Saturday, January 10, 2009

Heroes of Capitalism

I would like to introduce you to a blog I just discovered:

Here is their blog description.

The Heroes

What is a hero of capitalism?
Someone who used private property to produce wealth.

Everyday there will be a featured hero. Though many of the heroes had far more than one accomplishment, only one will be highlighted at a time.


Capitalism is a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned.
Each entry is a brief celebration and tribute to an individual who has made a significant contribution to improving the quality of our lives. This site is a wonderful antidote to the daily vilification of businessmen by politicians and mainstream media. I especially like the stories of Silly Putty and of WD-40, the invention of the bar code, Glad trash bags and Google search.

What's your favorite?

PS Another great site to learn about the blessings brought to us by capitalism and division of labor is the magazine Invention and Technology. Enjoy!


Burgess Laughlin said...

I admire the creators of the Heroes of Capitalism website. The individuals they profile deserve attention to their achievements: first, as a simple matter of justice for accomplishment; second, their portraits debunk the demeaning stereotypes of "businessmen," that is, wealth producers in one form or another.

I see one pitfall for the site--or any site on capitalism--and that is unintentionally committing the fallacy of the frozen abstraction. Capitalism is a political system that protects individual rights. A free market is one consequence of capitalism. It is not the same as capitalism.

Capitalism includes non-economic activities as well: the freedom of speech; the freedom to paint my house any color I want (assuming no prior agreements); and the freedom to form non-economic associations (assuming they are peaceful and not fraudulent).

"Capitalism" subsumes far more than economic activities, though they are a big part of our lives.

Beth said...


Regarding your definition of capitalism:

Your comment brings up an interesting epistemological problem.

Economics used to be called political economy. Politics and economics are intimately connected, but are they identical? Is there a need for a concept of economic systems separate from political systems?

I think it is useful to have a set of concepts for the consideration of economic activities separate from the wider set of all human activities. By restricting the definition of capitalism to economic activities, it allows us to isolate the study of interactions of people as related to trade. Clearly other interactions involve property rights (your examples of the freedom of speech and freedom of association) but these do not involve matters of economic exchange.

I view economics is the science which studies the production of wealth under a system of division of labor. Capitalism, then, is the economic system based on the private ownership of the means of production (in contrast to socialism, the economic system where the means of production are owned by the state.)

It seems useful to me to separate intellectually concepts of politics and concepts of economics, recognizing, of course, that in a fully integrated system of thought, the two areas can not contradict each other. The fact that not all human interactions are economic (related to wealth production and trade) leads me to want to have a concept which directs my thoughts specifically to economic interactions.

If capitalism is to be that concept, then what we need is a term for the political system grounded on the recognition of individual rights. I can not think of such a term that exists right now, which is why I think we resort to the use of “capitalism” to serve this function. But even the word itself points more to economics (capital is wealth) rather than the wider issue of individual rights. The wider concept of a political system based on the recognition of individual right includes the realm of economic interactions, but is not co-extensive with it. If we apply the term capitalism to the wider political system, what term do we use to restrict our thoughts to economic interactions?

More questions than answers, I’m afraid.

PS as I expand my reading of blogs, I am finding your comments in many places. I am honored that you find my blog worth your time to read and comment on. Thank you.

Michael Labeit said...

This is how I have viewed capitalism. Capitalism as a politico-economic system is composed of two parts: a mode of production and a mode of distribution. Under capitalism, the means or factors of production are owned and operated exclusively by private individuals. Regarding distribution, under capitalism, the market allocates all goods and resources in accordance with demand. This means that people under capitalism are entitled to things because they can afford them. These particular modes of production and distribution are the product of the recognition of liberty and property.

Capitalism, in my view, is a politico-economic system. The free market is the mode of distribution under capitalism.

Michael Labeit said...

Capitalism does include non-economic activity - this is subsumed under the principle of liberty upon which capitalism is based. But not all economic goods and resources are "material." Friendship is a spiritual or psychic consumption good. A consumption good is good that directly satisfies a want or desire. The cost of friendship is one's time. The revenue is a relationship. Hopefully, the profit is black, i.e., the revenue exceeds the costs.

Michael Labeit said...

At some level, I would argue that all human action is economic one way or another. All action is an exchange; an exchange of a less satisfactory state for a more satisfactory. If a swat an aggravating bug away, my action entails exchanging a state of annoyance for a state of non-annoyance. This isolated economic activity is called autistic exchange. The market deals with binary exchange.