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The Stewardship of Wealth: Successful Private Wealth Management for Investors and Their Advisors, + Website by Gregory Curtis

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Moral Arguments for Capitalism

Notwithstanding the early opposition of the Church, there were powerful arguments—powerful moral arguments—to be made for capitalism, and those arguments were advanced by the most profound thinkers of the era.4 In the brief paragraphs below I summarize the views of this new method of organizing economies as they were expressed by Voltaire, Adam Smith, and Hegel.

Voltaire

By the time The Wealth of Nations appeared in 1776, capitalist economies had already flourished for more than a century. Hence Smith and his fellow “economists”5 were not speculating about a type of political economy that might prove fruitful—they were describing and praising a system that had existed for many decades and that had proved itself remarkably adept at improving the condition of men and women.

Well before The Wealth of Nations appeared, the earliest and most prominent proponent of capitalism was Voltaire, who had moved to England in the 1720s to escape persecution by the French Catholic Church and government. The first public intellectual in the modern sense of the word, Voltaire was immeasurably impressed by the accomplishments of the market economy that had transformed the lives of ordinary people in Britain. Compared to the traditional French, the population of England was better dressed, better fed, and better housed. Material objects that the English considered no more than absolute necessities were still almost unknown among the mass populations on the Continent. ...

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