Although it is an oversimplification, the free-market capitalist argument against all kinds of collective or government action and programs can be summarized as follows: because communism was based on rigid central control of both the economy and society, it follows from the universally valid rules of human logic that the opposite of communism, which is free-market capitalism, will ensure the greatest amount of freedom and material prosperity for everyone. Since freedom is good, it follows that the more freedom there is, the better things will be for everyone, and hence, the best society is one where the people are most free to do as they please.
The fact that this belief is wrong, as has amply been shown in real life in the United States and in other places where the tenets of free-market capitalism – privatization, trade liberalization, globalization, deregulation, specialization, unbridled competition, and reduced government interference in the free market and in people’s lives – have been imposed on the inhabitants, is simply another example of the improper application of our rigid human logical categories to the problems of the real world, especially in the domain of human problems, which are inevitably more complex than our overly simple, human conceptions of these problems, and of reality in general.
One of the basic tenets of free-market or laissez-faire capitalism is that government is a form of oppressive coercion, and therefore the less government there is, the better, because this will make people more free. Furthermore, they will be better off, both socially and materially, since they will have the freedom to do what they want in life, without government interference. This is an example of a widely-held naive belief about human affairs that, although it seems plausible enough, is only partly true, for it has numerous exceptions to it. Half or partial truths can cause a great deal of harm when those who believe in them do not understand the false side or the limitations of their belief, and thus fail to understand the limited range of its applicability. Instead, like the blundering, arrogant fools that they are, they proceed to apply this half-truth to all domains, all peoples, all societies, and all situations, without any regard for people’s welfare or the many harmful effects which result from their mistaken beliefs.
This naive belief, on which an entire system of economic and social organization has been founded, is based on two other beliefs, namely, that we are all individuals who are separate from everyone else and from society, except when we choose to make voluntary and non-coercive interactions, exchanges, and associations with others; and that competition is always good and therefore it ought to be promoted, encouraged, and made an inviolable principle, even if it has harmful effects on some people, such as those who are not able to compete very well in the free-market contest of economic and financial success.
It is a very common mistake for human beings to regard traditions or models of behaviour that are acquired for tendencies that are innate in human nature. Both individualism and competition belong in this category. So widespread have these two practices become that many people mistake them for innate human tendencies, when in reality they are nothing more than particular models of behaviour that have become dominant in some societies. In other words, like the English language, which is becoming increasingly dominant around the world, these are all acquired models of behaviour.
To those who believe that all people have the same opportunities in life, and if some people are able to do better than others, whether financially, professionally, or entrepreneurially, then they deserve everything they are able to gain by their hard work, ingenuity, effort, and risk-taking, and too bad for the less fortunate, less bright, less industrious, and less motivated, I declare that this is the kind of nonsense based on a limited understanding of human behaviour that those who defend the free-market capitalist organization of society are fond of presenting to justify their selfish indifference to the plight of others, especially the poor and less fortunate. For the truth is that the ability to make money is no different from the ability to speak a language or perform any other skill: although all people can learn a certain language, the longer one lives without hearing it spoken, the more difficult it will be for one to learn it, and the less proficient will be one’s knowledge of and ability to speak, read, understand, and write it. Those who first encounter a language at a late age, such as foreigners and immigrants, obviously need help to improve their linguistic abilities, for they do not acquire it naturally and automatically in the way a young child does.
To continue this analogy, the poor occupy the same position in relation to the rich as immigrants and foreigners do to native speakers of a language. In both cases, there is hesitancy and uncertainty, a proneness to making mistakes, a lack of motivation and confidence, a tendency to be easily discouraged, and a limited potential for growth and development. Moreover, the poor person or foreign speaker does not exhibit the same fluency, ease, and confidence that the rich person or native speaker does, whether in making money or in speaking the language.
In the case of learning a language, most people understand the great importance of helping immigrants to one’s country learn the dominant language, as a necessary first step towards integrating them into their new society. Otherwise, they will remain distinct, speak only or primarily their native language, and associate mainly or exclusively with people from their home country. In other words, they will live, whether by choice or by exclusion, in an immigrant enclave or ghetto, which in turn will breed mistrust, suspicion, fear, or hatred of them among the dominant native population.
Contempt arises for those persons who are different from oneself, whether in their appearance, skin colour, the language they speak, the religion they practice, the foods they eat, the clothes they wear, or the way they behave. One of the many effects of contempt is exclusion and avoidance: one does not associate with, nor does one allow to enter into one’s group, whether this group is professional or social, those persons whom one scorns. The result of this exclusion is that the excluded persons remain different from oneself or from the dominant social group in the society in which one lives, so that they will continue to be regarded with contempt and suspicion by the majority of people. This is how classes and social divisions arise and are preserved.
