Andrew Norton notes that disaffected intellectuals since Rousseau have been attacking capitalism for its failure to meet ‘true human needs.’(26) The claim is unfounded, so what is it about capitalism that so upsets them?
Joseph Schumpeter offered part of the answer. He observed that capitalism has brought into being an educated class that has no responsibility for practical affairs, and that this class can only make a mark by criticising the system that feeds them.(27) Intellectuals attack capitalism because that is how they sell books and build careers.
More recently, Robert Nozick has noted that intellectuals spend their childhoods excelling at school, where they occupy the top positions in the hierarchy, only to find later in life that their market value is much lower than they believe they are worth. Seeing ‘mere traders’ enjoying higher pay than them is unbearable, and it generates irreconcilable disaffection with the market system.(28)
But the best explanation for the intellectuals’ distaste for capitalism was offered by Friedrich Hayek in The Fatal Conceit.(29) Hayek understood that capitalism offends intellectual pride, while socialism flatters it. Humans like to believe they can design better systems than those that tradition or evolution have bequeathed. We distrust evolved systems, like markets, which seem to work without intelligent direction according to laws and dynamics that no one fully understands.
Nobody planned the global capitalist system, nobody runs it, and nobody really comprehends it. This particularly offends intellectuals, for capitalism renders them redundant. It gets on perfectly well without them. It does not need them to make it run, to coordinate it, or to redesign it. The intellectual critics of capitalism believe they know what is good for us, but millions of people interacting in the marketplace keep rebuffing them. This, ultimately, is why they believe capitalism is ‘bad for the soul’: it fulfils human needs without first seeking their moral approval.
"Why Capitalism Is Good for You," by Peter SaundersRelated posts:
"Lefty Profs" (21 Feb 2006)
"Why So Few Free-Market Economists?" (12 Oct 2006)
"Academic Bias" (22 Oct 2007)