Capitalism, as defined by Milton Friedman, refers to 'the organization of the bulk of economic activity through private enterprise operating in a free market...a system of economic freedom and a necessary condition for political freedom.' Friedman thus defends capitalism not for its own sake, nor even for its capacity to create wealth, but because of its association with individual, economic, and political freedom. The first thing to note about freedom is that it does not produce equality. So people wonder whether all this freedom is fair, and to the extent that it is unfair, whether it is immoral. Is it immoral to promote freedom if it ends up in a situation where some people have more stuff than others?
There is some contestation regarding whether law is mostly about justice and fairness (and equality) or whether it's mostly about efficiency. The idea of efficiency doesn't seem to be extremely honourable, being connected as it is with capitalist markets and correlated associations such as greed, selfishness, and, worst of all, great wealth. This explains why lawyers value morality and human kindness above everything else. In Canada, where everybody is good and upholds the correct moral values, they're actually forcing lawyers to sign a blood oath promising to be good and kind and show equal love to everyone. Soon other countries will be following that illustrious example.
Is “equality” an essential component of justice? We know that justice is a good thing (nobody would argue that injustice is a great goal to aspire to) but does it follow logically that the full force of the law should be harnessed to equalize everything? Equal amounts of stuff, equal pay for all working people especially if they're women, equal benefits for all unworking people and equal opportunities for all to have an equally good life. Everything should be equally distributed. Because otherwise it’s not fair. More importantly, it’s unjust.
Capitalist free markets do not generally create a situation where everyone has the same amount of stuff. Sadly, progress tends to yield unequal outcomes. Enter the welfare state, a creature of most modern capitalist economies. The idea is that taxes will be collected to create a repository of public funds to provide a safety-net for the poorest and most vulnerable in society. Thus the welfare state would be expected to meet the costs of unemployment insurance and pensions for those who found themselves cast on the heap when the company they worked for goes bust.
In Capitalism and Freedom Friedman tries, although without much success judging by the state of things today, to challenge us to think about the meaning of 'equality' in the context of work and pay. Something a bit more sophisticated than 'having the same amount of stuff' or 'paying everyone the same wage'.
Within the framework of private law, where individuals are largely self-governing subject to the basic principles of the law of obligations (contract, property, and tort) the law has nothing to say about whether everyone should have the same amount of stuff or even the same amount of social standing or economic power.
As Christmas approaches, 'tis the season to reflect on Mr Scrooge and his infamous modern-day successors. Many greedy capitalists have achieved notoriety in our time but as we enter the season of goodwill to all men our focus turns to other greedy capitalists who, like Mr Scrooge, turn themselves around and do the right thing in the end by giving lots of money to help the less fortunate.
Why is it that all the people who write about freedom are capitalists? What do socialists have to say about freedom, if anything?
You may have read in the news that Uber is guilty of exploiting workers, forcing them to drive when they’d rather be at home resting nicely with their families, and employing ‘psychological tricks’ to mask its inhumane treatment of the drivers. It's grim. 19th century sweated labour conditions, only worse. You’d think we’d have moved on from the days of the dark satanic mills, but no. We are marching backwards and before long it will be exactly like the days of prehistory when everyone was dying of the plague.
In the latest round of talks between Uber and its unhappy drivers, which are currently being conducted under the aegis of the Employment Appeal Tribunal, Uber is reduced to arguing that it has done nothing new, nothing innovative, nothing exciting, let alone revolutionary. The nature of their defence is: we deny that there is any such thing as the gig economy, or if there is, we deny that we are part of it.