Vino argues, in the comments to my last post, that it is capitalism that is breaking down community and leading to the social catastrophe I lament. Essentially, his argument is that capitalism makes people callous about the interests of others. I profoundly disagree.
On the contrary, one of the great moral qualities of capitalism is that, unlike the caricature painted by both the Left and too many on the Right, it promotes less selfishness than any other system. The reason is explained in George Gilder's Reaganite classic 'Wealth and Poverty'.
In a capitalist system my well being depends upon anticipating and satisfying the needs of others. If I can do that then I will have a market and I will prosper. On the other hand, if I do not think of others then there will be no market and I will suffer. As such, the capitalist system has created an imperative for me to think about the desires of others and to try to help them. It has aligned my interests with theirs and, by making me care more about others, morally improved me.
Economists talk a lot about competition and this can further the impression that the process is a cut-throat one. However, this is only to look at the relationship between the competitors. Once one considers the bigger picture it should become apparent that the competitors are competing to be able to serve the market. They are fighting to be the ones best able to help others.
If this sounds too far fetched think of it in the same terms that Baumol argued for the dynamic potential of capitalism. Baumol's argument was that capitalism, by providing returns to productive enterprise, channelled entrepreneurial ability towards productive uses. In other societies it was channelled towards destruction, as in a feudal society where the best means of getting big rewards was to fight, kill and take or a socialist society where getting to the top meant political manoevring. A successful society is one that channels ambition and talent towards productive ends.
Baumol's argument illustrates why capitalist socieities have invariably been more inventive than others. It also illustrates why capitalist societies are more moral. A society in which a bright and resourceful man or woman who wants to get ahead will be most successful if they help others is one which will be, in the long term, more peaceful, more harmonious and morally superior.
Social breakdown has come not because of capitalism but because it has been endangered: By welfare dependency (both personal and regional) that means people can advance their interests best by scamming or politically manoevring for more welfare. By the breakdown of the institutions of law, order and tradition that separate any system of government - capitalism in this case - from anarchy. Restoring true capitalist order is the way we might see our society healed.