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There was a kid in my high school who was probably the strongest person I knew. His name was Matthew. Being black in the 1940s in a small New Jersey town wasn't a bed of roses, but no one ever had a bad word to say about Matthew. His father was a blacksmith, and I have seen him bend an iron bar with his bare hands, but I never saw him do anything that threatened another person nor did I ever hear him say a theatening word - except once. One of the other players on the football team was a classic bully and he liked to push other people around. One day he was demonstrating his pushiness on a new kid who was about half his size. Matthew simply went up to him and said, "I wouldn't do that any more if I wuz you, Allen." And that was the end of that.

The reason Matthew was the way he was stemmed from the fact that he was comfortable in his skin and secure in his beliefs. He didn't have to prove anything to anybody.

We've always been told that people who really believe in themselves have no need to bang the drums or threaten those who didn't agree with them. The bullies, the loudmouths and the outright pugnacious people we know are generally also the most insecure or even outright hypocritical. Since they don't really trust or understand what they are or what they stand for, their first instinct is to attack anything that contradicts how they think they ought to behave.

This works at all levels. The person who believes in democracy, for instance, behaves that way. The person who doesn't truly believe in it and who doesn't understand how it works is the first to question anyone else's ideas if they don't conform to his own. Look around. A good example is the idea that a person is innocent until proven guilty. Another is that assassination without trial is against what we think of as democracy. Democracy is the hardest of all political systems to live under. It takes work - lots of it.

The same goes for capitalism. Those who believe in the free market know that it works because it's based on everyone's innate belief in self-interest. Ayn Rand typifies the extreme of this belief. Capitalism's defenders know in their hearts that no system can trump this. They also know that capitalism is not a political thing, but an economic one. It can thrive in every political environment, be it a democracy, oligarchy, dictatorship or technocracy - because people are still people and it's in their nature to want to enrich themselves. By the same token, true believers in capitalism know that communism can't work for the same reason. To ask people to work together for the common good without regard for personal gain goes against the grain. Sooner or later, this system must fall. It only can survive if coupled with an authoritarian political system.

It follows that to someone who really believes in capitalism, it's inevitable that communism must fall by its own weight. They will work to make capitalism better and also work to strengthen the political system in order that it works fairly. At the same time, they'll make sure we have adequate defense against any political system if it poses a threat.

Those of little faith, however, get frightened. They assume communism might eventually overthrow capitalism and, if they have to weaken democracy to fight it, then that's OK. Unfortunately, these people got control of our country and proceeded to spend trillions of dollars and kill thousands of people in an effort to defeat what couldn't work. Why?

For one, they didn't understand the difference between a political system and an economic one or, if they did, they didn't care. They were so focussed on something that was against self-interest and the bottom line that they threw democracy under the bus. They overthrew democratically elected leaders (in Iran, Viet Nam, Chile) and backed dictators who said they were anti-communist, thereby encouraging groups who associated America (the Land of the Free) with the torture, imprisonment and murder of the majority in the name of democracy. They're still doing it with the same result - ask the Pakistani Taliban.

These people of little faith also convinced us that communism was the opposite, not of capitalism, but democracy. Coincidentally, while the people suffered, "business" did fine. Today, "socialism" is the operative word. You heard it in the recent capaign - if you were in favor of Obamacare, you were a socialist. The next thing we should expect to hear is that socialism is the opposite of democracy.

People who believe in democracy not only should shout it from the rooftops, but serve as role models for what they believe in. If we really believe in equality of opportunity, we should work like hell to show the world how it works. If we believe in free elections, we shouldn't threaten to secede if things don't go our way. If we believe in equal rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, we should work like hell for equal health care, legal representation and educational opportunity. It's not enough to wear flag pins and sing the national anthem.

Those of little faith, step aside. Don't try to destroy the government we elected. Don't confuse making money with making a better world.

Originally posted to boguseconomist on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 03:08 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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