By Ralph Benko
There’s an urban legend besetting the urbane that capitalism is a system of privilege designed for the Ebenezer Scrooges of the world. Not so. Capitalism works at least as well for us Bob Cratchits as it does for misers, probably better. Capitalism is the only proven mechanism by which the workers of the world may unite to lose their chains.
The big picture is set out in a recent article in the UK’s The Spectator, a magazine that bills itself, modestly yet with a sterling claim, as “the best-written and most entertaining magazine in the English language.” (Exception: apparently these blokes haven’t been reading Forbes but let us not quibble.) Its Why 2012 was the best year ever observes:
“It may not feel like it, but 2012 has been the greatest year in the history of the world. That sounds like an extravagant claim, but it is borne out by evidence. Never has there been less hunger, less disease or more prosperity. The West remains in the economic doldrums, but most developing countries are charging ahead, and people are being lifted out of poverty at the fastest rate ever recorded. The death toll inflicted by war and natural disasters is also mercifully low. We are living in a golden age.”
This world scoop lays out paragraph after paragraph of impressive evidence for its thesis. One of the most compelling points:
In 1990, the UN announced Millennium Development Goals, the first of which was to halve the number of people in extreme poverty by 2015. It emerged this year that the target was met in 2008. Yet the achievement did not merit an official announcement, presumably because it was not achieved by any government scheme but by the pace of global capitalism. Buying cheap plastic toys made in China really is helping to make poverty history. And global inequality? This, too, is lower now than any point in modern times. Globalisation means the world’s not just getting richer, but fairer too.
As this columnist has pointed out here before, in The End of Politics, World Peace is breaking out. This is obscured by media reportage focusing on carnage. And yet the peace, which is real, represents a brisk tailwind for the forces of small “l” liberal small “r” republican governance — and a headwind for the Big Government/Dark Side of the Force crowd. As The Spectator puts it, bringing billions of souls out of extreme poverty “did not merit an official announcement, presumably because it was not achieved by any government scheme but by the pace of global capitalism.” World Prosperity, as well as Peace, is emerging: “a golden age.”
Real capitalism is a humanitarian force. Making capitalism synonymous with miserliness is what Marxists call false consciousness. A great example of capitalism with a human face — with a beard, even! — is Garry Kvistad, founder and proprietor of Woodstock Chimes®.
Whenever you hear a wind chime, or see one in a gift shop, chances are that it’s a Woodstock Chime. Woodstock is — by far — the market leader. It earned its market leadership by providing a superb quality product at a competitive price, reliable service, and good management. It began, as so many companies do, with its founder’s passion. From Chimes.com:
“Being a recent college graduate, Garry found the materials for his metallophone at the local landfill – it was made from the aluminum tubes of discarded lawn chairs! Garry was fascinated by the Scales of Olympos, a 7th century Greek pentatonic scale that can’t be played on a modern piano. His metallophone experiment was so successful that he had the idea to cut and tune lawn chair tubes to the exact frequency of the scale and create a windchime from the tubes. … The Chime of Olympos® was the first Woodstock Chime….”
Kvistad, a Grammy® Award winning musician, also is a founder and participant of the most highly regarded percussion ensemble working today, NEXUS. And as he said, over craft beer, to this columnist, “It’s clear that if you wish to pursue a career in New Music — performing works by extraordinary composers such as Steve Reich and John Cage — you’d better have a supplementary source of income.”
In addition to freeing Garry to play the music that delights him (and audiences worldwide) the Kvistads have distributed millions of dollars of profits philanthropically. Many who have earned wealth are generous givers. (Actually… Republicans, very well advertised as, to a man, rich, mean, and miserly, have a well-documented track record, as noted by George Will, of charitableness consistently far in excess of that of the equally well advertised sweet, generous, wealthy Democrats. Go figure. No implication intended that the Kvistads might be sinister Republicans. Perish the thought.)
Let it not be thought, however, that the laws governing Hippie Capitalism are somehow kinder, gentler, or more renewable, than that of Republican Square Capitalism. To most everyone’s surprise it turns out that the laws of economics, being laws of nature, apply to all equally. The law of supply and demand, like the law of gravity, applies to Progressives as well as conservatives. (This is a fact mostly unnoticed, or at least unforgiven, by Progressive policy makers.)
Some years ago, Kvistad noticed that international suppliers were beginning to sell chimes almost as good as Woodstock’s, and more cheaply. The necessary response, as it turned out, did not involve redeploying to the city dump in search of more discarded lawn chairs. “We had always manufactured our chimes right here, near Woodstock,” Kvistad told me. “It was very gratifying to be able to provide work to skilled artisans here in my home town. Yet it was clear to me that if we continued to make them here we soon would be out of business and providing no jobs at all. So I sought out and found reliable, high quality, ethical suppliers — in China and Indonesia — and… between natural workforce attrition, people moving on or moving away, and retraining my team to handle the complexities of managing an inventory built abroad, I was able not only to keep jobs here in America but to generate more highly skilled, better paying, jobs right here. It was a positive, not a negative, sum game. (Emphasis added.) We also sell in Europe, Canada, and are opening up a distribution center in the UK. All of that goes to create more American jobs.”
Kvistad’s action provides empirical proof, as if more were needed, of Tamny’s Law (named for the editor of Forbes.com Opinion who has reiterated this observation ad infinitum, and, one hopes, will continue to do so until the policy elites come to grips with reality): “Technology erases unnecessary work so that we can constantly migrate toward more productive pursuits. We destroy jobs to create better ones.”
It begins to appear that the world is entering, as The Spectator noted in emulation of this columnist, “a golden age.” (“A Golden Age” has been this column’s categorical title for over two years. Memo to The Spectator: Forbes scooped you.) A golden age may prove precursor, rather than the predicate, of a return to the classical gold standard. As the rest of the world honors, rather than attempts to override, the natural laws governing the production of goods and services the rest of the world becomes more prosperous … and fair. Will the political elites of the developed world continue to adopt policies calculated to induce “economic doldrums”? Perhaps the sight of equitable prosperity blossoming all around us will inspire our own policy makers toward capitalism.
To rephrase Keynes: no subtler, no surer means of restoring an equitable prosperity to society has been found than the classical gold standard. The process engages all the hidden forces of economic law on the side of human flourishing and does it in a manner which not one man in a million is able to diagnose. Perhaps we will not have to wait the generation or two until Bangladesh, as observed by The Spectator, becomes as rich as England for America and the West to decide that a solid dose of small “l” liberal capitalism, as exemplified by the gold standard, is just what America, and the West, needs to thrive. If our own policy elites do not soon grasp this simple fact then it is high time to start a national conversation about offshoring our economic policy making, perhaps to the editorial board of the The Spectator.
Ralph Benko, an economics policy expert living and working in Washington, DC, served on detail as deputy general counsel to an Executive Office of the President agency under President Reagan and to a Reagan presidential commission