Wealth and Justice: The Morality of Democratic Capitalism, by Peter Wehner and Arthur C. Brooks begins with a unique proposition: if you desire to understand which economic system one should adopt, preferably for mankind, one should begin by having a proper understanding of human nature, or the things which the economic system must encompass and address.
The most prominent attributed that is pointed out is each person’s innate self-interest. Of course, self-interest can become abusive. However, the question isn’t so much as what can be abused as to what must be taken into consideration, not so much what has to be re-engineered but what must be placed into proper order. Their argument is that capitalism is the only system of economics to have taken advantage of, or placed into proper use, mankind’s innate self-interest.
This books then address many commonly argued points and questions raised in response to capitalism. For example, the abuses of the industrial revolution, to which Karl Marx is a famous respondent, is taken into consideration. While we must acknowledge the abuses of the industrial revolution, our considerations must not leave out the praise: the praise from the social economic destruction during the pre-industrial revolution (which overshot even the worst abuses in the industrial revolution) to Marx’s acknowledgement that capitalism is the most effective system in getting the poor out of poverty.
They also address questions such as “Does capitalism foster morality and can you protect capitalism from corruption?” and, “How are we to address the question of inequality in economics?” The latter question, as a hot topic in today’s politics, is addressed by appealing not to the common question, “How do we get equal results” but “how can we give equal opportunity” with consideration to the many ways in which people are not equal (intellectually, physically, emotionally, etc. etc.). How do we respond to people not by ignoring their differences but by acknowledging them.
Chapter 1: Human Nature and Capitalism
“At the core of every social, political, and economic system is a picture of human nature. The suppositions we begin with – the ways in which that picture is developed – determine the lives we lead, the institutions we build, and the civilizations we create. They are the foundation stone.” – Peter Wehner and Arthur C. Brooks, Wealth and Justice, pg. 2
“One model was that humans, while flawed, are perfectible. A second was that we are flawed and fatally so; we need to accept and build our society around this unpleasant reality. A third view was that although human beings are flawed, we are capable of virtuous acts and self-government – that under the right circumstances, human nature can work to the advantage of the whole.” – Peter Wehner and Arthur C. Brooks, Wealth and Justice, pg. 2
“The American founders believed, and capitalism rests on the belief, that people are driven by “self-interest” and the desire to better our condition.” – Peter Wehner and Arthur C. Brooks, Wealth and Justice, pg. 5
“It is not from the benevolence f the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves not to their humanity, but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.” – Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, Peter Wehner and Arthur C. Brooks, Wealth and Justice, pg. 6
Chapter II: The Economic Achievements of Capitalism
“In sum: If you were born in London before the dawn of modern capitalism, the norm was destitution and grinding poverty, widespread illiteracy, illness and disease, and early death. And, even worse, your children could expect a similar fate. The possibility for progress was almost nonexistent for your progeny.” – Peter Wehner and Arthur C. Brooks, Wealth and Justice, pg. 14
“[Capitalism] has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together.” – Peter Wehner and Arthur C. Brooks, Wealth and Justice, Communist Manifesto, pg. 14
“These concerns, while real, should be set against the enormous progress that resulted from the advent of modern capitalism, whether we are talking about wealth-creation, material comforts, or overall standard of living. In addition, it is only fair to compare life during the Industrial revolution to life before the Industrial Revolution, which was, as we have already documented, often bleak, cruel, and short.” – Peter Wehner and Arthur C. Brooks, Wealth and Justice, pg. 16
“The collateral effects of the Industrial Revolution were significant. They tugged at many human hearts. And they sparked a powerful intellectual counter-reaction, which manifested itself in the rise of communism.” – Peter Wehner and Arthur C. Brooks, Wealth and Justice, pg. 16
“They openly declared that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workers of the world, unite!” In other words, Marx envisioned a world with the benefits of capitalism, but without the costs. Not surprisingly, this was not possible.” – Peter Wehner and Arthur C. Brooks, Wealth and Justice, pg. 17
“What the Cambodians got instead was forced labor, slavery, starvation, mass executions, and wholesale slaughter. Even the worst predations of capitalism count as child’s play compared to these acts of systematic genocide.” – Peter Wehner and Arthur C. Brooks, Wealth and Justice, pg. 20
“The problem that happened after independence was that our leaders rejected the market system as a Western institution and tried to destroy it and they also rejected democracy. This is why the continent started its road to ruination.” – George Ayittey, Peter Wehner and Arthur C. Brooks, Wealth and Justice, pg. 23
“In the long term, the best defense against future natural disasters is to promote the political and economic conditions that can move people out of the slums and shanties that easily become death traps.” – Peter Wehner and Arthur C. Brooks, Wealth and Justice, pg. 25
