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The Moral Foundations of Capitalism

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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Americans have flirted with the ideas of socialism for so long and the impact of big government in Americans lives has become so pervasive that millions of young Americans now cannot envision any time in living memory where government bureaucracy wasn’t needed nor wanted. Most Americans cannot recall a time when Social Security did not exist or where people who did not have jobs and work, did not eat. They cannot recall a time when the IRS did not get to take large portions of their earnings Freedom does not mean the same thing to today’s generation of Americans as it once did to the founding fathers.

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The modern democrat party, for the most part, has completely rejected the Founding Fathers belief in small government and respect for individual rights and property. They attack Tea Party members who hold the founding fathers in high regard and believe in the ideals of American independence. They also now use the power of the Federal Government to actually punish their political opponents.  

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They openly discredit free market capitalism holding examples of criminal abuse from the likes of Bernie Madoff for example as proof that Capitalism does not work. Democrats demand more oversight and more government regulation every day, in short more power be handed over to them. The ignorant say yes, amen. Let’s reign in those evil capitalists and all capitalism does is breed greed. We need government to protect us and take care of us. But they fail to understand that government is just as greedy and selfish if not more so. Plus, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and business people don’t threaten people with guns, garnish their wages or  force people to pay them and do what they want like government can.

The proof that socialism is starting to take hold in this country is in the last two Presidential election cycles where Americans by the millions flocked to the polls and elected a President who is arguably the most openly hostile President ever, towards free enterprise, and individual self-determination. He shows his utter contempt for the US Constitution almost daily like threatening to go around the Congress to make law by executive fiat and bypass the will of the people.

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Faith in God, country and family has been the bedrock foundation of American society. To the modern democrat however God either does not exist or if he does he’s never spoken of in public and should not play any role whatsoever in public policy. As a side note,  did you happen to see Hollywood’s Oscars show on television? Do you recall when Matthew McConaughey openly thanks God in his acceptance speech? You could have heard a pin drop in the audience.   I think that demonstrated that either the audience was abundantly atheistic or so politically correct and embarrassed, they could not openly show support. It was painful to watch.

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To the modern democrat America is not exceptional at all, and in those areas that it is unquestionable that America is exceptional, like our military power and economic power, (albeit a lot less powerful lately) they profusely apologize for that fact and claim that others were exploited along the way to get that power.

Similarly the traditional view of family once defined as one man and one woman married has come to mean anything now.  I would not be surprised that American society starts accepting marriages between humans and their pets like they do in Europe. I guess some of us Americans are  just old fashioned that way.

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Change is inevitable. However, some things should not change, or else risk the entire edifice collapsing in a heap. Perhaps that’s their real mission. The US Constitution was greatly influenced by the philosophy of Englishmen like John Locke who had believed that God provided men with rights that are immutable and natural. These natural rights cannot be granted or taken away by government and indeed government exists to protect these rights. This is an underlying philosophy of the founders and is not better demonstrated that what is written in the Declaration of Independence.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness”…

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To say God has no place in American society or should have no influence in American policy is to ignore the very premise set forth by the Founders however inconvenient to non-believers that might be. The founders believed people have natural rights given to the them by God and that government was formed to protect those rights. Note the Declaration does not say men are endowed by their government or King with unalienable rights. They state their creator endowed them. That sounds a lot like recognition of God or a superintending power over the affairs of men.

One does not have to be particularly religious to understand that this is what the founders were basing their ideas of self-determination and rights when they wrote the Constitution. If you reject God then it follows you reject the premise that men were given unalienable rights from their creator since men were not created. But where do those natural rights come from if not then from God?  To the Democrat there cannot be natural rights. The whole premise of the Founding Father’s argument does not reconcile with their agenda.  Their rejection of this foundation opens up the door to the ancient idea that only strong willed leaders, kings or despots determine what rights men should have and not have based upon nothing more than their supposed “enlightened” opinions and altruistic nature. And to show just how strong their case is,  they will promise to threaten you with force and annihilation if you don’t believe them or agree with them. Freedom then is dangerous and should be controlled in their mind.

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It is perhaps American society’s rejection of God, country, and family that we now struggle. We the People have forgotten who we and where we come from and look to a future promised by bureaucrats whose new foundation of hope and change is built on sand.

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