by Giovanni Chiacchio

In his 1978 masterpiece called Two Cheers for Capitalism, the great American thinker Irving Kristol, right from the title, argued that capitalism deserved only two cheers and not three, a subtle metaphor for how this economic system with its profound social implications needed corrections. It is particularly in the chapter Horatio Alger and Profits that Kristol analyzes one of the scourges of modern capitalism, consisting of the growing asymmetry between the concepts of morality and profit. In particular, the U.S. thinker indicated how in Alger's literary works the protagonists pursued the American dream through the creation of an enterprise, an initiative with an undoubtedly profitable character, but equally constituting human and personal growth of the individual, the success of which resulted from the latter's personal qualities (including morality), constituting the so-called "bourgeois virtues" present in the original capitalism.

A model defined as "profitable because honorable", represented in perhaps its purest form by the industrial society of the northern States of the US, permeated by a Puritan ethic that ensured a distribution of wealth proportionate to individual virtue and that formed the moral basis of the strenuous battle that these states waged, enduring five years of extremely harsh civil war, in order to abolish slavery. A conflict whose endurance of the atrocious consequences cannot be justified by mere self-interest alone, but which was necessarily rooted in deep moral convictions. However, this model underwent a steady process of erosion during the 20th century, resulting in the emergence of a new paradigm, honorable because profitable.

Businessmen have thus become "merchants of opulence," whose legitimacy derives not from their human qualities, or their morality, but from their simple ability to provide a service that the government proves unable to provide, or in a more efficient manner than the government can do. The vision of Kristol, the "spiritual father" of Reaganism, was perfectly received during the two terms of President Ronald Reagan, who conducted a strongly pro-free enterprise policy, without ever lapsing into the purest libertarianism, as represented by the no-holds-barred fight against drug trafficking, represented by the "Just Say No" campaign led by first lady Nancy Reagan.

The two cheers

Kristol's position is refuted by economist Irwin Stelzer in the essay collection The Political Vision of Irving Kristol. Specifically, Stelzer analyzed the three major problems addressed by Kristol in Two Cheers for Capitalism, namely the lack of understanding of the business cycle, the presence of large firms led by managers who often ignore the interests of shareholders and lack the attachment to the firm proper to original capitalism, and finally the presence of unregulated markets that can undermine traditional institutions, an assumption addressed particularly in the essay On Conservatism and Capitalism. This paper will focus on the third point expressed. In modern capitalism, marked by the presence of firms aimed at providing any kind of performance without any moral consideration, the market in fact fails to provide a moral compass for individuals. Indeed, it turns out to produce goods characterized by the presence of negative externalities, the impact of which involves even those who do not factually participate in the transaction. Pornography represents the highest expression of this paradigm, in that the dissemination of such products is not only a serious detriment to public morality, but also a vehicle for potential negative behavior on the part of those who enjoy them, by virtue of the general debasement of sex that they entail.

This assumption is addressed by Kristol in the essay Pornography Obscenity and The Case for Censorship, where distrust of modern capitalism shines through in perhaps its purest representation. Indeed, in that essay the father of neoconservatism expresses how the negative externalities of pornography are such as to justify the only possible action in the event of market failure, a state intervention, understood as censorship of this activity. Kristol indicates how such censorship has been applied for much of American history, without resulting in either the classification of the United States as an undemocratic regime or the death of freedom of expression. This happened because the original conception of American democracy did not involve absolute freedom, but rather the education of individuals in the so-called "republican virtues" that had guided the founding fathers. Therefore, the censorship of pornography was intended to be "freedom-based" rather than repressive.

The refutation

The mainstay of Stelzer's refutation of Kristol's assumption lay in the confidence expressed by the economist about the free market's ability to form consumer protection groups, which would limit the dissemination and enjoyment of such products while requiring strict rules for their production. In the facts, this paradigm turns out to be absolutely wrong, as consumer protection groups do not turn out to be absolutely adequate to guarantee the complete eradication of the negative externalities of such products ensured by liberal censorship. This is demonstrated by the proliferation of sites such as OnlyFans, which not only perpetuate the state of affairs described by Irving Kristol, but demonstrate the general need for government intervention.

OnlyFans is a service that allows, upon payment of a monthly subscription, the enjoyment of exclusive content marked by a low degree of control, which encourages the publication of pornographic material. Platforms such as OnlyFans entail the emergence of two different problems, the first relating to the fostering of the constant state of atomization into which society is plunging, which by virtue of the fall of every social institution is becoming increasingly composed of isolated and alienated individuals, willing to spend a monthly sum to see their baser instincts satisfied. On the other hand, such platforms also legalize the exploitation of the state of alienation by their content creators, thus creating new forms of labor that in fact profit from the ills of society, hiding behind the justification of "freedom of choice," which, however, is certainly not an obstacle to the negative externalities produced by these jobs. Emblematic is the recent case that has now gone viral of a man who, in order to meet the woman behind the images he used to satisfy his instincts, shelled out an amount equal to $10,000, promptly used by the content creator in question to travel the world together with her real boyfriend.

Consumer protests and calls for stricter control procedures on registered accounts have had no effect on the platform, the New York Post pointed out as OnlyFans' control procedures have so far proved to be completely inadequate in preventing the registration of accounts by underage users, or those with mental disorders. The failure of the free market to self-regulate on this front has thus resulted in the necessary intervention of public authority, which has resulted in the submission by Ann Wagner, Republican representative for the second district of the state of Missouri and former author of the SESTA/FOSTA ACT, a historic anti-sex trafficking measure, of a petition to Attorney General Merrick Garland requesting the initiation of an investigation by the Department of Justice into the OnlyFans platform's use of material related to child abuse.

The case for intervention by public authority

The OnlyFans affair has shown how the free market is not always able to regulate itself, especially on moral issues, which therefore makes public authority intervention absolutely necessary to ensure that companies do not spread products marked by negative externalities. In 2008, U.S. President George Walker Bush, a proud supporter of the free market, opted for public authority intervention translated into the huge economic program known as TARP. That initiative saved the free market, the great winner of the Cold War, from its worst enemy, itself. It may be time for public authority to perform this function once again, paving the way for a return of capitalism imbued with bourgeois ethics and virtues. In conclusion, I am sorry Mr. Stelzer, but Irving Kristol was right that we should only give two "cheers" to capitalism, and personally, the third cheer I will not give either.


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A political science undergraduate at the University of Naples Federico II, he completed the post-graduate course "Leadership for International Relations and Made in Italy" at the Fondazione Italia USA as a fellow and attended the Heritage Foundation's summer academy. He writes for various blogs. His fields are international relations, strategic studies and English-speaking conservatism.