Donald Boudreaux: Capitalism. Is. Working. |
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Donald Boudreaux: Capitalism. Is. Working.

Donald J. Boudreaux

A Wayne State University student recently upbraided me by email for various offenses — each of which at bottom amounts to me using my blog, Café Hayek, to defend free markets. This livid young scholar ended his email by declaring that “Capitalism. Is. Not. Working.”

His signature revealed that his email was sent to me from an iPhone.

I never met this correspondent. Yet I infer from his very existence evidence against his claim that capitalism isn’t working.

Most obviously, he possesses a tiny tool that allows him to talk in real time to people hundreds of miles away. This nifty device also gives him, while in Michigan, the power to read a blog written in Virginia and then to use email to express his anger at the blogger.

Smartphones, computers, blogging software, widespread and affordable internet and cellular availability, and the turbines and wires that generate and transmit the electricity necessary to power these marvels, are all the products of capitalism.

Also, my young correspondent is enrolled in college.

Of course, a handful of young people attended college long before the capitalist era. But back then only the male children of the elite did so. The vast majority of families had no prospect of sending their children to college. Today, roughly two-thirds of all high school graduates in America enroll in college.

This high enrollment is partly encouraged by government subsidies. But education subsidies come from somewhere. A society must be very rich to enable government to heavily subsidize post-secondary education. And so current levels of government subsidization of education in the United States are possible only because we Americans are so rich. We Americans are so rich, in turn, because of capitalism.

Further, the ability to be a full-time student until the age of 22 itself testifies to our great wealth. Truly destitute families cannot afford to have their adult children pursuing degrees; the work efforts of those children are necessary to keep the family members alive. The very fact that large numbers of us Americans spend at least the first two decades of our lives in school reveals that capitalism is working.

If my correspondent is a typical American college student, he has ready access to — in addition to his smartphone — an automobile; computer hardware and software; at least a dozen changes of stylish clothing; automatic washers and driers, and detergents, to cleanse those clothes; refrigeration; reliable indoor plumbing; artificial lighting and air conditioning; historically amazing health and dental care; and seats on jetliners that whisk him comfortably and safely across the country and even to the other side of the earth.

In the morning, my correspondent likely drinks coffee brewed from beans grown in Colombia or Ethiopia. For lunch, he eats a chicken sandwich or a quinoa-and-beet salad. Each of these foods is made available to him only through the efforts of countless strangers — producers such as chicken farmers, beet growers, truck drivers, insurance-company actuaries — spread across the globe and connected to him by a thick web of consensual capitalist acts of commerce.

If my young friend awakens in the morning with a headache from having drank the previous evening too many bottles of India pale ale, he’ll relieve his headache with aspirin that costs only a few cents.

And then — with headache gone, stomach full and body well-showered — he’ll dash off to class to hear yet another lecture on how capitalism isn’t working.

Donald Boudreaux is a professor of economics and Getchell Chair at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. His column appears twice monthly.

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