More On: Caddyshack
Al Czervik, the low-class but rich real estate developer in 'Caddyshack,' shows what many people see as the 'unfair' effects of capitalism.
Many intellectuals hate capitalism. Pew Research Center found that 35% of people who had at least a high school diploma or some college said they had "favorable" views of socialism. But more than 40 percent of people with post-graduate degrees liked socialism, and more than 50 percent of people with PhDs said they liked socialism.
The word "dislike" can mean many different things. Some thinkers want to regulate and control how markets work, while others want to "abolish" (whatever that means) markets and private property altogether. (Note: Earlier, I tried to explain the difference between "markets" and "capitalism," but for now, I'll use the terms equally.)
I live among the groups of intellectuals and often go to their old-fashioned ceremonies and parties, so I have had a lot of chances to learn about their customs and ways of life. A few years ago, I said that the alternative to capitalism that many intellectuals want does exist, but only in their thoughts, like the picture that comes to mind when you say "unicorn." The problem is that saying "I can imagine it" is enough, since intellectuals are all about the power of imagination and picturing things in their minds.
Scholars have asked why intellectuals prefer complex systems built from the top down to the (apparent) chaos of market processes. In the University of Chicago Law Review in 1949, Friedrich Hayek wrote:
In every country that has moved toward socialism the phase of the development in which socialism becomes a determining influence on politics has been preceded for many years by a period during which socialist ideals governed the thinking of the more active intellectuals. In Germany this stage had been reached toward the end of the last century; in England and France, about the time of the first World War. To the casual observer it would seem as if the United States had reached this phase after World War II and that the attraction of a planned and directed economic system is now as strong among the American intellectuals as it ever was among their German or English fellows. Experience suggests that once this phase has been reached it is merely a question of time until the views now held by the intellectuals become the governing force of politics.
Hayek did not mean smart or even educated people when he said "intellectuals." What he meant by "secondhand dealers in ideas" was people whose job, vocation, or obsessive hobby was to talk about and analyze the ideas of others and advocate for one or more of these great systems to be put into place. Intellectuals always do things because they think it will lead to good things. Autocrats may use ideas to get power, but intellectuals are true supporters. This is why thinkers are good at what they do.
How does someone become a "intellectual?" Hayek says that their position or part in society as a broker or intermediary gives them a big advantage when it comes to spreading ideas that seem to come from a reliable source. He says that what he means is:
journalists, teachers, ministers, lecturers, publicists, radio commentators, writers of fiction, cartoonists, and artists,” but also professionals, “such as scientists and doctors, who through their habitual intercourse with the printed word become carriers of new ideas outside their own fields and who, because of their expert knowledge on their own subjects, are listened to with respect on most others. (emphasis added)
Robert Nozick wrote the famous essay "Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism?" nearly fifty years later. It's worth reading the whole thing, but the main point can be summed up in one name: Al Czervik, the poor but wealthy real estate developer from the movie "Caddyshack." (If you don't know what I'm talking about, watch this short movie). Nozick says that thinkers have always been nerdy kids who did well in school. People like Al Czervik were sitting in the back of the room and playing cards. But now they run their own businesses and sell cars or real estate. Any system that rewards people for being businesses instead of getting good grades and helping the teacher clean the erasers after class is obviously unfair.
Intellectuals think that experts and technocrats like themselves (or how they think of themselves) will be in charge in a socialist government. In fact, the smart people are wrong in two ways: First, people who make things worth having should get paid more than people who can quote "great thinkers" word for word, especially now that we have GoogleTM. But even more important, there isn't a single case in the history of real socialist governments, which run countries, that makes us think that anyone other than violent thugs and dictators will be in charge. Hayek said that "the worst get on top" in socialism. The smart people are rounded up and killed.
Still, thinkers are smart, that much is true. Why do they fall for this seductive horse over and over again? The other day I was listening to Bob Dylan when I suddenly realized that I had heard some of his words a thousand times but never really understood them. Dylan asks in "Blowin' in the Wind," a song he wrote in 1963, "Yes, and how many times must the cannonballs fly | Before they are banned for good?" How will you stop people from using cannonballs if no one has any?
The answer seems to be that the good people, the smart people, and the thinkers will have the cannonballs and make sure that the rest of us don't use them. Libertarians tend to think that everyone has the right to defend themselves. thinkers, on the other hand, think that the problem will be solved if everyone loses the right to defend themselves and power is given to thinkers. And since capitalism spreads power among the many people who get rich, it needs to be replaced with a system that keeps power in fewer hands.
What it comes down to is this: in capitalism, wealth is the power to get things and services that I want. This kind of power is not "zero sum," because Al Czervik, you, and I can all have it. Al Czervik might have more money than you or me, but we can all be rich.
But intellectuals like socialism, which turns the causal line around. Under capitalism, having money gives you power and lets you buy what you want. But under socialism, having power gives you money. Party apparatchiks and technical functionaries have a lot of power over how things are made and how they get to people. But political power, which is what I mean by "power," is always a zero-sum game. If the intellectual class has it, you and I don't. And Al Czervik drives a trash truck because he insulted a smart person in fourth grade, and the smart person told his father, who was the party boss. When businesses are owned by the government and run by the government, comparing standing becomes important. If I'm strong, then you're not. Socialism is a way to make people jealous because it is based on the idea that "elites"—"people who are educated, like me"—will come out on top.