Llewellyn Rockwell’s article “How the Market Stamps Out Evil” in the December issue was challenging. But whereas his superb philippic on the presidency in the October issue (“Down With the Presidency“) left me baying at the moon, this time I was unconvinced. Can capitalism really be set against a tyrannical government as a force for good? Obviously in some ways it can, but as we approach the new century it seems more likely that government and capital will work together to advance evil.
Perhaps some of Mr. Rockwell’s points can be turned against him. City and state government censorship bureaus in the 1920’s led to the creation of the Hays Office, under whose aegis America produced her finest movies. When our rulers, the judiciary, deconstructed the First Amendment, and governments gave up legislating morality, the free market rushed in to fill the abyss—and the filth that Mr. Rockwell deprecates is the result.
In England, plays were censored by a government official, the Lord Chamberlain, until the late 1960’s. With his demise came Oh! Calcutta! and the English theater fell into an orgy of nudity, foul language, blasphemy, and violence. So did the press—unregulated English newspapers are so loathsome that the entire country has become a vast sink of cockney whoredom and “lad-ism.” But of course that is what the public wants.
As for rap music, the biggest selling singles right now are called “You Make Me Wanna . . . ” and “Butt Love.” Wal-Mart’s CD bins may be profitable for Wal-Mart, and useful as a salve for the consciences of American parents, but their overindulged children will still search for the “hard” stuff—and find it, too.
I disagree with Mr. Rockwell that the market has saved us “from a series of malicious conspiracies,” mainly because of the examples he gives. Dadaism, which became surrealism, is the dominant form in advertising, and has been for years: obviously it sells. As for serialism, Joe Public cannot tell the difference between a Berg tone row and a Bach toccata —he listens to Whitney Houston, tonal and awful. And we may not like “wacky looking buildings,” but we are stuck with them because in the free (but not necessarily democratic) market, only two kinds of architect prevail, the wacky and the cheap. The free market hasn’t saved us from anything. Buildings are still ugly, there is far too much music (of whatever kind), and art and advertising have coalesced.
There are other evils inherent in the free market. Mr. Rockwell praises credit, but Dante called it by its right name: Usura. The credit market punishes the weak and the foolish far more than it punishes the wicked.
I agree that liberal welfare policies have helped wreck American civilization—the free market would at least have left well enough alone—but I see little capitalistic encouragement for physicians to stick to their Hippocratic oaths or for CEO’s to stop firing workers. And it is the free market allied with corrupt city government that has led to the disgraceful housing situation in cities like New York and San Francisco. Somewhere in Dante’s hell there is a special torment reserved for thieving rental agents who hoard apartments and then “find” them for a hefty fee.
In a free market, it is the worst who thrive. Today the most profitable industries are all satanic: munitions, pornography, computers, drugs, high finance. The moment a new technology is invented, it is sold to the lowest-minded bidder. The Internet is already a vast bagnio of perversity-filtering programs are merely a way of making a little more money on top of the main profit. Fertility drugs (where is the Catholic Church?) gave us the McCaughey litter, which feeds the entertainment complex for a few days. And cloning? God help us all when the free market gets hold of that.
The free market has seduced and entangled what Mr. Rockwell calls the “imperious state” in a softer tyranny, a subtler wickedness. If the free market is too successful, many of us may become too comfortable to fight evil. Radix malorum est cupiditas.
Mr. Rockwell Replies:
A charming and spirited letter, but Mr. Racho has fallen victim to a number of anticapitalist bromides. The movies were not destroyed by low-brow market tastes, but by government intervention. From the mid-1930’s through the late 40’s, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Supreme Court, bludgeoned the wonderful old free-market studio system that gave rise to the equally wonderful Hays Office. In its place, the antitrust police mandated independent ownership of theaters and production, thus separating the responsibility—moral and financial—that would naturally link moviemakers and movie theaters.
There were bad and immoral movies made then, and there are bad and immoral movies made now. The market won’t put a stop to all evil, but it does force those with evil intentions to go about their misdeeds indirectly, namely, by convincing people voluntarily to cooperate with their plans. If Stalin, Hitler, Roosevelt, and Mao had been capitalist moguls with murderous dreams, instead of heads of state, they might have published grotesque novels or made bad films. But their ability to wreck havoc on society would have been limited by those they could have pulled into their profitable orbit, not by the numbers of troops they could draft into their armies. Therein lies the difference between government power (in which the ability to do evil is nearly unlimited) and market power (in which it is severely limited).
As to the rest of Mr. Radio’s claims, it’s rent control, not markets, that destroyed housing in Manhattan and San Francisco; I’m against abortion (and where would that industry be without government subsidies and restrictions on adoption?); I’m all for the right of CEO’s to fire workers (far too few people get fired these days); I’m all for the Internet despite pervert.com (just as I’m all for books despite Foucault); and credit markets are a blessing (but abolish bankruptcy laws and bring back debtors’ prisons). As for the claim that “the free market hasn’t saved us from anything,” I would mention hunger, disease, and barbarism, all of which would quickly prevail in its absence. Worse, we wouldn’t have Chronicles.