"The segregation of capitalism from virtue"

I pulled the title for this post from Charles Murray’s recent Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, which is a tiny bit lengthy and much too sophisticated for me to understand perfectly but which is worth reading if you are in love with Steve Jobs, dubious of Mitt Romney and pretty sure you’re a capitalist but not sure why.

Since not everyone has a WSJ subscription (thanks, Andrew!) or the time to read the whole thing, I’ve pulled out a few passages that struck me.

To accept the concept of virtue requires that you believe some ways of behaving are right and others are wrong always and everywhere. That openly judgmental stand is no longer acceptable in America’s schools nor in many American homes.

Surprisingly, Murray does not take the supposed rise of moral relativism to explain why teenage girls are getting pregnant or why people are watching a lot of reality TV these days. Instead, Murray argues that the lack of fixed virtues explains why finance people have been acting like such “dishonorabl[e] and reckless[]” jerks and not as the “seemly” “stewards” we need them to be. This acknowledgment that a group of people who have screwed up in a variety of really big ways over the past ten years have actually been in the wrong is an anomaly on an opinion page that consistently argues that the screw ups aren’t that bad, that the people who are upset about them are just jealous, and that, in any event, they were the government’s fault.

Another striking passage:

The U.S. was created to foster human flourishing. The means to that end was the exercise of liberty in the pursuit of happiness. Capitalism is the economic expression of liberty. The pursuit of happiness, with happiness defined in the classic sense of justified and lasting satisfaction with life as a whole, depends on economic liberty every bit as much as it depends on other kinds of freedom.

I have no idea whether the U.S. was created to foster human flourishing but I do appreciate Murray’s turn of phrase “capitalism is the economic expression of liberty”. (Can anyone tell me whether that is his formulation?) I also appreciate that Murray acknowledges in no uncertain terms that other types of freedom are as important to happiness as economic liberty. This is a welcome bit of fresh air on a page that is (appropriately, I guess) so single-mindedly focused on matters of economic liberty that it sometimes seems that the road to happiness is paved only with bricks of gold, has no speed limits and could handle more cars going even faster if there were no cops. 

One final passage for all you entrepreneurs out there:

Successfully starting a business, no matter how small, is an act of creating something out of nothing that carries satisfactions far beyond those of the money it brings in.

So, so, so, so true. And something for all of us to keep in mind as we keep trying.