Capitalism and Science

CAPITALISM AND SCIENCE….Tyler Cowen celebrates the 100th anniversary of Ayn Rand’s birth with a brief review of her influence. Here’s his third point:

3. What do you really learn from her? Most of her formal philosophy is wrong or at the very least underargued. The true take-away message is a reaffirmation of how the enormous productive powers of capitalism ? the greatest force for human good ever achieved ? rely on the driving human desire to be excellent. I don’t know of any better celebration of that combination of forces.

Allow me to disagree. Although they’re inextricably bound together in so many ways that this may be moot, I’d argue that the Renaissance formalization of the scientific method has been more important than capitalism per se. Free market economies do a brilliant job of allocating resources, but it’s growth that’s key, and scientific and technological discovery are the linchpins of growth and productivity.

Like I said, maybe it’s moot. Scientific advance without a means of making the best of use of that advance doesn’t get you very far, and the Soviet Union is certainly an example of how active hostility to capitalism can destroy even a society that’s relatively open to technological change.

But that’s at the margin. As long as they’re committed to scientific discovery and technological change, a broad range of mixed economic models seem to work well. Those that aren’t open to such change fail.

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