Monday, June 25, 2007

Is Capitalism Inevitable?

The question is a provocative one, loaded with implications for anyone who is concerned about the present and future state of human freedom.

In Robert Wright's book Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny, he answers yes, more or less. In an unusual twist, he does not claim that the lofty ideas of Western philosophy explain capitalism's triumph. Rather, he argues that capitalism will succeed simply because it is consistent with human nature.

An excerpt:

"When medieval burghers carved out some breathing room for themselves, winning the right of self-governance, they were not spurred by the writings of Demosthenes, nor trying to revive their classical Western heritage. They were just indulging their instincts for self-interest and collaboration, and embracing a productive information metatechnology: freedom. Freedom to buy and sell, to make contracts, to use one's savings as one sees fit -- and the freedom of towns, more broadly, to define and fine-tune these freedoms -- all these were fruitful algorithms of governance; they were the political technology that best energized the ascendant economic technology, capitalism.

In Wright's view, capitalism is inevitable, sooner or later and somewhere in the world. It works so well that lots of people, somewhere are going to use it. If not in North Korea, then in South Korea. If not now, then later. If not us, then...who?

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