Jen said: I don't understand how this plan translates into prosperity. I have heard the philosophy before ... That if you deregulate everything and take away taxes people and corporations will make decisions that will benefit everyone and the environment , etc.
While it is true that capitalism will lead to prosperity, that is not my fundamental justification for capitalism. Nor does the argument that "people will make decisions that will benefit everyone and the environment" serve as justification. The justification for capitalism is that it is the moral system which I further explain below. Additionally, I'm not sure what you even mean by "decisions" that will benefit the "environment". Whose environment? I do not consider the natural "environment" to be intrinsically valuable, that is, valuable apart from man so I do not understand why you make this distinction. In other words, what would it mean to "help the environment" and why is that important in and of itself, i.e., apart from man?
In order to make my case clearer, let me first define capitalism by referencing a quote from Ayn Rand in the book Capitalism, The Unknown Ideal:
"Capitalism is a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned.
The recognition of individual rights entails the banishment of physical force from human relationships: basically, rights can be violated only by means of force. In a capitalist society, no man or group may initiate the use of physical force against others. The only function of the government, in such a society, is the task of protecting man’s rights, i.e., the task of protecting him from physical force; the government acts as the agent of man’s right of self-defense, and may use force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use; thus the government is the means of placing the retaliatory use of force under objective control."
Why is capitalism the moral system? First, I consider the "good" morally to be that which furthers man's life which is a philosophy known as rational egoism or rational self-interest (see Ayn Rand's "The Objectivist Ethics" in The Virtue of Selfishness). My standard of morality is not that "which benefits everyone" which is a utilitarian argument nor is my standard of morality "service to others" or "self-sacrifice" which is completely incompatible with life since if you practiced it consistently you would die. I therefore hold that the good consists of pursuing rational values in pursuit of your own self-interest with the goal of achieving your own happiness.
Notice that capitalism as defined above is based on a consistent defense of man's rights: his right to his life, liberty, property and pursuit of happiness. Without such rights, man would be a slave by definition. Man's nature as a reasoning being necessitates the freedom to think - his nature requires him to produce the products needed to survive so he must be free to keep the products of his labor and trade them freely as he sees fit.
Therefore, if the standard of morality is life and man's nature and survival necessitates individual rights then capitalism, which protects individual rights as per above, is the moral system. Now a consequence of such an approach is that it leads to widespread happiness and prosperity. Why? Because it is a system that at a fundamental level is consistent with man's nature in the same way that since man's nature requires air to breathe if you give him air he will survive, but if you cut it off, he will die. Since man's nature requires food to survive he must eat or starve to death. Since man's life requires the freedom to think and produce, if he is free to do so he will survive and flourish, but if is his rights are abrogated he will perish or at best live a life of miserable subsistence.
Historically, to the extent that men have been left free it has led to widespread human happiness and unprecedented economic growth. To the extent that men are enslaved, the result has been misery, death, and stagnation. The entire history of capitalism demonstrates this beyond a reasonable doubt. It is only necessary to look around us to see that this is true. What complicates matters is that there has never been a pure example of laissez faire capitalism in history in the sense of a system existing that was fully consistent with the above conception of capitalism. The closest thing we have was 19th century America and even this was not a perfect example since slavery was legal, the banking system was at various times under government control, and towards the latter half of the 19th century laws such as the Sherman anti-trust act and others gave massive power to the state to intervene in the economic system on behalf of corrupt businessmen or under the premises of the so-called "progressive" movement. To understand economic history properly, one must abstract out the causes and effects to grasp how freedom in a certain context led to economic prosperity and how violations of men's rights in the form of taxes, regulations or any government interference in the economy wrought disaster. (This is not always easy).
As an aside: note that man's nature also requires that he use the earth in order to survive. To the extent that environmentalists hold that the earth is intrinsically valuable, i.e., valuable apart from man, they must regard man as inherently evil. That is, I hold that since environmentalists widely regard the earth as intrinsically valuable, they necessarily must oppose human progress as any action by man affects the "earth" whether you burn a log in a fire or mine silicon for computer chips. This is why I questioned your statement originally. If one is concerned about man's ability to survive and flourish then he should understand that freedom and private property are necessary pre-conditions for human survival. People have a right to use the earth (at least their property) as they see fit unless their actions violate the rights of others. To consider something valuable apart from human life is a contradiction since the alternative of life or death gives rise to the concept of value in the first place. If one enjoys the sight of trees and forest then they should buy acres of land and do nothing to it. But to violate someone else's right to use their property in way that does not violate anyone's rights (for example, a regulation which stops a property owner from cutting down his own tree) is immoral and unjust.
