Monday, March 21, 2011

Capitalist Happiness

Boudreaux on money, leisure, work, and capitalist happiness
Water likely does nothing to make a fish consciously happy – but take that water away from him and you’ll witness a most miserable mackerel. … [If we all lived slower-paced, leisure-filled lifestyles] the reduction in medical research would cause mortality to rise.  It’s not at all clear that a salesman who lives in a more leisurely world but whose child dies of pneumonia would be just as happy as a hard-driving salesman living in today’s world in which physicians, researchers, and profit-grubbing pharma executives – motivated by personal ambition – stress themselves out and work long hours to supply the medical care that relieves parents of the constant worry that diseases such as pneumonia and influenza will kill their kids.  Likewise for many other features of our daily lives that we take for granted but that we enjoy only because of the ambitious striving that capitalist incentives promote – features whose disappearance from our lives would make us most unhappy.
The Economist on capitalist happiness in China:
Competition from private companies has driven up wages and benefits more than any new law—helping to create the consumers China (and its firms) need. And behind numerous new businesses created on a shoestring are former factory employees who have seen the rewards that come from running an assembly line rather than merely working on one. In all these respects the private sector plays a vital role in raising living standards—and moving the Chinese economy towards consumption at home rather than just exports abroad.
The West should be grateful for that. And it should also celebrate bamboo capitalism more broadly. Too many people—not just third-world dictators but Western business tycoons—have fallen for the Beijing consensus, the idea that state-directed capitalism and tight political control are the elixir of growth. In fact China has surged forward mainly where the state has stood back.
The Economist closes, I think somewhat unfairly, that “'Capitalism with Chinese characteristics' works because of the capitalism, not the characteristics.” Those characteristics, however, have included social safety nets that – because they are not administered in the same way ours are – are often overlooked, a culture that focuses far more on social solidarity than our idealized rugged individualism, and the need to oversee a massive transition of a population four times the size of ours experiencing more than one hundred years of growth in only a few decades. The characteristics have been a vital part of creating the conditions needed for capitalism to thrive in a largely peaceful manner. I don’t believe it is a model that could be used in many other places, and I don’t believe that it will remain inflexibly rigid as Chinese society continues to change. That doesn’t mean the arm can say to the leg, ‘I have no need of thee’ or that they are features whose disappearance from their lives would not make them most unhappy.

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