Nastiest Bumper Sticker Ever

Addressing common misconceptions about capitalism

We’ve all seen a bumper sticker that make us shake our head, and it’s hard to know the intentions of the person who put it on their car, and whether they were misinformed or simply uninformed. The one I spotted the other day, however, jumped out at me as particularly ignorant.

capitalism bumper sticker

While delivering a document to a local YMCA, I parked in front of a Buick sporting a bumper sticker (see photo above) that read:

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Capitalism is the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men, for the nastiest of reasons, will somehow work for the benefit of us all.”

Several questions immediately came to me, some of them rhetorical.

  1. Was the owner aware that they had placed this bumper sticker on a useful, mass produced and highly profitable product born of capitalism right here in Michigan?

The sticker’s message is directly undermined by the very act of slapping it on a commercial success like a Buick. The Buick brand was born in 1899 and by 1923 had already produced 1 million cars, an achievement suggesting that the company had learned how to benefit many people.

Presumably the owner of this particular car acquired it through a peaceful and mutually beneficial association. The owner assented to the purchase apparently because they saw some benefit in doing so. Capitalists work in the service of others for their own personal gain. As Adam Smith famously said, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”

But their pursuit of their self-interest benefits others by providing products consumers (like our Buick owner) want and choose to buy. The business owner and the consumer benefit. Governments benefit, too, by way of additional tax revenues.

The reality is that market capitalists are actually true public servants.

  1. Did the owner realize that the YMCA at which their car was parked was built in part with the donations of current and past business-owner capitalists?

At my local YMCA, a television runs a continuous feed of the names of people, businesses and foundations that helped make its construction possible.

Under market capitalism, successful people may accumulate wealth during and after a lifetime of hard work and sacrifice. Taking financial risks, providing jobs, meeting payrolls and overcoming government hurdles is no easy life. That many successful entrepreneurs then use their surplus for explicit philanthropic purposes is a testament to their generosity, not their nastiness.

  1. If capitalism and capitalists are as nasty as the Buick owner’s sticker contends, what is the alternative?

In case the owner didn’t learn this from the 20th Century, other models for society have been tried (often at the point of a gun) and largely rejected. Music legend Frank Zappa summed up the failure of communism by saying that “people want stuff.” When it comes to providing stuff, there is no better approach than market capitalism. This isn’t just my observation; it is based on empirical evidence.

The following 2011 video does an exceptional job of illustrating that evidence. In countries with greater degrees of economic freedom — the right to enter into contracts, own and dispose of property, start businesses and engage in trade — people live longer, happier and healthier lives. By impugning the economic system that has done more than any other to improve the human condition, the message I spied in the parking lot that day just may qualify for the dubious distinction of nastiest bumper sticker ever.

For more on the Web, see “Why Capitalism is Awesome” by our friends at the Cato Institute and the new 2016 Index of Economic Freedom, produced by The Wall Street Journal and The Heritage Foundation and the Economic Freedom of North America index (2015).

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