Fun 1950s capitalist propaganda

The above video is one you see excerpted quite a bit in films and television when points about capitalism or the American economic system are being made. It is a fascinating film on many fronts, but two stand out for me.

First, bits of it are completely vacuous. It is one thing to provide arguments for capitalism. It is another to say something like this:

We know that American capitalism is morally right because its chief elements — private ownership, the profit motive, and the competitive market — are wholesome and good. They are compatible with God’s laws and the teachings of the bible.

What makes those elements “wholesome” is beyond me. But then again, propaganda does not always strive to make the strongest arguments. We know wholesome things are good things, and so calling these features wholesome is a plausible strategy for moving hearts and minds. I point this out more as an amusement than to make any grand point.

Second, note right from the very beginning that the presenter emphasizes distributional equality. He says:

In order to have a proper appreciation of the American economic system, we must know how the national income is divided in America. […] Is the distribution widespread or is the wealth of America concentrated in the hands of a few, as the socialists and communists say?

What’s so interesting here is that the speaker concedes that egalitarian wealth and income distribution is essential for a just economic system. He then goes on to show that America has such an egalitarian wealth and income distribution, or at minimum a much more egalitarian distribution than communists and socialists suggest. This is a radical departure from the right-wing of the present period, which has totally abandoned the idea that distributional equality matters at all. Income and wealth distribution especially has become dramatically more unequal since the 1950s when this propaganda film was shot.

If we were to accept its moral assumptions that economic systems are primarily justified by their distribution, then we would have to conclude that the present US economic system is not well-justified, or, at minimum, considerably less justified than the American system of a half-century ago. If the film’s argument is to be believed, this man and people like him would be very dissatisfied with the dramatic rise in economic inequality in the US over the last 40 years. They would be calling for a more egalitarian distribution to correct the injustices generated by the recent swing towards ever-growing inequality.

But of course, the modern-day equivalent of people like the presenter in this film do not call for a more egalitarian distribution. As soon as egalitarianism was no longer a plausible basis on which to argue for the American capitalist system, those wanting to argue for capitalism just dropped that argument, and moved into other ideological waters. These days we are treated to producerism arguments and, more recently, just-processes libertarianism. The days of capitalism as justified because of egalitarianism are basically dead.