Best of Coyote I

Well, it worked for Johnny Carson, why not for me?  Instead of leaving you with dead air (photons?) while I am knocking the rust off my beer pong skills back at Princeton, I will share with you a few of my favorite posts from my early days of blogging.  Since most of these posts were viewed by about 5 people, there is a certain temptation to just recycle them without attribution, given the unlikelihood of getting caught.  Instead, though, I will share them as my best of Coyote...

This post was from early last December, and is titled "60 Second Refutation of Socialism, While Sitting at the Beach":

Last week, there were several comments in Carnival of the
Capitalists that people would like to see more articles highlighting
the benefits of capitalism.  This got me thinking about a conversation
I had years ago at the beach:

out at the beach one day with a distant family member, we got into a
discussion about capitalism and socialism.  In particular, we were
arguing about whether brute labor, as socialism teaches, is the source
of all wealth (which, socialism further argues, is in turn stolen by
the capitalist masters).  The young woman, as were most people her age,
was taught mainly by the socialists who dominate college academia
nowadays.  I was trying to find a way to connect with her, to get her
to question her assumptions, but was struggling because she really had
not been taught many of the fundamental building blocks of either
philosophy or economics, but rather a mish-mash of politically correct
points of view that seem to substitute nowadays for both.

of the reasons I took up writing a blog is that I have never been as
snappy or witty in real-time discussions as I would like to be, and I
generally think of the perfect comeback or argument minutes or hours
too late.  I have always done better with writing, where I have time to
think.  However, on this day, I had inspiration from a half-remembered
story I had heard before.  I am sure I stole the following argument
from someone, but to this day I still can't remember from whom.

picked up a handful of sand, and said "this is almost pure silicon,
virtually identical to what powers a computer.  Take as much labor as
you want, and build me a computer with it -- the only limitation is you
can only have true manual laborers - no engineers or managers or other
capitalist lackeys".

Yeah, I know
what you're thinking - beach sand is not pure silicon - it is actually
silicon dioxide, SiO2, but if she didn't take any economics she
certainly didn't take any chemistry or geology.

replied that my request was BS, that it took a lot of money to build an
electronics plant, and her group of laborers didn't have any and
bankers would never lend them any.

too many defenders of capitalism would have stopped here, and said
aha!  So you admit you need more than labor - you need capital too.
But Marx would not have disagreed - he would have said it was the
separation of labor and capital that was bad - only when laborers owned
the capital, rather than being slaves to the ruling class that now
controls the capital, would the world reach nirvana.  So I offered her
just that:

told her - assume for our discussion that I have tons of money, and I
will give you and your laborers as much as you need.  The only
restriction I put on it is that you may only buy raw materials - steel,
land, silicon - in their crudest forms.  It is up to you to assemble
these raw materials, with your laborers, to build the factory and make
me my computer.

She thought for a few seconds, and responded "but I can't - I don't know how.  I need someone to tell me how to do it"

that is the heart of socialism's failure.  For the true source of
wealth is not brute labor, or even what you might call brute capital,
but the mind.  The mind creates new technologies, new products, new
business models, new productivity enhancements, in short, everything
that creates wealth.  Labor or capital without a mind behind it is

From the year 1000 to the year 1700, the world's wealth, measured as GDP per capita, was virtually unchanged.
Since 1700, the GDP per capita in places like the US has risen, in real
terms, over 40 fold.  This is a real increase in total wealth - it is
not money stolen or looted or exploited.  Wealthy nations like the US
didn't "take" the wealth from somewhere else - it never even existed
before.  It was created by the minds of human beings.

How?  What changed?  Historians who really study this
stuff would probably point to a jillion things, but in my mind two are

  1. There was a philosophical and intellectual
    change where questioning established beliefs and social patterns went
    from being heresy and unthinkable to being acceptable, and even in
    vogue.  In other words, men, at first just the elite but soon everyone,
    were urged to use their mind rather than just relying on established
  2. There were social and political changes that greatly increased
    the number of people capable of entrepreneurship.  Before this time,
    the vast vast majority of people were locked into social positions that
    allowed them no flexibility to act on a good idea, even if they had
    one.  By starting to create a large and free middle class, first in the
    Netherlands and England and then in the US, more people had the ability
    to use their mind to create new wealth.  Whereas before, perhaps 1% or
    less of any population really had the freedom to truly act on their
    ideas, after 1700 many more people began to have this freedom. 

So today's wealth, and everything that goes with it (from shorter
work hours to longer life spans) is the result of more people using
their minds more freely.

Look around the world - for any country, ask yourself if the average
person in that country has the open intellectual climate that
encourages people to think for themselves, and the open political and
economic climate that allows people to act on the insights their minds
provide and to keep the fruits of their effort.  Where you can answer
yes to both, you will find wealth and growth.  Where you answer no to
both, you will find poverty and misery. 


While it is not exactly a direct follow-on to this article, see my post Progressives are too Conservative to Like Capitalism
for an analysis of some of capitalism's detractors.  For yet another
way to explain capitalism, at least libertarian philosophy, here is a new-agy approach that is actually pretty good.  Finally, Spontaneous Order
has an interesting post comparing religious creationism in the physical
world with progressives' statism in the economic/social realms.