JEFFERSON AND CAPITALISM
> I found your essay on self-government vs. capitalism (Ayn Rand) after a > netsearch on capitalism, growth, and ethics. I am a 22 yr old recent college > grad who, for many reasons, am severely questioning the ever expanding role > of capitalism in both society and in my own personal life. I have recently > lived with a few people who 'buy' completely into the Randian principles > associated w/ laissez faire capitalism. I have also lived my entire life, > basically, as an unquestioning consumerist. Neither quite agree w/ me, and I > am beginning to explore alternate possibilities to today's current status. Needless to say, the problems we face with highly developed capitalism were not recognized or addressed in Jefferson's day. But human nature and the fundamental rights of mankind have not changed. As Jefferson said, "Nothing is unchangeable but the inherent and unalienable rights of man." So, whatever new comes along, it still must accommodate those inherent and unalienable rights. Figuring out what that means based on Jefferson's ideas and projecting those ideas into the circumstances of our time can be a brain-wrenching experience, however. (I should know! ;-) Which leads me to this: I understand that your concern is with capitalism and its effects upon our culture and our nation. You are trying to get a handle on just what kind of direction we should be headed, how we should handle social and political questions related to our capitalist economy and remain within the bounds of justice and "the inherent and unalienable rights of man." But that is a very broad and general topic, and I am having trouble getting a handle on it myself. I might try to write an essay in that area, summarizing what I am able to extract from Jeffersonn's writings, if I could get a little better grip on the specific concerns that you have in mind. So, I was wondering if you might want to expand on your remarks. What more specifically concerns you? Is it the moral aspects -- do anything to make a dollar? Is it the social aspects -- the effect that consumerism is having on our lives and our relations to one another? Is it the economic aspects -- the way some people are exploited by the system and not receiving what they justly are entitled to? Is it the political aspects -- the way big money controls elected officials and government decisions? Or is it all of the above? As I typed those last few sentences, I seem to have made an outline of the whole area that is clearer than when I started typing. (Which suggests that sometimes just trying to write things down helps to clarify your own perception.) But all of that is still too big of a topic, I'm afraid. If you could, I would be happy if you would write back and relay to me a little more of your own concerns. I can't guarantee anything, but I may be able to extract something from Jefferson's writings that might suggest some answers and that might be useful to other visitors to the site also. I'm willing to give it a try, anyway.
> Hi, I wrote to you about 2 mos ago. > Thanks for your response and insights. Writing does indeed help clarify > ideas and also locate holes in them too. > What you briefly outlined are indeed true and are, I think, sour fruits > of capitalism. All our symptoms of something that--for me--isn't quite > right with capitalism. I am convinced that there is an intimate connection between capitalism and the principles of liberty upon which this nation was founded. But just as we would "bind with the chains of the Constitution" our governors in order to secure our liberties, so we must bind down capitalism in appropriate regulations to protect those same liberties. To expect forces like government or capitalism to be self-regulating is, IMO, foolishness of the highest order. > The inevitable 'losers' of free-market capitalism. The elections > between only pro-business candidates. The fact that most of our > 'peace-keeping' missions are done to protect business investments. It is an interesting point that from the very foundation of this nation, the struggle had at its basis economic or business considerations. Beginning with "taxation without representation" and trade restrictions biased in favor of British merchants, through the depredations on our trade by the Algerian pirates, the root cause seemed always to revolve around business/economic interests. This, because greed, the exploitation of peoples, the amassing of wealth, are invariably the raison d'etre of those interests that would predominate in society. And struggling against those oppressive interests becomes the means of defining freedom. The "G" word -- greed -- is avoided in scholarly discourse, but that is what is at the core of human relations on a national scale. And greed finds expression nowhere as succinctly as in business, economics and capitalism. > However, what bothers me the most is how products (TV, beer, food, movies, > books, etc.) are marginalized and then sold to the masses. Let me give you > and example: > A favorite of mine is what I think of as the Budweisering of America. > As a beer-aficionado friend of mine said, 'Beer is like food. There are > so many different kinds of beer, everyone should be able to find one that > they like. When people say they don't like beer, it's the same as saying > they don't like food.' However, in the sake of maximizing profits, the > big American beermakers cut off all the edges to a beer, as not to offend > anyone. They end up making a beer that everyone doesn't not like. > However, after enough advertisements to think we'll have a good time, we > gladly buy and drink rather bland beer. This is true. But what you are dealing with is the desire to maximize profits. A beer that is prized by those with cultured tastes will not have as great sales as one that is mediocre but appeals to a larger segment of the population. Those with good taste must keep in mind that they live in a "nation within a nation," that they and all their friends and associates tend to have higher IQ's, more refined tastes, read more books, etc., etc., than the great majority of the people of this nation. But this is no cause for despising that majority. Nevertheless, we cannot expect a national brand of beer that seeks the widest possible distribution of its products to appeal to any other taste than that which is acceptable by the largest segment of the population. And it often happens that this mass-appeal beer may not be prized by *anybody*, but it is *acceptable* to the largest segment nonetheless. The answer for the beer lover is to find a small local brewery that is not aiming for mass-acceptance, and that will be willing to serve a small clientele with an outstanding product. > This Budweisering effect is seen throughout every facet of American > culture. From food, TV, books to presidents, girlfriends, and clothes. > However, the way in which mediocre products are sold to the public is > what disturbs me the most. The facts that I would appear a cheapskate if > I didn't buy an engagement ring w/ a diamond, or that I find hairy legs on > a woman unattractive, or that my Indian roommate in college only likes > blond caucasians are all silly. But no matter how much one argues against > these ideas with logical arguments, they can't change these mindsets. Nevertheless, it is all conducted in an atmosphere of freedom. No central authority is compelling these views and actions. It is all just the result of living in a *free* society consisting of huge numbers of -- let's face it -- unthinking people of pedestrian tastes. At the same time, those people have every right to the same liberties enjoyed by those of more refined tastes. But remember: there's more of one than of the other. Call it the "Curse of the Refined Class," but it cannot be any other way and still call it a free society. So... "Grin and bear it." ;-) > I'm sure indoctrination in the name of tradition has goine on for > years, but something for me is particularly unsettling when I see so much > of it now, all for the sake of making money. And also how this aspect of > life isn't even usually recognized by most people. As long as persons of refined tastes and education have the freedom to select and choose whatever suits them, the only thing required is that they be tolerant of those with lesser tastes. This is just the way things are. One can even be accepting of the situation without looking down on those who are a part of the "popular culture." Perhaps that is what artists like Andy Warhol were saying. It is what we are, it is where we're at. It couldn't be any other way. > In terms of the 'inalienable rights of man' I guess I'm suggesting > that they are expanded to include freedom of the mind. I think we are in > a physically free country, one that doesn't need walls to keep people in. > However, I think we need to explore the rights of man, see if they need > an addition, and then attempt to find a new system in which to incorporate > them. > so... I think capitalism is the best political framework to date, but > think it needs some refinements. Perhaps not. However, these are some of > the ideas that have been floating around in my head. And refinements to our society that would suppress a form of freedom that an elite find distasteful would inevitably destroy the liberties we prize so much. Perhaps an aristocratical society produces more Beethovens. But it also condemns millions to misery and deprivation. Perhaps a more free society results in mass currents that make overly sensitive people want to puke. But it allows fantastic mobility and general well-being for the millions of ordinary people that were once downtrodden and miserable anywhere else. Which would you prefer?
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