by Shree Agnihotri, Former Program Associate for South Asia, 2016-17
My earliest memory of Capitalism and what it meant came from movies like Lal Salaam (Red Salute), Coolie (Porter) and Mae Azaad Hoon (I am Free). Iconic by all means, the movies all had protagonists fighting for the rights of the quintessential common man, inspiring them to get together and defeat the corrupt businessman. The battle was always between the hungry, homeless working class and the greedy, corrupt elites.
Socialism, for the girl of sixteen, was a synonym for genuine Humean love for humanity. Capitalism translated to the small group of rich businessmen who only cared for profits and gave no thought to the have-nots of the society. I have come a long way from such simplistic definitions of ideologies. I see movies with a better perception filter now.
However, conversations with friends who were undecided on where they stood on the political spectrum always gave the nagging feeling that our “rational” discussions involving empirical arguments would never convey my instincts. Perhaps, Kant was wrong after all.
Perhaps, human beings rely on Instincts and how they feel about a certain theory as much as Reason. Perhaps, the good in the Kantian “good will” came also from a deep and foundation-less (reason-wise) intuition. And perhaps, like Kant, we never refer to it when we justify our positions for fear of being labelled as an irrational sentimentalist.
Liberty Con 2018 brought me face to face with walking, talking, breathing validations of a sentimentalist defense of capitalism. At the Top 50 Global Leadership Retreat, I met young leaders who cared. The panel on student activism had Ayemen (from India), Julio (from Brazil), David (from Mexico), Nicole (from Indonesia), Jorge (from Venezuela), Linda (from Kenya) and Piotr (from Belarus). They discussed political freedom, religious diversity, and the importance of information and knowledge.
Many of them want to be politicians in the future. They want a world where everybody is free to choose. The Immigration Debate between Alex Nowrasteh and Phillip Haney had the Capitalist devote <50% of his talking time to humanizing the immigrants, refuting statistics linking crime rates to immigration and advocating for a more humane, empathetic outlook.
Also present in the speech were arguments about the benefits immigrants provide to the economy of a country. The selfish motive for growth of an economy was walking next to a sentimentalist perspective on immigrant rights.
The ideologies drew swords at the Capitalism v Socialism debate between Bryan Caplan and Elizabeth Bruenig. They disagreed on a lot and I don’t need to recapitulate the essence of their positions. What they agreed on, however, was the value of being free and the need to find a system that best delivered the promised liberties.
The capitalist in the debate was not an apathetic moral deviant who favored the income divide. The capitalist wanted freedom and prosperity for all. The capitalist cared.
Ideologies will always differ on the degree of importance they place on a certain ideal. Ideals will continue to be essentially contested concepts that will be debated till the end of eternity. It is easy to reduce ideologies to adjectives. However, I walked away from Liberty Con with the memory of Capitalists from all around the world who care and are working passionately, tirelessly, selfishly to make the world a better place for everybody.