Capitalism, while always the answer to problems of plenty in the long run, can be scary in the short run because of economic cycles ("Why Capitalism Has an Image Problem," Review, July 28). In the current cycle many people are plainly afraid that the twin philosophy of democratic capitalism has ceased to ensure them of the "'earned success'" so championed by author Charles Murray as the fruits of their labor and political decisions.
People are open to restricting the freedom of economic activity, and with it individual freedom, when they are desperate. Thus in earlier times a political mandate allowed one President Roosevelt to assault the power of monopoly behavior and another to assault the financial and securities establishments. In that same atmosphere of fright we got labor regulation that restricted freedom to operate a business and social legislation, since expanded, that promised a cushion when capitalism failed to yield the promised harvest.
Just how desperate citizens are, and what model of capitalism they would embrace, should be well argued in the presidential campaign. Judging by the petty distractions from both the Obama and Romney camps, however, we seem likely to be deprived of that debate.
Mr. Murray's analysis falls down completely when one realizes that capitalism and its CEOs do nothing to distribute wealth for the common good. It's always profits before people.
Mr. Murray's most egregious error: failing to note the crucial role that kindergarten-to-college education has played in severely damaging any appreciation for the free market. Are teachers giving as much time to John Locke, Adam Smith, Alexis de Tocqueville, James Madison, Eric Hoffer, Dambisa Moyo or James Shikwati as they are to Rousseau, Marx, Lenin, Mao, Marcuse, Rawls and Michael Moore?
Unless a new generation of students is exposed to both sides of this enormously pivotal debate, there will be little to be self-righteous about other than government planning and one's place at the public trough.
Coeur d'Alene, Idaho
Of what country is Mr. Murray speaking when he notes the wondrous virtue and moral obligation of past capitalists? Was he referring to the robber barons of the late 1800s that led to the Sherman Antitrust Act? Or perhaps the exploitative labor practices that prompted labor unions? Or maybe the inhumane and unsafe working conditions that gave rise to OSHA? Or maybe he meant the polluting, environment-wrecking, unsafe products that prompted the creation of the EPA, FDA and other agencies.
Downers Grove, Ill.
Mr. Murray's argument that "it should be possible to revive a national consensus affirming that capitalism embraces the best and most essential things about American life" seems more religious than economic, and woefully out of date.
Capitalism has always been transnational, and the globalization of the past 25 years has shifted manufacturing from the industrialized "North" of the U.S., Europe and Japan to the low-wage countries of the global "South." Our government, under either political party, hasn't stood in the way or attempted to overregulate this process. It has actively aided and abetted it, whether by trade agreements, tax policies or generous subsidization.
Most of this has been at the expense of blue-collar workers. Increasingly, it will be at the expense of white-collar workers and the professionals of the upper-middle class. When both groups reach a consensus that the system is no longer serving their interests, it will be time for the American Spring our country so richly deserves.
Iowa City, Iowa
Most productive Americans are unwilling or unable to defend their moral right to their own life, the right to act in their own honest self-interest and to keep what they have honestly earned. No wonder so many Americans think capitalists are guilty of some vague moral breach.
As a result, politicians, educators, editors, clergy and other opinion leaders are free to persuade or dupe American voters to regulate and loot their fellow citizens by impugning their morality and demanding that their lives be mortgaged to others. Their victims and defenders rarely call into question the morality of using brute force to take what is not theirs to take.
Aliso Viejo, Calif.
When we "outsource" the ethical instruction of our children to our schools or, worse yet, the street; when we tacitly approve deviousness in the pursuit of gain; and when we smirk at those who cleverly skirt the intent of the law while adhering to its letter, is the ire of the rank and file over the sequelae unexpected?
George J. Geis