The Zambian Constitution Debate part 3: Capitalism and Human Rights

By Chanda Chisala, 30 June 2007
What is capitalism? Why does this writer believe in it so much?

There are many people who oppose capitalism simply because they have a wrong understanding of it, and this is usually because it was explained to them by people who were opposed to it. Most lecturers in the social sciences in any country of the world are traditionally anti-capitalists; it is therefore not surprising that most graduates from the social sciences are opposed to capitalism. It also explains why they have a false understanding of the system.

There are many people who simply associate capitalism with greedy businessmen who go to any lengths to make money, including lying, stealing, deceiving and even killing. And they associate capitalist countries with the same vices. A capitalist country to them is one which oppresses other nations (for natural resources), makes other countries poorer, and even starts wars with resource-rich countries so that they can greedily take over their resources. Globalisation of capital is understood as an attempt by these same evil capitalists to spread their greed around the world and to undermine the sovereignty of the states they enter.

To most people, therefore, capitalism is the very epitome of evil; it is the economic system that brings out the worst in man, as one columnist in a local daily wrote the other week.

It is thus shocking to many when they meet a person like myself who boldly proclaims that capitalism is the ONLY moral socio-political system in the world. It is not ONE OF, it is not even the MOST moral, it is the ONLY moral social system that a nation can adopt. Such a statement contradicts everything that most people have heard throughout their lives, through the media and through their lectures. And yet it is completely true and even logically provable.

Capitalism is the social (or economic) system that is based on total respect for the principle of human rights. It is the only system that recognizes the rights of ALL humans in a society, not just those who are poor and not just those who are rich. There are some systems that grant more rights to the upper classes and the "aristocrats" at the expense of the rights of the poor and there are some systems that grant more rights to the poor and underprivileged at the expense of the rights of the rich or upper classes. Both of these systems are wrong in that they aim at "fulfilling" the rights of one class by trampling on the rights of others.

Unfortunately, there are many people who think that capitalism is also like that: they believe it grants more rights to the rich, the upper class - the bourgeoisie - at the expense of the poor, the labourer, or the "proletariat" to borrow Marx's words. Thus, such people feel that when they fight the capitalist system, they are fighting for the poor, they are joining them in the "struggle" from the oppression of the rich, the capitalists. And they "struggle" in solidarity with the poor, to have the rights of the worker or the poor "respected" and "protected".

All these ideas came from a man called Karl Marx. He was in fact the person who coined the word "capitalism" and it is therefore not surprising that his views are the ones which are taken by many when understanding the capitalist system. By presenting it as a system in which the poorer members of society are oppressed and robbed by the richer members of society, he established a huge following from all those who have a moral sense against such "injustice". It is therefore understandable to find a young person who sincerely and honestly believes in this "struggle" to free the poor from the shackles of the rich.

What is not understandable or forgivable is an intelligent person who continues believing in this error once it is demonstrated to her or him.

Why was Marx wrong? Mr. Karl Marx apparently did not understand that wealth is created, not just shared. What seemed unjust to him was the way the wealth of "society" was being distributed between the "capitalist" and the worker. What he failed to recognize was that there is no such thing as "the wealth of society." The earth does not have any wealth, and neither does "society". All wealth first has to be created. That's the cardinal point and it is the point that all socialists and Marxists miss up to this day for some mysterious, unexplainable reason.

Marx had predicted something that would have happened if his premises had been correct. He predicted that the "workers" would one day revolt against these "capitalists" and overthrow them (thus causing massive unrest in society). But this has never happened and it can never happen. Why? Because it is not true that the two classes were just fighting over limited "wealth". Wealth is limitless because of the fact that it is not just found, it is created by the mind of man. Thus, these working class people found themselves becoming richer even as the "capitalists" became richer, which doesn't make sense in Marx's system because he expected that they would become poorer as the capitalists became richer. Had he realized that wealth was created in the process of production, he would not have made that wrong prediction. History has shown that the countries that are more capitalist are in fact the ones which are even more peaceful (no "revolutions" from the "proletariat") than those that have tried the hardest to distribute wealth between the rich and the poor (communist countries). The "laborers" in the most capitalist nations are happier than the laborers in the most anti-capitalist nations, something which the genius of Marx would have predicted had he realized that there was a process of actual creation of (more) wealth in this system of capitalist production.

Have you noticed that all the intellectual opponents and critics of capitalism begin (and end) their theories with a discussion on the issue of sharing wealth? They take it for granted that wealth is already there and we need to just discuss how to share it. Others have thought only briefly about "wealth creation", but they also think that wealth is created by the labourers. But this is not so.

