As if parallel to life in the United States today, the funeral of John Lewis in Georgia was a combination of the appropriately respectful, the historically accurate, the politically cheap, and the philosophically questionable. For some reason, we are unable to have a proper funeral for a political person these days without someone or more than someone trying to grasp fifteen seconds of fame at the expense of all who wish to pay their respects. Among the speakers was a man of the cloth who made it clear that if one did not see our economic system as “plantation capitalism” and embrace the failed War on Poverty as sacrosanct then one would not be properly honoring John Lewis. What made the movement that John Lewis was a part of so compelling, in part, was that it asked that the Constitution of the United States be applied to all equally as a fulfillment of our founding mission and a conclusion to the fracturing of our society represented by the Civil War (1860-1865). The goal was to join in the prosperity, not destroy the system that creates the prosperity. What was missing was equal protection under the law and an acceptance of black Americans as full members of civil society. The sweetness of these goals won over a large number of American hearts and the nation moved to change long-held prejudices. The effort made by John Lewis and those of his colleagues who were deeply sincere is to be respected for helping bring this about, painful as the process was.
President Barack Obama signs the Civil Rights History Project Act of 2009 bill into law in the Oval Office of the White House Tuesday, May 12, 2009. With President Obama are from left: Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL); Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY); Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-GA); Rep. Lacy Clay (D-MO); Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA). Official White House Photo by Pete Souza. Image Credit: USA.gov
Nevertheless, right there at John Lewis’s funeral the term “plantation capitalism” was used to describe our current economic system by referencing the old agrarian master/slave business model in the south. The Reverend seemed to be saying that nothing has changed since those heady days of the 1960s and that American capitalism is another form of bondage for black Americans in the modern era. Miss Constitution would like to differ with that conclusion. If what he meant by the phrase is that a few people take all the wealth in our country while the rest do the work, he is simply incorrect. The heart and soul of American capitalism can best be described if one can envision five cardboard boxes, four of which are glued together, a string connecting the four to the fifth box that stands alone. That fifth box is the private sector, the engine of our economic system, and separate altogether from government and the structure of government. It represents the Liberty we have as Americans to start a business, however small, to invent new things, however hard it is to sell them, to discover new ways to make the products we use, the medicines we take, the food we eat, the houses we build, the energy we need, and make them better and more efficient. It sends men to space and brings them home. It creates the wealth we re-distribute through government and provides the prosperity that makes social justice possible. The other four boxes represent the Rule of Law that governs us – Positive Law (constitutions, statutes, administrative rules); Natural Law (unalienable rights); Moral Law (right from wrong); and Unwritten Law (courtesy and comity). The string that ties all of this together is the requirement in our system that the private sector honor all four boxes of the Rule of Law in doing business, and in addition, provide benefits for employees as a cost of doing business, and contribute a portion of the profit from the business to charities that help the underserved, the environment, and the arts. There is no other system like it in the world as there is no other system that binds the boxes together and makes clear that just making money, without a moral foundation and loyalty to the country, is unacceptable. Sports teams play the national anthem and display the flag as a way of showing gratitude to the country for the prosperity the sports business has achieved and passed on to the players and coaches.
About the time of the American Revolution, 1776, Adam Smith, a proud Scot, wrote the primer on capitalism called An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Undergirded by the philosophy of Francis Hutcheson, who asserted that human beings have a moral conscience and therefore was optimistic about human potential, Smith outlined a system for raising the capital necessary for the Industrial Revolution and its requirements for large steam-driven machinery based on the premise of dividing labor into specialties instead of each person having control of all aspects of the necessities of life. Some would specialize in farming, some in weaving, some in tanning, etc., and the income from these specialized services would pay for the specialties of others. This efficient economic model created great wealth. Smith discussed the need for ethics around this system lest the monotony of specialized labor destroy the psychological health of the individual worker. So, this is American capitalism in a nutshell. The private sector rewards creators and inventors and innovators by forming companies that raise the capital to operate through selling shares of stock in the company. These businesses offer those shares to their workers so that an employee can share in the profits of the company. Our economic system has a moral foundation that creates prosperity for all who prepare themselves for participation through strong families, excellent schools, and a trust in God that helps foster a necessary humility. It is the opposite of the cruel, amoral, atheistic, government-controlled system of the Communist Party of China. Karl Marx, China’s mentor, had a cynical view about capitalism and wrote that the worker would forever be exploited, could never be an owner, and that his or her labor would never be rewarded. His view was a similar one to the speaker at John Lewis’s funeral. Both Marx and the Reverend are dead wrong.
Miss Constitution hopes that the black community, inspired by the work of John Lewis and others, through solid family units and firm religious roots, having worked so hard to achieve equality under the law, continues to join in the amazing American experiment that is helping create the most prosperity for the most people in the history of the world.