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The Moral Foundations of Capitalism

God Bless America

Source: Wikipedia

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Lady Margaret Thatcher, former British Prime Minister

Lady Margaret Thatcher, former British Prime Minister

In November 1994, Lady Margaret Thatcher delivered the concluding lecture in Hillsdale College’s Center for Constructive Alternatives seminar, “God and Man: Perspectives on Christianity in the 20th Century” before an audience of 2,500 students, faculty, and guests. In an edited version, she examines how the Judeo-Christian tradition has provided the moral foundations of America and other nations in the West and contrasts their experience with that of the former Soviet Union. Imprimis, the journal of Hillsdale College reprinted part of that lecture in its 3/1995 edition titling it “The Moral Foundations of Society”.  I have included an excerpt from that reprinting where Thatcher specifically identifies the Moral Foundations of Capitalism. 


…”It is important to understand that the moral foundations of a society do not extend only to its political system; they must extend to its economic system as well. America’s commitment to capitalism is unquestionably the best example of this principle. Capitalism is not, contrary to what those on the Left have tried to argue, an amoral system based on selfishness, greed, and exploitation. It is a moral system based on a Biblical ethic. There is no other comparable system that has raised the standard of living of millions of people, created vast new wealth and resources, or inspired so many beneficial innovations and technologies. The wonderful thing about capitalism is that it does not discriminate against the poor, as has been so often charged; indeed, it is the only economic system that raises the poor out of poverty. Capitalism also allows nations that are not rich in natural resources to prosper. If resources were the key to wealth, the richest country in the world would be Russia, because it has abundant supplies of everything from oil, gas, platinum, gold, silver, aluminum, and copper to timber, water, wildlife, and fertile soil. Why isn’t Russia the wealthiest country in the world? Why aren’t other resource-rich countries in the Third World at the top of the list? It is because their governments deny citizens the liberty to use their God-given talents. Man’s greatest resource is himself, but he must be free to use that resource. In his recent encyclical, Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul II addressed this issue. He wrote that the collapse of communism is not merely to be considered as a “technical problem.” It is a consequence of the violation of human rights. He specifically referred to such human rights as the right to private initiative; to own property, and to act in the marketplace. Remember the “Parable of the Talents” in the New Testament? Christ exhorts us to be the best we can be by developing our skills and abilities, by succeeding in all our tasks and endeavors. What better description can there be of capitalism? In creating new products, new services, and new jobs, we create a vibrant community of work. And that community of work serves as the basis of peace and good will among all men. The Pope also acknowledged that capitalism encourages important virtues, like diligence, industriousness, prudence, reliability, fidelity, conscientiousness, and a tendency to save in order to invest in the future. It is not material goods but all of these great virtues, exhibited by individuals working together, that constitute what we call the “marketplace….”   “Reprinted by permission from IMPRIMIS, the monthly journal of Hillsdale College.”

As we can see today nothing really has changed in the twenty plus years since Lady Thatcher described the Moral Foundations of Capitalism. We can still hear and read the Left’s assertions that Capitalism is evil and greedy, etc. etc.. and yet we can still see people rising up from poverty and terrible circumstances to overcome and succeed thanks in no large part to a system of government that has changed the face of the planet for the better. The rise of fall of civilizations has provided clear examples of what types of government work and what types do not. History is the best teacher however it is still the most expensive. We must learn from the past and recognize, and challenge, the Left’s assertions that Socialism or Communism is the answer. This must be done every single day, everywhere in America or we risk losing the freedom fought for so gallantly by the youth of today and past generations.

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