The Limitations of Capitalism
The institutions outside of it — the Burkean little platoons — need to pull their weight.

Volunteers with the Points of Light organzation lend a hand at a school in East Harlem, N.Y.


Jonah Goldberg

Dear Reader (Including the growing number of you who don’t want this “news”letter to be a safe place where you can share things),

Here’s something I don’t say everyday: Capitalism ain’t all that.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still the artist behind the spoken-word album, Capitalism Is My Bag, Baby. But here’s the problem. Because most people on the right love and respect capitalism and pretty much everyone on the right feels the very real need to defend capitalism from the Occupiers, technocrats, sans-culottes, nudgers, equalizers, faux pragmatists, and other members of the Social Justice League, we don’t spend enough time focusing on the limitations of capitalism.

I say “limitations” rather than “faults,” because limitations aren’t necessarily faults. This is a really important distinction that is sometimes lost on people. A car that can’t go more than five miles per hour is faulty. A car that can’t drive through solid rock is simply a car. Water has no protein. But few would say that water isn’t essential or good. Water does what it does, but it can’t do things water can’t do. Air is awesome. I use it every day. I’m using it right now! But if ever there was a good illustration of how “necessary” and “sufficient” aren’t the same thing, air is it.

And so it is with capitalism. Okay, technically we don’t need capitalism the way we need air or water. Cavemen didn’t have it. And, as a result, they ate a lot of grubs, scraped their dangly bits on rocks while running away from large hungry animals, and usually died a violent or painful death at a young age. The North Koreans don’t have capitalism and many North Koreans would count themselves lucky to live like cavemen. In fact, much of the West didn’t have it, in a meaningful sense, until around 1700 at the earliest. And that’s why it stunk to live in 1700 — literally and figuratively — for a lot of people.

Since then we’ve gotten richer — a lot richer. In fact, living standards have improved 16-fold since the 1700s according to Deirdre McCloskey (for more on this please read this great little item by David Boaz). And as stunning as that fact is, it probably fails to measure the huge but intangible improvements in our lives made possible by the fruits of capitalism.

See, I’m guilty of the very thing I’m criticizing. I wanted to talk about the limitations of capitalism and yet I felt a burning need to defend it first. It’s a good reminder — for me at least — that capitalism is sort of like Israel; for all its objective strengths its enemies are always looking for an opportunity to pounce on it or use statements from its defenders against it. And so its friends feel the need to preface every criticism with a defense of it first. They may also feel the need to go on a huge detour or tangent. But not me . . .

Glass Feeling

Last week a person named Amy Glass wrote a breathtakingly honest — and breathless — rejection of traditional motherhood:

I hear women talk about how “hard” it is to raise kids and manage a household all the time. I never hear men talk about this. It’s because women secretly like to talk about how hard managing a household is so they don’t have to explain their lack of real accomplishments. Men don’t care to “manage a household.” They aren’t conditioned to think stupid things like that are “important.”

 Women will be equal with men when we stop demanding that it be considered equally important to do housework and real work. They are not equal. Doing laundry will never be as important as being a doctor or an engineer or building a business. This word play is holding us back. 

First, a few small points. I hear men talk about how hard it is to manage a household and raise kids all the time. (We may not talk about it in terms Glass can recognize, but as a subscriber to the Happy Wife, Happy Life school of marriage, it’s my experience that husbands who don’t recognize and appreciate how hard it is to run a home soon become ex-husbands or miserable husbands.) Glass also may only be hearing what she wants to hear. Or, she may know only asinine men. Who knows? Frankly I don’t care which one is right because I don’t put a lot of stock in what Glass has to say.

Second, this is truly shabby work:

Doing laundry will never be as important as being a doctor or an engineer or building a business. This word play is holding us back. 

Talk about word play! You see the sleight of hand, right? “Doing laundry” is a single, discrete task, a subset of a vast realm of responsibilities that often come with running a household and being a mother. Being a doctor, engineer, or business-builder are total careers or vocations. In other words, it’s a false analogy. Like saying being a chef isn’t as worthwhile as being a truck driver because chefs “cut vegetables.” Every career or calling involves unpleasant or tedious tasks (“Tell me about it” — The Couch).


Sign up for free NRO e-mails today:

NRO Polls on LockerDome

Subscribe to National Review