“Those who want to go directly to hell, they can follow capitalism… And those of us who want to build heaven here on earth, we will follow socialism.” – Chavez, Peter Wehner and Arthur C. Brooks, Wealth and Justice, pg. 26
“No group of people, regardless of how smart, wise, or imaginative they believe themselves to be, can know enough to oversee the centralized planning of a system that will enable human flourishing. Our lives are simply too complex, our daily decisions too many, our capacity to predict the future too limited, for centralized control to be feasible. The best people in all the world cannot coordinate entire social and economic systems, and the best people in all the world are very rarely in power.” – Peter Wehner and Arthur C. Brooks, Wealth and Justice, pg. 26
Chapter 3: Capitalism, Ethics, and Religious Faith
“Does the free market corrode moral character?” – Peter Wehner and Arthur C. Brooks, Wealth and Justice, pg. 28
“No economic system in history has come nearly as close as capitalism to lifting the needy out of their affliction, to raising the poor from the dust.” – Peter Wehner and Arthur C. Brooks, Wealth and Justice, pg. 29
“The capitalist engine is first and the last an engine of mass production which unavoidably means also production for the masses… It is the cheap cloth, the cheap fabric, boots, motor cars and so on that are the typical achievements of capitalist production and not as a rule improvements that would mean much to the rich man.” – Joseph Schumpeter, Peter Wehner and Arthur C. Brooks, Wealth and Justice, pg. 29-30
“It is no coincidence, then, that there has never been a free society that has been hostile to free enterprise.” – Peter Wehner and Arthur C. Brooks, Wealth and Justice, pg. 31
“What one does not observe is politically and economically free societies taking up arms against one another.” – Peter Wehner and Arthur C. Brooks, Wealth and Justice, pg. 32
“One of the main functions of a capitalist economy [is] to defeat envy … the most destructive of social evils.” – Michael Novak, Peter Wehner and Arthur C. Brooks, Wealth and Justice, pg. 34
“Upon reflection, however, these are not cases of free markets corroding moral character. They are cases of poor moral character corroding free markets. The answer is not less capitalism. It is better capitalists.” – Peter Wehner and Arthur C. Brooks, Wealth and Justice, pg. 35
“Capitalist efficiency may… be regarded as the most useful precondition for a good life in a good society.” – Irving Kristol, Peter Wehner and Arthur C. Brooks, Wealth and Justice, pg. 36
“The morality of capitalism depends on the cultural soil and social climate from which it emerges. If it exists in an amoral or an immoral culture – where rules don’t apply and “anything goes,” where people are urged to give up on the “inhibitions of civilization” and follow “the rebellious imperative of self” – capitalism will become a destructive force. If, on the other hand, capitalism exists in a morally anchored society, it can promote important virtues.” – Peter Wehner and Arthur C. Brooks, Wealth and Justice, pg. 38
Chapter 4: Is Capitalism Unjust?
“Opponents and critics of capitalism often base their critiques on two connected claims: first, that capitalism generates and exacerbates inequality; second, that equality itself should be the highest social good.” – Peter Wehner and Arthur C. Brooks, Wealth and Justice, pg. 40
“In other words, the basic choice between capitalism and socialism is irrelevant to the issue of equality, except that capitalism greatly accelerates the growth process, thus accelerating both the inegalitarian and the egalitarian phases of the Kuznets curve.” – Peter Wehner and Arthur C. Brooks, Wealth and Justice, pg. 42
“In short, what lengths are the new egalitarians willing to go in order to eliminate or reduce the gap? And at what cost?” – Peter Wehner and Arthur C. Brooks, Wealth and Justice, pg. 46
“It also needs to be said that sometimes inequality does not follow merit. “ – Peter Wehner and Arthur C. Brooks, Wealth and Justice, pg. 46
“As for using the redistribution of income to achieve egalitarianism: If it is done at all, it is done voluntarily, as an act of charity, out of gratitude for what God has done, not as an action of the state, through coercion.” – Peter Wehner and Arthur C. Brooks, Wealth and Justice, pg. 49
“A certain degree of inequality has to be allowed in society if such a society is to preserve human dignity and freedom and to achieve basic standards of justice.” – Brian Griffiths, Peter Wehner and Arthur C. Brooks, Wealth and Justice, pg. 51
“It is important that people should receive the rewards of their work. But at the same time money involves responsibility and the Christian as a steward is called to share his resources with others. From this perspective libertarianism is one-sided; it emphasizes rights to property to the exclusion of any responsibilities with property; but egalitarianism is also one-sided in that it emphasizes responsibilities to the exclusion of rights. The Christian has a perspective which is unique in that it emphasizes both rights and responsibilities.” – Brian Griffiths, Peter Wehner and Arthur C. Brooks, Wealth and Justice, pg. 51
“Making income equality a priority of government policy subverts equality of opportunity, which is in many ways at the heart of the American Dream. You cannot have both; one necessarily excludes the other.” – Peter Wehner and Arthur C. Brooks, Wealth and Justice, pg. 56
“Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word, equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.” – Alexis de Tocqueville, Peter Wehner and Arthur C. Brooks, Wealth and Justice, pg. 58