With the onset of the Occupy Wall Street Movement and its adoption by the left as the “liberal Tea Party” (despite the fact that it lacks any pervasive ideology), a classic leftist tactic has again manifested itself in U.S. politics: class warfare.
Tracing back centuries to notable events such as the French Revolution and social theorists like Marx, class warfare is the idea that there are distinct economic groups of individuals, determined by the amount of wealth held by each, which are in constant conflict. According to this theory, there is a lower class (the “have nots”) comprised of the economically oppressed that is trying to throw off its oppression and trying to gain the supposedly ill-gotten wealth of the upper class which is only working to maintain its own economic status. Occasionally, the middle class is included in this theory and is primarily engaged in replacing the upper class – it gains the assistance of the lower class from time to time, but whenever it gains top economic status, it disregards the lower class just as the former upper class had done, and the process repeats.
However, this theory was not exploited politically in the United States until the turn of the Twentieth Century in what is now known as the Progressive Era, the same time in which these social theories were becoming increasingly popular among U.S. intellectuals. Moved by these theories and the misguided sense of altruism facilitated by them, intellectuals began pushing for political policies to match their social theories. Some politicians, moved by altruism of a different sort, realized the potential value of these theories in winning elections and achieving various kinds of socio-economic goals. By convincing those considered the poor and the middle class that they are oppressed by the upper class, shrewd politicians realized that they could create broad coalitions behind any policy they desired simply by painting the upper class as being against it – so long as no one examines the policy itself or the implications of it, then such a coalition becomes nearly unstoppable in any system which allows general rule by simple majority.
Fortunately, the American population is divided, and subdivided among many (and often equally irrational) political lines. The biggest of these divisions is the Republican-Democrat dichotomy which, though it has permitted many gradual infringements upon individual rights over many decades, has often prevented vast movements of classist ideology from significantly influencing our political spectrum at large, the New Deal and the Great Society notwithstanding. Nevertheless, the ideology of class warfare must be confronted directly, not simply stunted through traditional American prejudices which, due to their own irrationality, are always at risk of failure. This sort of defense through happenstance is weak, and it is not the moral defense capitalism deserves. While the moral rightness of a capitalist system has been addressed several times in this publication, I specifically want to pick apart this constructed social theory, premise by premise, to reveal its shapelessness and, when adequately challenged, its worthlessness.
The first of these fallacies is the idea that wealth is a static quantity. Though very few facilitators of class warfare will argue this point when confronted about it, this premise is implicit within classist theory. This particular point is known as the “Zero Sum Theory” of wealth which erroneously equates the economic law which states that resources (the inputs of economic production) are scarce and applies it to economic wealth (the output) – not only do they misapply the law of scarcity, but they entirely misunderstand it. The law of scarcity itself claims that resources are limited, but that the limit itself (the supply) can fluctuate, while classists equate scarcity with some pre-determined, fixed limit on the number of resources in existence. The reason the limit is not fixed is due to the fact that resources can be discovered, invented, recycled, made more efficient, or obtained in greater numbers all through man’s productive abilities, the ultimate root of which are man’s mind.
In the same manner, the amount of wealth in existence increases through the cyclical obtainment, refinement, compilation, and use of economic resources, thus producing something more valuable than the constituent resources individually. The objective value, determined by the product’s importance to the ultimate value of man’s life, increases, meaning the overall wealth itself increases (contrast this with inflation in which the objective amount of wealth remains constant while the unit of exchange meant to serve as a numerical standard of objective wealth declines in its relational value). Usually, proponents of classist theory are armed with a whole slew of statistics about the proverbial “wealth gap.” Recently, the Occupy Wall Street Movement has been notably partial to the statistic which states that 1% of the U.S. population owns approximately anywhere from one third to 42% of the nation’s wealth, thus dubbing themselves the “99%,” supposedly meaning they are supported by an irrefutable majority (a fallacy addressed later).
The problem here is that the amount of wealth is continually increasing. Simply because one person owns a given portion of the “economic pie” does not at all mean that the pie itself is not growing, leaving a net gain for the remaining individuals. Though “the greatest good for the greatest number” is not the foundation of my argument, I find it odd that the left uses it as theirs, seeing as it will only collapse upon itself under their own assertions. Margaret Thatcher made this point clear in her last session serving as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, arguing against a fellow MP (Member of Parliament) about the wealth gap (or here, income gap – two things also commonly equated by the left, again erroneously): “He would rather the poor were poorer, provided the rich were less rich… So long as the gap is smaller, they would rather have the poor poorer.”
