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11. Capitalism: progress without sacrifice


The magnificent progress achieved by capitalism in a brief span of time—the spectacular improvement in the conditions of man’s existence on earth—is a matter of historical record. It is not to be hidden, evaded, or explained away by all the propaganda of capitalism’s enemies. But what needs special emphasis is the fact that this progress was achieved by non-sacrificial means.

Progress cannot be achieved by forced privations, by squeezing a so-called “social surplus” out of starving victims. Progress can come only out of individual surplus, that is, from the work, the energy, the creative over-abundance of those men whose ability produces more than their personal consumption requires, those who are intellectually and financially able to seek the new, to improve on the known, to move forward. In a capitalist society, where such men are free to function and to take their own risks, progress is not a matter of sacrificing to some distant future, it is part of the living present, it is the normal and natural, it is achieved as and while men live—and enjoy—their lives.

Now consider the alternative—the tribal society, where all men throw their efforts, values, ambitions, and goals into a tribal pool or common pot, then wait hungrily at its rim, while the leader of a clique of cooks stirs it with a bayonet in one hand and a blank check on all their lives in the other. The most consistent example of such a system is the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Half a century ago, the Soviet rulers commanded their subjects to be patient, bear privations, and make sacrifices for the sake of “industrializing” the country, promising that this was only temporary, that industrialization would bring them abundance, and Soviet progress would surpass the capitalistic West.

Today, Soviet Russia is still unable to feed her people—while the rulers scramble to copy, borrow, or steal the technological achievements of the West. Industrialization is not a static goal; it is a dynamic process with a rapid rate of obsolescence. So the wretched serfs of a planned tribal economy, who starved while waiting for electric generators and tractors, are now starving while waiting for atomic power and interplanetary travel. Thus, in a “people’s state,” the progress of science is a threat to the people, and every advance is taken out of the people’s shrinking hides.

This was not the history of capitalism.

America’s abundance was not created by public sacrifices to “the common good,” but by the productive genius of free men who pursued their own personal interests and the making of their own private fortunes. They did not starve the people to pay for America’s industrialization. They gave the people better jobs, higher wages, and cheaper goods with every new machine they invented, with every scientific discovery or technological advance—and thus the whole country was moving forward and profiting, not suffering, every step of the way.

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