor."
"Brennan acknowledges that many non-socialist readers are nonetheless attracted to the moral vision of Cohen’s camping trip. They reject socialism, as Cohen characterizes it, because they believe it is unfeasible. Instead, Brennan thinks Cohen’s moral vision derives its plausibility from two fallacies. [...] To demonstrate these alleged fallacies, Brennan constructs what he considers a parallel example, the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Village. [...] Brennan’s parody of Cohen is not analogous. [...] Cohen’s Why Not Socialism? has the virtues that it provides a sharply argued case for radical egalitarianism and community as a moral ideal and makes the case that a socialist economy, at least on a small scale, is necessary to realize this ideal. Why Not Capitalism? does not successfully rebut Cohen. Moreover, by stipulating a libertarian moral ideal loosely attached to an ideal form of capitalism, it does little to advance the debate."
Interview about the Book
Or listen to this longer podcast interview (46 minutes) with the author by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.
Table of Contents
- Deep Down, Everyone’s a Socialist . . . and Wrong
- The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Argument for Capitalism: A Parody
- Human Nature and Justice
- Why Utopia Is Capitalist
About Jason Brennan
Jason Brennan (Ph.D., 2007) is Robert J. and Elizabeth Flanagan Family Professor of Strategy, Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy at the McDonough School of Business, and by courtesy, Professor of Philosophy, at Georgetown University. He specializes in issues at the intersection of politics, philosophy, and economics. He is the author of ten books, including Cracks in the Ivory Tower: The Bad Business of Higher Ed (Oxford 2019), with Phil Magness; When All Else Fails: The Ethics of Resistance to State Injustice (Princeton 2018); In Defense of Openness: Why Global Freedom is the Humane Solution to Global Poverty (Oxford 2018), with Bas van der Vossen; Against Democracy (Princeton 2016); and Markets without Limits; Moral Virtues and Commercial Interests (Routledge 2016), with Peter Jaworski.