Besides the fallacies of the Zero Sum Theory and the wealth gap, class warfare instigators often equate economic status with political ideology. Case and point, the Occupy Wall Street Movement claims to politically represent 99% of all Americans simply because 99% of all Americans do not belong in the top 1% when it comes to economic wealth (an example of this thinking is pictured to the right). Marx openly supported this theory, believing that economic classes are generally ideologically cohesive (except for those ignorant of their own station or at least uncharacteristic of it). Viewing history as a struggle over resources between the “haves” and the “have nots,” he believed that these groups generally acted in unison toward the benefit of their collective social group (even if the well-being of the group was only pursued in an egoistic manner, as with those he called the bourgeoisie).
Though it should already be blatantly clear, the “99%” at Occupy Wall Street rallies are not supported by an overwhelming majority of 99%, nor are they receiving much open opposition from the “1%.” A recent Gallup poll found that 22% of Americans support the goals of OWS (though I severely question if they can even be identified), 15% do not support them, and 63% simply do not know. Through my own conversations with individuals and groups of various ideological positions, it should be unsurprising that it is usually Tea Partiers, conservatives, and Republicans who possess a negative view of the goals of OWS while many socialists, liberals, and Democrats look favorably upon them. The libertarians I have spoken with are generally split down the middle – the economic statuses of the members in all of these groups are noticeably irrelevant. Meanwhile, a great deal of the 1% has joined sides with the protestors, almost undeniably for preexisting political prejudices, again disproving idea of economic classes being equivalents to ideological factions.
Moving on to my preferred arguments against statism, moral arguments, class warfare theorists and those exploiting said theories equate economic wealth with force, political or independent. Firstly, one man’s amassment of wealth does not violate the rights of any other man. All men have the right to contract (part of the broader right of association), meaning the right to exert their free will to enter into whatever consensual relationships with other men that they will. This applies to all kinds of relationships, not the least of which are economic. At any point one man (or business, merely a collection of several or more men and resources) offers a product which another man desires, they have the right to exchange their products, quid pro quo, with one another until they reach the desired outcome – if they cannot agree on the terms, the trade simply does not take place. It neither picks the pocket nor breaks the leg of any man if one happens to reach an agreed set of terms with his customers more often than his competitors. Quite oppositely, it is a sign of great virtue (provided the customers are purchasing the goods and services for rational reasons) that he produce so much value so efficiently. Only upon the intercession of the legislature or some other government agency does this process become unfair in one direction or the other.
This is the final and greatest flaw of class warfare theory, and especially of the Occupy Wall Street Movement: the assertion that wealth qua wealth is a problem enabled by our political system, rather than that the political system is the problem itself. It is undoubtedly true that, through interventionist government policies, individuals with the means to purchase political clout have been able to get policies designed to gain government subsidies or squash competition passed through Congress. At the same time, it is also true that some public officials affected by a different kind of altruism have argued for and successfully implemented policies which enslave the productive members of society to their neighbors through the violation of their individual liberty. In turn, those that are capable gain exemptions for themselves and their businesses, and are promptly greeted with a dozen new regulations which they must then seek exemptions from, and so on.
This cycle leads to a dreadfully convoluted system of red tape, loopholes, economic punition and subsidization, and general chaos. The true problem in today’s politics are not the results of our mixed economic system, meaning the endless line of lobbyists trying to influence the law-making process, but instead the mixed economic system itself. If the government were incapable of interfering with the economy from the outset, as it should be, there would be no incentive for the “1%” to lobby public officials, because there would nothing which the public officials could give to them. There would be no red tape that would need cutting, and it would be impossible for more altruistic businessmen to harm their competitors through the government, or for politicians to do the same to whosoever happens to be their current target.
As it so often is, the solution is practicing a consistent philosophy rooted in the metaphysics of an objective reality. Many libertarians and anarchists, seeing the sort of influence through lobbying enabled by our political system, are blinded in their cynicism and believe that they lack any say whatsoever, blaming the wealthy in the same way as the socialistic left. At best, this is an irresponsible position – at worse, a dangerous one. At the moment, politicians are still elected by majority vote in some form or another, so resigning oneself to cynicism, believing that the current state of things is inalterable and one should therefore throw out the idea of objective law altogether, only commits a different set of fallacies, and does nothing to change the philosophy of American populace in the manner necessary to achieve a capitalistic system.
Instead, education is the key – education through example, through conversation, through confrontation, through helping shape America’s intellectual landscape. The opponents of capitalism rely on various sorts of evasions and fallacies to achieve their ends – the proponents of capitalism rely only on reason. Though I spent part of this article pointing out the fallacies of the statist position and defending capitalism from a practical perspective, remember this: despite all the very real benefits of a capitalist system, the only true defense of capitalism, and the only defense necessary, is the moral defense. Capitalism is the only governmental system which respects man’s rights and, consequently, man’s life – it should be advanced as such.