“Sanctified Capitalism”: Radio Icon Dave Ramsey Butchers Capitalism

by | May 28, 2019

Another sad case of a conservative unable to defend capitalism, because they are unable to understand reason and thus the virtue (and practicality) of rational self-interest

The Dave Ramsey Show, proffering occasionally dubious advice on personal finance, the evils of borrowing, and the need for an ever-more Christian society, is heard on over 500 radio stations across America. It’s founder and host, 58-year old Dave Ramsey, is a best-selling author and evangelical who believes everything in the Bible is literally true.

He’s also an avowed anti-socialist and friend of free markets, but in fact, doesn’t know the meaning of capitalism nor the nature of the defense given by its most philosophically consistent champion, Ayn Rand. According to Ramsey:

“Socialism is crazy, but we don’t want some kind of anarchy thing either, on the capitalism side. Capitalism that works is something I call ‘sanctified capitalism” It needs to have a moral component to it, where people are doing the right thing, because doing the right thing attracts customers and doing the right thing keeps customers. Rather than doing the thing for me, I can serve in the marketplace. That’s real capitalism. Capitalism that’s all about me – kind of an Ayn Rand thing with selfishness, how much can I get, no rules, let me go just plunder – that’s not capitalism That’s anarchy.[1]

Mr. Ramsey rightly rejects anarchy, but so did Ayn Rand [2], without also rejecting capitalism’s ethical essence: rational egoism. [3] It’s not Ayn Rand and Objectivists but Murray Rothbard and “anarcho-capitalist” libertarians who insist morals are inherently subjective and thus invite systems of lawless plunder.

Capitalism isn’t anarchy (no government), but a moral-political-economic system where government’s only proper function is to preserve and protect individual rights, whether civil, political or economic, including private property rights. Government, if constitutional, is necessary for human freedom, not, as libertarians claim, a “necessary evil;” they insist that government is necessarily evil, but it certainly needn’t be.

Notice also how Mr. Ramsey assumes self-interest means harming others, that “doing the right (moral) thing” means not helping yourself (“doing the thing for me”) but serving others selflessly. It seems Mother Theresa, not Steve Jobs, is his entrepreneurial role model.

But why assume voluntary, marketplace trade is a zero-sum game, a win-lose or lose-win proposition? Isn’t that the premise of socialists and those who see “market failures” everywhere they look?

Why does Ramsey assume there’s no self-interest in attracting and retaining customers? Isn’t that the profitable thing to do? Ramsey mischaracterizes self-interest in at least three of the seven ways I’ve identified as common to those who assess egoism while rejecting reason. [4]

Ramsey also extolls what he calls “sanctified capitalism.” Well, “sanctity” means “the state or quality of being holy, sacred, or saintly.” Like other conservatives, Ramsey believes capitalism can be defended on religious grounds, otherwise, it’s no better than anarchy (or socialism). In fact, medieval Biblical ethics supports a confiscatory welfare state. [5] It isn’t Ayn Rand but “holy scripture” that declares “love of money is the root of all evil” and “it shall be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.”

This is yet another sad case of a conservative unable to defend capitalism because [he is] unable to understand human reason and thus the virtue (and practicality) of rational self-interest [6]. When capitalism isn’t understood or defended, even by supposed fans, freedom and prosperity are jeopardized. Mr. Ramsey’s career depends on prosperity, thus on capitalism; perhaps he and his listeners might read a bit more on this topic and become true friends of capitalism.[7]

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[1] “Dave Ramsey Breaks Down Capitalism vs. Socialism,” interview by Charles Payne, “Making Money,” FOX Business Network (at 6:00-6:30): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-r3-oWCYM3k

[2] Rand on anarchism: http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/anarchism.html.

[3] Rand on selfishness: http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/selfishness.html.

[4] Richard M. Salsman, “Common Caricatures of Self-Interest and Their Common Source,” Reason Papers, 2015 [https://reasonpapers.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/rp_372_8.pdf].

[5] Richard M. Salsman, “Holy Scripture and the Welfare State,” Forbes.com, April 28, 2011 (https://www.forbes.com/sites/richardsalsman/2011/04/28/holy-scripture-and-the-welfare-state/#da4291c24f25).

[6] Richard M. Salsman, “Why Conservatives Won’t Defend Capitalism,” Capitalism Magazine, May 7, 2019 [https://www.capitalismmagazine.com/2019/05/why-conservatives-wont-defend-capitalism/].

[7] A good place to start is Ayn Rand, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (New American Library, 1966).

 

Dr. Salsman is president of InterMarket Forecasting, Inc., an assistant professor of political economy at Duke University and a senior fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research. Previously he was an economist at Wainwright Economics, Inc. and a banker at the Bank of New York and Citibank. Dr. Salsman has authored three books: Breaking the Banks: Central Banking Problems and Free Banking Solutions (AIER, 1990), Gold and Liberty (AIER, 1995), and The Political Economy of Public Debt: Three Centuries of Theory and Evidence (Edward Elgar Publishing, 2017). In 2021 his fourth book – Where Have all the Capitalist Gone? – will be published by the American Institute for Economic Research. He is also author of a dozen chapters and scores of articles. His work has appeared in the Georgetown Journal of Law and Public Policy, Reason Papers, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Forbes, the Economist, the Financial Post, the Intellectual Activist, and The Objective Standard. Dr. Salsman earned his B.A. in economics from Bowdoin College (1981), his M.A. in economics from New York University (1988), and his Ph.D. in political economy from Duke University (2012). His personal website is richardsalsman.com.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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