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The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality Is Due to Dishonest, Irrational Ignorance

Intellectuals and the Marketplace discusses the important problem of the hostility to capitalism by the “intellectuals”. Interestingly, the article itself is written in an intellectual style and ignores Ayn Rand (a major contributor on this topic) in favor of quoting people with more "intellectual" styles or reputations. The article covers only a limited range of theories about what the problem is, and doesn’t offer solutions. But I still think it has value because it’s such an important problem with so little work being done to address it.

I think the key fact is that understanding and valuing capitalism, freedom and other parts of liberal civilization is the rare exception in the world. Only a few societies have ever done that, and only in a partial, incomplete way. There has never been much of a pro-capitalist society. Things didn’t get worse. We didn’t forget what we knew. By and large, people just never knew it in the first place. Almost no one has ever understood capitalism very well or been competent to defend it intellectually. Historic periods of greater economic flourishing were largely unplanned and were never on an adequate intellectual footing to withstand sustained criticism over time.

Why haven’t the few people who understood capitalism well been able to widely share that knowledge? Because of generic resistance to learning and new ideas. It’s not about capitalism specifically, the same thing happens with most innovative ideas in most fields. People are bad at changing their minds, feel attacked by criticism, don’t study/learn/think much, avoid effort, and focus on things like social status rather than truth. That is really ingrained in people, so it’s hard to spread important new ideas, like about how and why capitalism works or anything else. A few independent thinkers learning economics doesn't address the problem of widespread irrationality.

Almost all people, whether “intellectuals” or not, are puppets of static memes. The most notable thing about the anti-capitalist intellectuals is they are totally ignorant of how and why capitalism works – e.g. they are clueless about logical consequences of price controls or tariffs, and they often fall for variations on the broken window fallacy (so do lay people). The “intellectuals” are not people who learned about an intellectual field like economics, they are the people who learned how to achieve the label “intellectual” as a social status. People actually interested in ideas are very rare.

Real intellectuals, people who energetically seek the truth, are rare and have always been rare because static memes cause people, especially parents, to crush the rationality of children – mostly before age 7. The big picture solution is rational parenting, which can only be done effectively by the few outliers who are fairly rational and honest themselves, and who are capable of learning a lot of cutting edge philosophy and who want to do that. (The solution to bad ideas is not a retreat from ideas, but a better approach to ideas which is better at finding and correcting mistakes.)


Elliot Temple on January 14, 2019

Comments (2)

We don't have, nor have had, a truly Capitalist society (in the Ayn Rand sense) anywhere on earth. What is collectively termed as Capitalism is generally a variation of socialism or pseudo laissez-faire Capitalism, State Capiralism (lots of government intervention in all walks of life and the economy combined with limited private ownership by individuals) etc. I therefore share a scepticism of intellectuals criticism when the failure of Capitalism is thrown about; criticism of current 'Capitalism' models in use doesn't mean that true Capitalism wouldn't work.


Gary at 3:32 PM on January 18, 2019 | #11635 | reply | quote

from "Intellectuals and the Marketplace"

> No one surpassed Mises in the importance he attached to the power of ideas.24 Thus, it was crucial to his social philosophy and historical interpretations to determine the basis of “the anti-capitalistic mentality,” especially as represented among the intellectuals (Mises 1956).

> Often Mises emphasizes invidious personal motivation — resentment and bitter envy — as the source of this attitude. Replacement of the society of status by the society of contract aggravated feelings of failure and inferiority. With equality of opportunity and all careers open to talent, lack of financial success becomes a judgment upon the individual. This is a burden he attempts to shift by scapegoating the social system (1956: 5–11). Intellectuals share this weakness, perhaps in an accentuated form. On occasion, Mises goes so far as to trace the “psychological roots of anti-liberalism” to mental pathology. The scapegoating of the social system by those unable to cope with the reality of their relative failure in life is, Mises claims, a mental disorder which psychiatry has so far neglected to classify. Engaging in a bit of volunteer psychiatric nosology, he ventures to label this condition “the Fourier complex” (1985: 13–17), after the early French socialist, Charles Fourier.

> Although Mises’s focus on envy and resentment is the best known of his attempts to explain the anti-capitalist mentality,25 a second and different approach of his seems more fruitful. In an early essay titled “The Psychological Roots of the Resistance to Economics” (1933: 170–88), Mises launches a radical attack on the strand of traditional western morality that has stigmatized moneymaking. Citing Cicero’s De officiis as an exemplary text, he identifies the contempt for moneymaking deeply ingrained in western culture as the source of the hostility towards capitalists, trade, and speculation “which today dominates our whole public life, politics, and the written word.” This contempt, nurtured and sustained through the centuries under changing regimes, is the natural outgrowth of a class morality — specifically, the morality of the classes that are sheltered from the market by the circumstance that they live from taxes.26 In our own day, it is a morality generated by “priests, bureaucrats, professors, and army officers,” who look with “loathing and scorn” on entrepreneurs, capitalists, and speculators (1933: 181–82).27

> Insight into the prevalence of this anti-market ethic helps explain (as Mises’s other, envy-based approach does not) the anti-market attitudes often found even among the economically successful in the private sector, since “no one can escape the power of a dominant ideology.” Thus, “entrepreneurs and capitalists themselves are swayed by the moral outlook that damns their activity.” They suffer from a bad conscience and feelings of inferiority. This shows itself in, among other things, the support given to socialist movements by millionaires and their sons and daughters (1933: 184).28

one thing about explaining stuff in terms of traditional ideas about moneymaking is that that doesn't quite explain why anti-capitalist attitudes and myth-making have persisted since the Industrial Revolution and the various technological developments since. Traditional anti-capitalist ideas weren't addressing people living in a society of plenty where people live a long time and have more health issues from eating too much than eating too little. The Industrial Revolution was a big change, and yet people still damn capitalism even when given tons of evidence of how great it is.


Anonymous at 4:53 PM on January 20, 2019 | #11662 | reply | quote

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