by Joseph Coletti
Senior Fellow, Fiscal Studies, John Locke Foundation
“Capitalism cannot provide meaning, spirituality, or sense of belonging. Those things are upstream of capitalism,” Jonah Goldberg writes in his new, optimistic book, Suicide of the West. Mitch has commented on Goldberg’s attribution of the modern miracle of liberty to John Locke. Goldberg explains what we’ve lost and why we seek community in his conversation with Russ Roberts on EconTalk (beginning at 58:45 in the transcript).
Capitalism is the greatest cooperative system for maximizing prosperity and peace…that has emerged. It doesn’t feel like it. It’s like, Ivory Soap: It’s 99 and 44/100 percent pure. I’m a big fan of the “I, Pencil,” Leonard Read stuff. And, the cooperation that goes into making a pencil is mindboggling. But, it’s so seamless and invisible, it doesn’t feel like cooperation. … And, cooperation is much more a hands-on, grass-roots, close live-around[?] thing. We get meaning in our lives from the people around us, the institutions that we’re part of. And capitalism–capitalism can provide opportunities for that. But capitalism itself can’t. There’s nothing in it that, you know, fills the holes in one’s soul. What fills the holes in your soul are family, faith, friends, experience, making a meaningful contribution–this notion of earned success. Those are the things that make you feel like you had a life well lived. Capitalism is great because it provides, or can provide, more opportunities to find that niche in the ecosystem that gives you meaning than other systems can. But the capitalism itself isn’t doing it. It’s these other things. And, as people retreat from those things, they start looking to create political systems that they think will be substitutes for that. And, the problem is that it’s Fool’s Gold. Socialism can’t do that. Communism can’t do that. Capitalism can’t do that. The only things that can fill the hole in your soul are basically in the microcosm, not in the macrocosm.