Capitalist Solutions: A Philosophy of American Moral Dilemmas, by Andrew Bernstein. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2012. 180 pp. $34.95 (hardcover).
How often does an author defend the right of citizens to own guns and the right of homosexuals to marry—in the same book chapter? In his new book Capitalist Solutions, Andrew Bernstein applies the principle of individual rights not only to “social” issues such as gun rights and gay marriage but also to economic matters such as health care and education and to the threat of Islamic totalitarianism. Bernstein augments his philosophical discussions with a wide range of facts from history, economics, and science.
The release of Capitalist Solutions could not have been timed more perfectly: It coincides with the rise of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement that focuses on “corporate greed” and the alleged evils of income inequality. Whereas many “Occupiers” call for more government involvement in various areas of the economy—including welfare support and subsidies for mortgages and student loans—Bernstein argues forcefully that government interference in the market caused today’s economic problems and that capitalism is the solution.
The introductory essay reviews Ayn Rand’s basic philosophical theories, with an emphasis on her ethics of egoism and her politics of individual rights. Bernstein harkens back to this philosophical foundation throughout his book, applying it to the issues of the day.
The introduction illustrates the essential nature of capitalism by contrasting the life-promoting value of liberty throughout American history with the life-crushing evil of totalitarian collectivism elsewhere. Whereas “the foundation of the American Republic initiated a moral revolution,” Bernstein writes, the “free-thinking mind, the fundamental source of new ideas and creations in every field, is stifled under all forms of statism” (p. 18). Returning to history covered in his previous book, Capitalism Unbound, Bernstein reviews the magnificent achievements of great American producers such as Thomas Edison and Henry Ford as well as innovative social scientists and artists such as Mark Twain. Then Bernstein turns his attention to statism in many of “its ghastly iterations,” including the brutal regimes of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao (pp. 22–25).
The remainder of the book applies the foundational principles of capitalism and individual rights to the contemporary issues of environmentalism, Islamic totalitarianism, health care, abortion, education, gun ownership, the drug war, immigration, and gay marriage. I’ll discuss Bernstein’s treatment of a few of these topics to convey the essence of the book.
In his first (and longest) issue-oriented essay, “Repudiating Environmentalism in Theory and Practice,” Bernstein explains four central points especially well. First, the term “environment” refers to the environment of particular living things, and improving the human environment comes only with advancing technology and economic prosperity. As an example, Bernstein explains how sewer treatment, water chlorination, and dams vastly improve the human environment by providing people with clean water.
His second key point is that environmentalists misconstrue the meaning of “environment” because they regard untouched nature as having intrinsic value. Bernstein elaborates, “The claim that nature has ‘intrinsic value,’ that it is worthy of our esteem, even veneration, quite apart from any utilitarian purpose it might serve, is the key to understanding environmentalism. Man, on this view, is an intruder . . . who despoils the sacred natural environment he inhabits” (p. 44). . . .