Phelps's 'free market' is not mine, and it turns that nor is it truly free.
A piece Phelps wrote for the Wall Street Journal is instructive. Unusually, Phelps does attempt a moral defence of capitalism, but it is so wringing wet as to be worse than useless. Described by Instapundit as "a strong defense of capitalism" it is anything but. As Ed Hudgins points out in a letter to the WSJ, “Phelps advocates economic individualism but moral collectivism," as poor a basis for defending capitalism as it's possible to have.
"Hayek and Ayn Rand went too far in taking ... freedom to be an absolute," writes Phelps, who is more than happy to sacrifice liberty for a little egalitairian tinkering in the name of 'social justice.' "But," as Hudgins points out, "if the individual rather than a statistical group is the ultimate subject of justice, then freedom is the highest good in the only truly just society – a capitalist one!”
Paul Hsieh at Noodle Food points out that Phelps gives away almost every fundamental point that a principled opponent of the free market would wish him to. It is a defence, explains Hsieh, that"rests on two pillars":
[T]he fact that it is the best system for helping the poorest amongst us, and that it helps maximize "self-expression" of creative people. Although these are incidentally true, they are so far removed from what Objectivists would regard as the fundamental moral defense of capitalism, namely man's need to think in order to live, and the corresponding need for freedom from initiation of force in order to use his mind. So if this is a "strong defense of capitalism," I'd hate to see a weak one!And so they do. The explicitly Objectivist 'Center for the Moral Defense of Capitalism' will give you an idea of what a moral defence of capitalism truly looks like. The introductory essay 'The Moral Basis of Capitalism' is a good place to dive in and compare a truly moral defence with Phelp's apologia. It begins:
But it's always interesting to see what is portrayed as a moral defense of capitalism in the mainstream culture (from a well-respected Nobel laureate in economics no less), because this is an area where Objectivists have a critically important and unique contribution of ideas relative to the libertarians and conservatives.
Capitalism is the only moral social system because it is the only system that respects the freedom of the producers to think and the right of the individual to set his own goals and pursue his own happiness.Read on...
LINKS: Defender of capitalism? - Paul Hsieh at Noodle Food
Comments at Noodle Food
Hudgins in the Wall Street Journal - Ed Hudgins, SOLO
The moral basis of capitalism - Robert Tracinscki, Center for the Advancement of Capitalism
RELATED: Libertarianism, Objectivism, Ethics