Wealth comes from ideas, not from manual labour. Without the right ideas (and a good management of them), there is no amount of labour that can produce any wealth for any person. People can just dig trenches everywhere if they wish, but without a solid idea that will intelligently translate those trenches into actual value, these will just remain holes in the earth. There is nothing on the earth that has wealth in itself. All wealth comes from the mind of man, from ideas, from thoughts.

Karl Marx believed we could calculate the value of the worker's input and give him a "fair" wage. But the fact is that if you take that approach to value, every single labourer in the world is massively overpaid today. This is because the value of an idea is so much more superior - it is not even comparable - to the value of manual labour. Laborers have in fact been replaced by machines in many instances, something that you can never do for the man who produces ideas. There is no machine that can come up with ideas, but there are many machines that can take over the manual processes of labour. The value of the man of ideas is therefore indisputably and incomparably higher.

The whole idea of calculating anything is therefore absurd. Human beings deal with each other by trade. You offer your price in exchange for something offered by someone else; if you meet somewhere, the exchange happens. This is the only process that respects every person's rights as a human being: the right to choose, the right of a free will.

Thus, the person who wants to start a business because he has an idea will meet with potential labourers and tell them what price (for their labour) he is willing to pay (wage). If they think this is too low for them, they should just turn it down and keep their labour from him. Also, if he thinks what they are demanding is too high, he should be free to turn them down. This is the way everything is sold even in shops: if you think the benz is too pricey and you can't afford it, just leave it alone. You don't use government to force the seller to reduce his price and you don't stop others from entering that shop!

But our socialist friends step in when it comes to labour and say that government must force those buying labour to agree to "the right price". Government bureaucrats sit down in their offices and "calculate" how much money should be paid to a labourer and they call this "the right wage". The creator of the business is forced to obey this price. His own rights are ignored. And yet they won't do the same thing with other products.

But there are others who are consistent. They realise that labour is indeed just like any other commodity and they recognize that if government can control the price of labour, it should be able to control the price of any other commodity. So, such people believe government should have the power of controlling prices of commodities in shops and elsewhere. They believe that some people "oppress" others through high pricing and government should stop such "oppression" by calculating the right prices and forcing these on them.

It should be clear to everyone, however, that you can not oppress anyone merely with your offer. And that's what your price is: just an offer. If someone walks up to you and says "I am selling my shoes for 1 million dollars", is that person oppressing you? Of course not. An offer can never be oppression and no one can be harmed by a mere offer. If you also offer to buy the shoes at 100 dollars instead of 1 million dollars, you are also just making an offer and not "oppressing" the seller.

Government is there to protect people from harm, not offers. Socialists convince governments that certain offers are harmful and they make government "protect" people from "harm" by controlling those who make such offers. This is truly ridiculous but it is puzzling that some very intelligent members of society, including university lecturers, hold on to this kind of nonsense quite religiously.

Government has no right to step in to "protect" people from your offers, no matter how ridiculous they appear. If you open a bakery and set the price of your bread at 2 million US dollars per loaf, that's your own problem. It's your offer, and of course no one will buy your bread. Why should government step in and tell you what the price of your bread should be or else you'll be locked up in jail? Isn't this clearly a violation of your rights? It is murderers, rapists and thieves - people who actually do harm to others - who should be put in jail, not people who put a "wrong" price tag on their bread for goodness' sake!

Some argue that you should be controlled because what you are selling (food) is essential to human beings. True, but it was my decision to produce it. I could have chosen not to make it if I wanted to. So, just because I produced something that people want or need should mean that I no longer have rights? This is obviously absurd. Does it mean I don't even have the right to destroy all my bread after I bake it, just because there are people out there who need it? It's my bread, I should do whatever the hell I want with it, including destroying it, feeding it to dogs, or just sleeping on it. Why should government control anything I do with it? And if they can allow me to destroy it if I want to, why should they jail me if I decide to put a million dollar price tag on it?

A capitalist simply believes that government has no right to control his price or anyone else's price. By making an offer, I am not violating anyone's rights because they can just choose to ignore me and go somewhere else. Thus, their rights are respected and my rights are respected. Thus capitalism is founded on the principle of rights for everyone while socialism and other systems grant rights only to one side while believing that the others' rights should be ignored and trampled upon by government. Things like price controls, minimum wage, and all other kinds of socialist policies that are ostensibly meant to "protect" some people are all abuses of government power and they involve violations of the rights of others. But note that some people in our country are now trying to include such abuses in the very heart of our constitution (the bill of RIGHTS) so that we could all accept that they are in fact NOT violations of rights. They want government to force every employer to give a "fair" wage to everyone, and every seller to give a "fair" price BY LAW (i.e. to respect the "economic rights" of the poor). And unfortunately, it looks like they are going to have their way because there are too few people in Zambia who understand exactly what these few influential Marxists are trying to do with our constitution in the name of "the people".


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