How the West (and the Rest) Got Rich

Adam Smith cc

I find it funny (and terribly sad) that so many supposedly informed and educated people don’t understand what a miracle capitalism (and the Western tradition, including English common law) truly is. Many of us, perhaps most of us wouldn’t even be alive today if it was not for the concepts which spread from northwestern Europe, to North America, and then beyond. We live in amazing wealth. Even the poor in the West have amazing wealth relative to the poor throughout history and relative to parts of the world where commerce is stifled by statism, fear, ignorance, and war. (War is a product often of statism, fear, and ignorance.)

When everyday people are allowed to think and to pursue profit in peace the world progresses. Life gets better. Inventions happen. Commerce happens. Where liberty is embraced wealth is not far behind.

And yet, so many people do not understand this. It is a tragedy.

Of course there are many vested interests that do not want people to understand that liberty brings wealth. (And with it power for the middle classes.) These people are the people who hold the reins of the state or who resent the fact that progress is often uneven. (Often the same people in the West.) These people would prefer to keep the average person bridled. Better a plodding regimented existence in which the political class remains in relative power than a dynamic world where the status of the statist is sharply diminished.

Staists of various stripes are the true “conservatives.” They want to tame the human spirit.They want to control the world and the people within it. Theirs is a philosophy which is fundamentally based on fear, both of the common person and of real progress. It is the capitalists which are the true revolutionaries when one zooms out on the great map of history.

I say viva liberty! Viva the bourgeoisie. Viva thought. Viva commerce. Viva capitalism. Viva peace. Viva progress. Viva the West.

(From The Wall Street Journal)

Look at the magnificent plenty on the shelves of supermarkets and shopping malls. Consider the magical devices for communication and entertainment now available even to people of modest means. Do you know someone who is clinically depressed? She can find help today with a range of effective drugs, none of which were available to the billionaire Howard Hughes in his despair. Had a hip joint replaced? In 1980, the operation was crudely experimental.

Nothing like the Great Enrichment of the past two centuries had ever happened before…

…Why did ideas so suddenly start having sex, there and then? Why did it all start at first in Holland about 1600 and then England about 1700 and then the North American colonies and England’s impoverished neighbor, Scotland, and then Belgium and northern France and the Rhineland?

The answer, in a word, is “liberty.” Liberated people, it turns out, are ingenious. Slaves, serfs, subordinated women, people frozen in a hierarchy of lords or bureaucrats are not. By certain accidents of European politics, having nothing to do with deep European virtue, more and more Europeans were liberated. From Luther’s reformation through the Dutch revolt against Spain after 1568 and England’s turmoil in the Civil War of the 1640s, down to the American and French revolutions, Europeans came to believe that common people should be liberated to have a go. You might call it: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Click here for the article.