“But they have the right to do what they want with their own money,” Mr. Bates objected. “That’s what I mean by freedom.”
“I see,” Mr. Magundi replied. “So you think that having more money entitles you to more freedom. It’s an interesting extension of capitalist logic. In fact, now that I think about it, it seems like an obvious conclusion. In a consumerist society, freedom is a commodity like any other. If you have unlimited funds, you can buy all the freedom you want. If you have a little extra to spend, you can buy enough freedom to get you through the weekend. But if you’re just making enough to keep a roof over your head, you can’t afford luxuries—no freedom for you.”
“You don’t think national honor is worth it?” I asked.
“We have no compunction about deciding that certain life-saving medical treatments are too expensive to be cost-effective,” Mr. Magundi replied, “so I see no reason why we shouldn’t at least debate the cost of national honor. ‘Millions for defense but not one cent for tribute’ is a fine and ringing slogan. But if we did budget one cent for tribute and free up the millions, we’d have quite a bit to spend on other things, like health care or a trip to the zoo.”
“But that would cripple our economy,” Mr. Bates objected.
“Rubbish,” Mr. Magundi replied. “Our capitalist economy is a work of fiction; it’s a story we tell ourselves, over and over, until we believe it. Two generations ago, it was a known fact that men worked all day and their wives stayed home to take care of the children. In our own time, it’s an equally unchallenged assumption that both members of a married couple must work, dropping their children off in some convenient storage bin for most of their waking hours. This doubling of the work force would have had dreadful effects on our economy if capitalism were really based on immutable laws; but it didn’t, because that wasn’t the story we chose to tell ourselves. Now, if our economy could absorb an enormous increase of the work force, it could certainly adapt to a decrease in the working hours. As soon as enough of us choose to tell ourselves the story that a work week has twenty hours in it, it will be true, insofar as any statement about our economy can be said to be ‘true.'”
“So, what, are you a communist or something?” Brielle asked.
“No, I’m just not an evangelical capitalist,” Mr. Magundi replied. “Capitalism brings us delightful little luxuries, and perhaps it’s open to less objection than any other economic system we’ve come up with. But it’s a compromise—an accommodation to our fallen nature. There was a time when every reasonable thinker knew that capitalism was an evil, but a necessary one if we were to have our nice things and avoid abridging our freedoms with oppressive laws. But now we insist that capitalism is a positive moral good, and I tremble for our souls.”