Jen said: How are the infirm, mentally ill, and the elderly cared and provided for?
People are responsible for themselves and their own lives. It is not the moral duty of anyone to care for another and the state has no right to forcibly expropriate the income of one person and give it to another. Such schemes are vicious abrogations of individual rights and a consequence of the morality of altruism. I hold that policies which expropriate funds from someone who has earned their money in order to give it so someone who has not is a grave injustice. What is the moral justification for pointing a gun at someone and telling them to give their money or else because you deem it to be a worthy cause?
Family members should be legally responsible for supporting minors whether healthy or disabled. If there is no one to take care of an adult or child who is unable physically or mentally to take care of them self he must rely on private charity or organizations. The state could intervene to temporally hold someone who is infirm until a private transition is made possible. Those that feel strongly about such matters are free to donate money or to volunteer to help as much as they see fit. However, more importantly, it is not the "moral duty" of one to help another nor should morality or structure of government be built on such a premise. The vast majority of people are not infirm, mentally ill, or elderly. It is more important to positively assert man's right to his own life and property and understand that those in need of help must ask for voluntary charity.
Keep in mind that only a system which results in massive prosperity and human happiness can lead to benevolence in the sense that one might have the time or money to volunteer to help someone who is the victim of an injustice. Capitalism has led to that kind of wealth and benevolence and is only reason people ask such questions. For example, in the Dark Ages, under the feudal system or under Castro's communism or in Soviet Russia, where misery, poverty, and disease were daily realities, would anyone ask such questions? Virtually everyone was infirm , mentally ill or destitute - except the rulers.
Jen asks: What if the people aren't happy with the environmental practices or employment practices of a corporation? Do they have to sue every time that happens (in the absence of regulation)?
If you don't like a corporation then you are free not to buy their product and not to seek employment from them. If a corporation or individual violates your rights in some way (initiates physical force against you or commits fraud against you) then you would have a legal case against them. However, properly, in a court case you must demonstrate specific harms, that is, you must prove who is being harmed and how the defendant is harming them. If you can't prove this, then you have no right to tell someone else what to do with their property nor do you have the right to prevent two consenting adults from entering into contracts either for exchanging goods and services or employment. What would give you the right to tell others what to do whom you can not prove are harming you?
Under laissez faire capitalism as I described in my post, all property would be privately owned. Therefore, if a corporation dumps dangerous chemicals on your property (which is what I assume you have in mind), then you would have a case to sue them. If the damage took place across property it would be a class action claim. If property is privately owned, no one has an incentive to violate other's property rights just as it is rare that your neighbor comes over to your yard and dumps garbage on your lawn since you can have him arrested or sue.
Jen asks: How do we properly protect our country without revenue from taxes?
Taxes would be voluntary and those who wish to have their property protected would voluntarily contribute money to the government in the same way that people voluntarily insure themselves. I also believe their are ways to raise revenue in the form of user fees and for charging to register contracts with the state. Keep in mind what corporations and individuals would have at stake in a free society especially in the context of the kind of prosperity that capitalism would create. Maintaining a strong military which is the proper function of government would cost very little relative to this prosperity and corporations and individuals would gladly donate and raise money to maintain protection. Such a system would also result in greatly reducing the temptation to engage in military "adventures" like the one we witnessed in Somalia or Bosnia. Since the state would rely on voluntary contributions, Americans could vote with their dollars if they thought the military action was unjustifiable. If we were under an actual threat, I have no doubt the kind of effort that would be mounted to protect our freedom.
Who pays to maintain the national highway system - critical to the continuity of commerce?
Those that use the highways should pay for them. Keep in mind, under the system I proposed, all highways and roads would be privatized so that those who use them would pay for them just as those who eat hamburgers should pay for their hamburgers and those who buy bicycles should pay for the bicycle. As I detailed in my post Government Roads and State Pizza a system of private for profit roads would lead to less shortages (traffic jams), less death (traffic fatalities), less waste (gas and wear on vehicles) and to innovations we can not even imagine. As is always the case, a system of free production, trade and profit is the moral and the practical.
I am open as always to further comments and/or to provide further references to justify or add to my arguments.