Capitalism and Community

Brian Jones argues that defenses of capitalism are anthropologically thin. They “need a more humane anthropology, sensitive to man’s social and communal nature, lest they forget to ask the crucial question of what economics is for.”

He cites a 2002 article from the American Spectator to illustrate the reductive character of some defenses of capitalism economics. In that article, John Rutledge defined economics as “the interactions of systems of people in markets. Just as in physics, our concerns are work and heat—only we call them ‘output’ and ‘cost.’ The particles of economic analysis—individual people—think, scheme, love, and hate. Otherwise, they behave just the same as particles in physics.”

That seems an extreme illustration, a caricature, but Rutledge did write it, and went on to say that this framework provides a “simple” way to formulate economic policy. No doubt.

Jones suggests that defenders of capitalism should affirm that “a well-ordered community is both instrumental to and constitutive of human happiness. . . . Participating in various forms of community is part of what it is for a human to flourish, to be happy. As Aristotle held, even the virtuous need friends, not because they tend to lack what they need, but rather because loving others and sharing with them is a natural expression of virtue.”

In short, “A positive account must connect economic issues to something fundamentally prior to economics itself. Such a defense is difficult to mount, which perhaps explains why it is so infrequently attempted. But for that reason, it is all the more urgent.”

It’s a reasonable plea, but I wonder about the way Jones has set up the argument. Are communities truly “fundamentally prior to economics”? Is it possible to have or sustain a community without production and consumption and distribution of goods? Isn’t work – understood in a broad sense – essential to being human? What do people do in these communities?

Has Jones, by implicitly detaching community from economy, created a reductionism of his own?


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