An attack on the poor, who have been most helped by capitalism

Quote of the Day for Thursday, January 27th, 2011:

Robert T. Miller, in February’s First Things, criticizing the continuing latent Marxism in the political economy of Alasdair MacIntyre’s thought, in an article entitled Waiting for St. Vladimir:

Capitalism efficiently delivers goods and services, but it is not a perfect system—far from it. To be sure, capitalism has costs of various kinds. It is a key insight of modern economics, however, that all solutions to a given problem have costs, and we delude ourselves if we think we can find a perfect (in the sense of costless) solution. Despite its costs, capitalism has raised up from poverty hundreds of millions of human beings, fed, housed, and clothed them vastly better than their ancestors, lengthened their lives and preserved them from disease—and all in ways that people living in early ages could not possibly have imagined. When people respond to the financial incentives capitalism creates, they often are not doing much to improve their souls, but the capitalist system has done more—much more—to improve the material conditions of mankind than all the corporal works of mercy performed by all the Christian saints throughout the ages. For this reason a foundational attack on capitalism is an attack on the material well-being of the human race and especially an attack on the poor, who have been most helped by capitalism.

MacIntyre is a giant of a moral philosopher, who has done great work in revitalizing the notion of Virtue Ethics, but as Miller – who admits a deep debt to MacIntyre in other areas – makes clear, MacIntyre has not disabused himself of his leftist misappropriation of the meaning of economic justice, even at this late stage in his life, and well after his conversion to Catholicism.

Most of the article is spent specifically addressing MacIntyre’s writing, but I thought the paragraph above was a beautifully concise explication of the major problem with the typical leftist jeremiad against capitalism – whether that comes from an explicitly Marxist critique, or from the kind of “soft-leftism” prevalent in what is confusedly called liberalism these days. One needn’t be blind to the real costs of capitalism in order to see its obvious benefits to the world, and if we manage to tear down the edifice of capitalism, we will not “progress” into a new era of endlessly flowing milk & honey for all, but revert to the widespread destitution and privations that dominated the pre-industrial era – and this after having destroyed the social hierarchies that made such living bearable by investing it with the meaning of belongingness.