I agree with the Occupiers when we both answer “no” to a question like “should we bail out large financial institutions that have made a lot of bad investments?” The more radical Occupiers lose me with demands that we “smash capitalism” and “abolish private property.” It isn’t at all clear to me that they have thought through exactly what this would entail.

Perhaps they see this as the beginning of an anti-capitalist, anti-commercial revolution, but to a certain extent we have already had this conversation. The twentieth century was a long (and bloody) debate about alternative modes of social organization. Even in its present corrupted and cronyized form, “modern capitalism”—which Deirdre McCloskey defines loosely as “private property and unfettered exchange”—is a goose that lays golden eggs, and not merely for the super-rich. If you disagree, ask yourself how many of those claiming to speak for “the 99%” have smart phones, which Louis XIV couldn’t have bought for all the gold in France. The problems the Occupiers blame on “capitalism” were not caused by “private property and unfettered exchange.” They were caused by institutionalized interference with “private property and unfettered exchange.”

At the margin, a little more government intervention isn’t likely to make a huge difference. I expect long-run problems that won’t surface until long after its main proponents and sponsors are out of office, but ObamaCare by itself isn’t going to turn the US into North Korea. Nonetheless, we can’t discard what economics has to teach and expect civilization to endure. Ludwig von Mises, one of the twentieth century’s most prominent defenders of the classical liberal order, finished his magnum opus Human Action with this:

The body of economic knowledge is an essential element in the structure of human civilization; it is the foundation upon which modern industrialism and all the moral, intellectual, technological, and therapeutical achievements of the last centuries have been built. It rests with men whether they will make the proper use of the rich treasure with which this knowledge provides them or whether they will leave it unused. But if they fail to take the best advantage of it and disregard its teachings and warnings, they will not annul economics; they will stamp out society and the human race.

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