At The Undercurrent, we recently launched the second iteration of #CapitalistAndProud, our national initiative rallying college students to write to their campus papers explaining why they support capitalism. We’ve committed to posting well-written submissions on the TU blog.
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The following is a letter to the editor from Thomas Walker, a PhD student at De Montfort University, Leicester, UK who also works in local government and runs a small consulting business.
There are few places in the world where capitalism is as established and entrenched as the United Kingdom. In a country where such services as utilities, transport, postage and telecoms are all privatised, one would expect the philosophy of capitalism to be well understood and respected. And yet in spite of the high levels of economic freedom here, and the hugely prosperous economy it has brought, this is a culture obsessed with socialist ideas. It is a culture where “the government should do something” is the first answer to every problem; a culture where the National Health Service and the BBC are glorified as icons of British values, despite everybody being well aware of their inherent failings.
For much of my childhood and teenage life, politics always seemed like something intangible and otherworldly. Aside from a brief flirtation with communism during my school years, it wasn’t until my late teens that I began to realise that there was a mismatch between my worldview and the direction the society around me was taking. At first this just expressed itself as a few particular issues. I could tell that the state education system was trying to produce good citizens instead of successful individuals. I knew from my passion for transport that the privatisation of the railways had been a massive benefit, despite the public perception that it was a mistake. I knew that BBC programming was carrying a transparent left wing agenda, which bothered me even when the messages being communicated were ones I agreed with.
It would take another five years for those issues to come together under a coherent set of values. Initially, I gravitated towards nationalism; I saw a society and a state system trying to push me to the left, so I moved to the right. I saw how restrictions on free speech and the increasing moves towards enforced equality were eroding away traditional British values, so I sided with the groups trying to protect those values. But it very quickly became clear that nationalism wasn’t the answer. It was just another system that wanted to impose its own ideas on the individual, and what I was looking for was something that put the individual first.
After watching a series of videos on atheism, YouTube recommended that I watch Ayn Rand’s 1959 interview with Mike Wallace. In that interview, she spoke of her atheism in a way that connected with me. But more importantly, she described an entire philosophy based on rational self-interest and identified laissez-faire capitalism as the logical economic and political system that follows from that. I had some understanding of these terms from studying American history at school, but the way they had been presented to me then was distant and intangible. Suddenly, I was now able to see in absolute detail how this system fit my existing ideas. That enabled me to begin studying and understanding economics and politics; subjects which had for so long seemed completely outside my grasp.
Capitalism has transformed the UK twice in its history. The first was the industrial revolution, when enterprise, competition and the drive for wealth creation lead to the development of technologies that would change the nature of human life forever, such as steam engines, rail travel and electrical power. The second was during the 1980s, when Thatcher took a country reeling from economic disaster, endless strikes and a three-day working week and transformed it into the stable and prosperous Britain that exists today. As someone with lifelong interests in transport, urban planning and history, it’s very clear to me how free market capitalism has played a role in creating the country I’m proud to call home.
The sad truth is that the role of capitalism remains unclear to so many. By and large, people are not interested in reading up on politics, history and economics in detail. On a superficial level, it’s easy to buy into the idea that greed is evil and government programs to help the needy can only be good. It took the effort of learning these subjects in much greater detail for me to realise that capitalism and minimal government were the overall themes that tied my existing ideas together. I believe that far more people, both in Britain and America, would understand and support capitalism, than currently do, if they understood capitalism and the real causes of many of both country’s social and economic problems.
It’s really for that reason that I’m proud to proclaim my support of capitalism today: I want to encourage those who support it, but just don’t know it yet, to discover the system that really underpins their ideas and values.
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#CapitalistAndProud pieces that are published in student publications by 11/30/16 will be eligible to win $1000 in the Ayn Rand Institute’s “Campus Writing Contest.” Well-written submissions will be published on the TU blog, and at least one outstanding entry will be included in the fall edition of our print magazine. All submissions should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to comment on Facebook or tweet us @tundercurrent to let us know why you’re #CapitalistAndProud!