Since contempt is an innate human phenomenon, this is where government intervention, such as in the form of language-education and employment-training programs, whose aim is to break the isolating and other harmful effects of contempt, is very important. For if highly populous, heterogeneous societies and their members are left free to do as they choose or feel like doing, as the libertarians and free-market capitalists urge us to do, then these kinds of distinct social groups and divisions will inevitably develop, and society will become increasingly divided, segmented, and polarized. Clearly this is not at all a desirable or beneficial outcome, for such polarization increases the likelihood of misunderstandings, miscommunication, inequality, alienation, frustration, marginalization, mistrust, fear, anger, hatred, and violence.
Here we can see one of the basic mistakes made by libertarians and free-market capitalists: by mistakenly assuming that human beings are rational, reasonable, fair, and unprejudiced individuals who all have the same opportunities in life, they have overlooked, and thus have failed to take into consideration, the existence of contempt, as well as the many harmful effects which it can produce. The free-market libertarian belief that people’s achievements depend only on their efforts, intelligence, motivation, and talents, and therefore individuals should be allowed to do as they choose with as little government interference in their lives, is about as true as the belief that a person living in Mongolia, who has never heard a single word of Swahili, which is a language that is spoken in some parts of Africa, and knows no one who speaks it, will be able to learn to speak Swahili fluently merely through one’s determined efforts. Like many others, free-market capitalists have misunderstood the origin of people’s abilities, as well as the motivation to do certain things, neither of which important determinants of success is innate or depends merely on one’s own efforts and choices.
Another common effect of contempt is to make people want to deny those whom they scorn the benefits and opportunities which they and the members of their group have and enjoy. This innate human tendency also helps to preserve class, group, or social differences. Moreover, it clearly disproves the widespread free-market capitalist assumption that all people have the same opportunities in life, and hence, those who fail have no one to blame but themselves, whether for their laziness, stupidity, incompetence, or inability to succeed. For the truth is that, in all societies, the members of a group of people who are generally scorned by the majority will be systematically denied the opportunities and benefits that are enjoyed by the majority, whether these are educational or employment opportunities, financial aid such as bank loans, obtaining government or other kinds of assistance, and so forth. Even if no government law or policy, such as apartheid in South Africa, exists to enforce this common sort of prejudice, such is the inevitable denying, denigrating, and excluding effect of contempt.
To return to the consideration of poverty, in order to help the poor, it is simply a matter of allowing these less fortunate people to associate with oneself, providing them will job training and other kinds of useful training, and patiently waiting for the desired changes to take place. For just as language proficiency cannot be acquired in a day, month, or even a year, the ability to work hard, succeed, start a new business, and so forth, are not traits that can be acquired in a short period of time by someone who has never had the opportunity to observe these and other useful models of behaviour. Clearly, in providing these kinds of programs, governments can play a vital role in reducing poverty and increasing equality of opportunity for all the members of society.
It is important to understand that the proposals I am making about including those who are poor or less fortunate cannot simply be legislated into existence, for even if governments were to legislate the inclusion of less fortunate individuals in certain places, such as workplaces, the other people could simply ignore or ostracize them, thus negating the desired effect, while it would create a disruptive and irritating presence in the workplace. The aim is to help people become productive members of society by aiding and supporting them, including financially when necessary, until they find a profession which they like and are able to perform competently. In accomplishing this goal, there will be numerous opportunities for individuals and private companies that are willing to help those who are less fortunate and disadvantaged. The aim is not to supplant the government and make it extraneous but rather to supplement government services and possibly provide them better, for it is important to realize that government will not be able to accomplish this important goal on its own.
The many free-market fanatics like Milton Friedman, Ayn Rand, and Friedrich Hayek, along with their numerous admirers, fail to realize that, when they lay down a supposedly inviolable principle such as “Government must never interfere in the operations of the free market or in the affairs of privately-owned companies,” or “We must all compete with each other as individuals rather than cooperate with each other,” which principle they then impose on others, they are in fact guilty of interfering in society’s natural evolution and development, just as they accuse governments of doing. For clearly this evolution also includes the possibility of cooperating and coordinating the actions of the society’s members for the common good. To deny this possibility, as the free-market fanatics continually do, is to close off a vast realm of potentially useful human actions and models of behaviour, which is just as limiting and coercive as anything that was commanded, ordained, and imposed by the communists.
Nowhere is this libertarian free-market tyranny more visible at the present time than in the United States, where a veritable Cult of Individual Liberty and the Free Market has swept over the country, so that any form of government or collective action is regarded with suspicion, knee-jerk opposition, and even fanatical hatred and denunciation. The poor, deluded Americans have made an Idol of Individual Freedom and Action, while prostrating themselves, and forcing everyone else to prostrate themselves, before this false idol, because they believe that rigidly adhering to these mistaken principles will lead to the creation of the best possible society. The clear and mounting evidence that they are wrong is evident to anyone who is not blinded to the truth by one’s ideological beliefs, as is unfortunately the case with a great many wealthy and fortunate Americans at the present time, who are blinded by their selfishness and ideological delusions to the growing misery, suffering, inequality, and discontent all around them in their supposedly best of all possible capitalist worlds.