This post is a response to fellow blogger Daedalus Lex. He asks the question, “How does one live a good life?” and provides two mutually exclusive answers.
Gandhi: Through service to others and simplicity of lifestyle.
Ayn Rand: Through rational self-interest and the advancement of capitalism.
Daedalus sides with Gandhi and so do I, even though we are on different sides of the political/economic divide.
The problem with Ayn Rand’s answer is that capitalism is not a moral framework. Capitalism doesn’t dictate how people should live their lives. It’s an economic system. It’s a rational system for allocating resources efficiently and enabling individuals to make free choices that maximize their personal freedoms.
Does this sound too abstract? Let me illustrate. Capitalism is what lets you decide whether to buy the latest iPhone or to take a two week trip to the Caribbean instead. It’s what enables Apple and the Caribbean hotel to exist.
Capitalism allows people to make choices about their own lives and it brings together teams of people to satisfy the needs of society as determined by the sum total of these individual choices.
One can live in a capitalist system and live a good life, being kind to others. And one can vote for a government that pays out benefits to those in need – the unemployed, the sick, the retired. Capitalism doesn’t compel you to be selfish. It explicitly maximizes your personal freedoms, enabling you to spend your money on a new car or to give it to starving orphans. Both are equally valid choices. Capitalism does not judge. That is one of its advantages – it allows us to make our own choices, free of compulsion from others.
Rand however, insists on making things personal. She dictates that you must act on rational self-interest. She won’t allow you to give your spare change to a homeless person.
But Rand is wrong. She has created a mutually incompatible set of instructions – to maximize personal freedoms and to live according to self-interest. By commanding us to be selfish she takes away our liberty and the possibility of putting others first.
Gandhi wins when he says that to live a good life one should give service to others and live a simple lifestyle. But Gandhi is wrong if he thought that could ever be the basis of an economic system.