Why aren't there any folk songs for Capitalism?
Pete Boettke recently asked this puzzling question along with another tough one: "why does capitalism produce yet fail to inspire, while socialism inspires, yet fails to produce?" in class and blog.
I'm in the midst of reading Property and Freedom by Richard Pipes as part of an upcoming Liberty Fund conference. I think his first 60 pages is relevant to these questions. Pipes begins the text by surveying how several different thinkers have understood and explained the phenomenon of private property through history.
In different historical contexts people think of property positively and negatively in turn. When held in a negative light, thinkers are less concerned with the nature of property rights so much as they are concerned with the allocation and distribution of property throughout society.
With this in mind I'd like to put forward a theory: the costs of identifying a hypothetical counter factual is higher than attributing an observed scenario as a relevant counter factual. Let me explain. We like to say that a rising tide lifts all ships. In other words the poor may be worse off compared to the rich today, but over time the benefits of free-trade have made today's lower classes enjoy levels of wealth unreachable by even the most wealthy citizens of the past. What if the overly romantic notions of socialism and the pessimistic attitudes towards capitalism can be explained by the fact that poor people face a marginally different cost when they are looking for a basis to compare themselves with. It seems cheaper in terms of thinking energy to look at the wealthy classes and say "why couldn't that be me?" rather than learn about past populations and realize "that would have likely been me."