While participating in an interview at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said that, to her, capitalism is “irredeemable.” While her fear regarding corporate-government mixing is well-founded, she misunderstands the nature of capitalism, and in so doing misses identifying the very thing which would act as a barrier to corporations taking over government: limited government.
The proper role of government is the protection of individual rights. But many current and proposed government programs increase the control of the state over people. Ocasio-Cortez’s own (happily failed) Green New Deal would have dwarfed other methods by which the US government has incrementally increased its control over citizens for the last one-hundred years.
During her interview, Ocasio-Cortez also said that “Capitalism is an ideology of capital — the most important thing is the concentration of capital and to seek and maximize profit.”
I admire her for giving capitalism this much praise. Capitalism is a profoundly moral system. It is the only economic system in human history which was based not on the use of force but on voluntary, win-win trade and interactions between people. Before the advent of capitalism, people had to use force for the most part to become wealthy. Enjoying the individual freedom that is central to capitalism, and using that freedom along with one’s own abilities and resources to make a living for oneself, is the moral endeavor in life.
The moral justification of capitalism does not lie in profit maximization. It lies in capitalism being the only economic system which places the individual at the center, not the state or the group. Philosophically, capitalism is an ideology in which the individual is primary. It is the only system based on individual freedom and individual happiness.
The best approach to ensure that workers are protected from exploitation, as Ocasio-Cortez believes is the case now, is for there to be fewer controls and regulations so that workers and corporations can approach the employment process free from interference by the government. When government becomes as powerful as it is now, corporations spot opportunities to curry favor with politicians and powerful groups within government, groups which entrench the interests of those corporations, thus making it increasingly difficult for new people to enter the market.
The minimum wage is a premium example of the damage caused by government programs; more and more companies will simply automate many of their processes, especially in manufacturing. Programs such as the minimum wage do not protect workers’ rights. The reality is that they discourage employment.
The democratic socialism for which Ocasio-Cortez advocates will not protect people from harm. It is in the very nature of socialism that it increases the control of the state over people’s lives. Socialism as a system necessarily places the state above the individual, and while there may be many well-intentioned politicians in power at a given point in time, the more power the state has the greater the lure for a group to move in and abuse that power. Republicans portray Democrats as evil incarnate. Democrats do the same to Republicans. The best protection from either side is to limit the power of the government so that it cannot be turned against anyone, regardless of whom might be in power.
While Ocasio-Cortez may have the best of intentions for the version of socialism in which she believes, any system which increases the size, and most importantly the role, of the state in our lives will be abused by those who want to rely on force as a means to enrich themselves. History attests to this, and as force is built into the system of socialism, we will witness abuse in every iteration in which it may be presented.
Democratic socialism is a reincarnation of systems of force we have seen throughout human history. Any system which is predicated on the use of force to compel people to live in a way those in power deem acceptable, is immoral. Ocasio-Cortez fervently believes in the morality of her ideas, but I am afraid that when one’s ideas are predicated on the incorporation of force in the very establishment and maintenance of those ideas, they lose their moral worth.