Opinion: Carolina Critic

Individualism and Capitalism

• Michael A. Beitler, Rational Individualism: A Moral Argument for Limited Government and Capitalism, Practitioner Press International, 2008. 120 pages, $19.

During times of economic struggle it is no surprise that many people are turning to the government to receive assistance. But accepting these benefits and approving government expansion not only prolongs the hard times but also shifts our society closer to socialism. Michael Beitler, a well-respected business leader and professor, advocates a return to limited government and free markets as an alternative in his book Rational Individualism.

From the start of Rational Individualism, Beitler engages readers in an intimate conversation, guiding us through the history of philosophy, politics, and economics from the Greeks through modern day. His instructive prose provides an easily understood explanation of the diverging principles (individualism; libertarianism; capitalism; collectivism; statism; socialism) that form the landscape of politics and economics in the 21st century. Citing many influential thinkers, Beitler juxtaposes the principles of socialism and capitalism, determining that “socialism is immoral [while] capitalism is the only moral political-economic system.”

Beitler contends that capitalism offers benefits to all classes of society through job creation, increased standards of living, and product innovation, to name a few. But this is not the reason he argues capitalism is the only moral political-economic system. Capitalism is moral because, above all, it protects individual rights.

On the other hand, socialism, like any collectivist system, denies rights to individuals for the advantage of the collective. Socialism provides a “legal” way for unproductive people, “blinded by envy and ignorance,” to acquire the wealth of the productive members of society for their own use. “Today most Americans do not want the responsibility for their retirement, health care, job security, or the education of their children,” he writes. “They gladly turn these responsibilities over to the state.” Yet with every responsibility they surrender yields more and more of their freedom to the government.

Socialism is also unsustainable; it disregards the fundamental economic truth that production precedes consumption. In a society based on collectivism, production will eventually halt because individuals do not have the right to fully benefit from their labor. Continued consumption without production will lead to excessive deficit spending and increased government interventions.

The clarity Beitler offers, regarding the cost of socialism to both “productive and unproductive” individuals will assist readers in understanding the need to reject the expansion of government under the guise of equality.

The alternative proposal to socialism is capitalism: the idea that government’s only role should be to protect individual rights. Government constrained by such limits ensures the equality to create wealth, limited only by one’s ability and initiative. Success is in the hands of every individual. Unproductive people should not look to the productive for benefits and productive people should not feel guilty for their success.

Even if they possess this knowledge, Beitler concludes that unproductive people will want the security provided by social programs and other entitlements, even if they know that by doing so they are surrendering their freedom. Individual freedom requires individual responsibility.

Beitler has faced some criticism for not adding new theories to the study of economics but merely restating the ideas of others; but his work frames the vast history of seemingly esoteric ideas in a way that is easily understood. With each philosophy he provides a clear line of reasoning to the real-world outcome. This allows readers to see how the quick fixes of socialism have detrimental long-term effects: lost individual rights, duplicity of leaders, class warfare, and scapegoating.

Beitler also notes that the call for entitlements exists in all sectors of politics, society, and pseudo-independent business. Individualists must be diligent, therefore, never retreating to the seductive “freebies” offered by any group or leader.

Rational Individualism is a wonderful introduction to the study of political economics. It provides a concise presentation of various philosophies alongside the relevant history. It offers a sound basis and direction for someone with any political leaning to begin further inquiry. CJ