Just Call Me a Capitalist

Column by Robert Taylor
Exclusive to STR
In the current media climate of talking heads, sound bites, and bumper sticker slogans from politicians, debate--both in public and in private--is severely hampered by a lack of proper definitions of the terms and ideas being discussed.

One could definitely make the cynical argument that this process of dumbing down the language is done on purpose by our Rockefeller/Bilderberg masters with the intent on keeping acceptable debate between narrow goalposts. As Noam Chomsky put it, "The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum."

Or the anemia of mainstream discussion about policy could also be blamed on the nature of corporate media and Americans' three second attention span.
In my mind, it's probably a combination of these two, which the Beltway bigwigs have absolutely every incentive to perpetuate.

But I digress--slightly. I am nowhere near equipped to tackle precisely why our language has been Orwell-ized to death. But what I do want to discuss is not why, but how this process affects debate, the definition of terms, and what libertarians--or anyone attempting to expand justice, freedom, and peace--can do about it.

Take the term "capitalism." If you discuss capitalism with ten people, it is very likely you will get ten different reactions--some approval and some opposition. Ditto if you ask them to define capitalism.

Charles Johnson as the Bleeding Heart Libertarians blog has a recent post that discusses this topic. In it, he asks: "For most of the 20th century, American libertarians were mostly seen as — and mostly saw themselves as — defenders of capitalism. Was that an accurate view of  what 20th century libertarians were about? If accurate, is that a good thing about libertarianism, or a defect that should be amended and avoided?"

This is where the sad state of public discourse comes in. What, exactly, is capitalism?
Public consensus would probably respond that it's the current American system where there are corporations, profits, a Darwinian drive for the bottom line, and although providing great wealth and innovation for mankind, needs government to step in and smooth out the excesses.

And this view is entirely understandable. If we define the American system as capitalism, then yes, it makes sense that many would look at the results, cringe, and demand an institution to intervene for the public benefit.

But what if we define capitalism by its dictionary definition? In that case, it's simply the private ownership of property and voluntary exchange.

This is precisely what we don't have in this country. American "capitalism" has been and is a fascist mix of corporatism. Privatized profits, socialized losses, companies competing not for customers but for lush government contracts, regulations that force smaller firms out of the market, and government intervening in the voluntary exchanges of individuals. Even the concept of a "corporation" itself is a state idea, created by state law, granted more rights than even you and I to pollute and damage property with "limited liability."

Private ownership of property and voluntary exchange this system sure ain’t.

In fact, most examples that critics of capitalism cite as excesses and abuses are not the results of market forces, but government intervention. For example, as Johnson notes in his post, the in-your-face neon signs and barrage of advertisements that are the heart of Times Square are a consequence of a "detailed set of mandates handed down in New York City's special zoning ordinance."

This is just one example of what results from the top-down processes of government dictat. When the largest purchaser of petroleum in the world is the US government--an institution that relies on force, not voluntary exchange, to extract money from its "customers"--then it's hard to blame our financial mess and cartelized economy on the market.

So back to Johnson's original question: should libertarians defend capitalism?

This is a tricky one. Americans may define the system we live in (incorrectly) as capitalism, and it would be easy to cower to the enemies of liberty and progress--those who wouldn't even blink before initiating aggression against you and your property for their desired ends--and avoid this moniker. Which is why this term must be revived and liberated from its statist-corporate cage. Blog, talk to friends, call in radio shows, instruct and most of all internally reflect on what capitalism is--and what it isn't.

Refuse to let language defined from the top frame your thinking and participate in this Orwellian arm-twisting of ideas and terms. Capitalism is not some rich fat-cat smoking a cigar while his employees starve. If history tells us anything, this character resembles Joseph Stalin more than Andrew Carnegie.

Capitalism is the logical extension of the Non-Aggression Principle, individual liberty, and private property. When man saved some berries for the first time instead of immediately consuming them, he was a capitalist. It is as natural to mankind as sex, breathing, and questioning our existence.

We must not shy away from it because of what some boot-lickers and ambulance chasers in the media and educational ivory towers have turned it into. Like defending peace and free trade while living under the vice-grip of an empire, it is difficult but essential.

This is why I am a proud, liberty loving, war-weary, private company-coddling anarchist. In other words, just call me a capitalist.

Your rating: None Average: 6.5 (4 votes)
Westernerd's picture
Columns on STR: 7

lives in San Francisco, California. He spends his time reading voraciously, ranting, and advocating the virtues of economic and political freedom. He has written for multiple websites and hopes to play a small part in bringing a voluntary market society into fruition. He enjoys billiards, whiskey, and sabermetrics. He blogs at A Little Rebellion.


Glen Allport's picture

Nice column, Mr. Taylor! People have been systematically mislead about the nature of capitalism -- and many other important things. Saying the truth, getting the facts out there for people to see and consider, is terribly important. I particularly liked this:

". . . most examples that critics of capitalism cite as excesses and abuses are not the results of market forces, but government intervention . . ."

Excellent point! Nearly every bad thing people complain and worry about "the market" doing is actually done -- directly and indirectly -- by government. Corporatism, for instance, is just corporations making use of government coercion for their own benefit. Most of today's "regulation" is exactly that -- corporatism -- rather than anything that protects consumers or the environment. Very often, this "regulation" is directly harmful to consumers or to the environment.

Samarami's picture

Nice work, Robert.

A month or so ago I became mesmerized by a piece I read by Delmar England.


It is long, and it took extensive sorting through questionable grammar and sentence structure and punctuation, etc.; but once I made the effort the message became clear, as is yours. Here's a quote:

    "...Will of God, will of the people, public welfare, constitutional rights, natural rights, national interest, ought, should, gross national product, for the good of the country, the values of society, minority rights, morally right, immoral, race relations, community standards, freedom and democracy, altruism, selflessness, government does, majority rule, freedoms, fighting evil, on and on and on unto infinity.
    "... This is but a partial list of concepts commonly accepted and frequently uttered. This is the vernacular of oppression with which our senses are inundated without let up from birth unto death..."

I think it was Stefan Molyneux who said on one of his videos:

    "...Enforcement of statism does not come from (agents of) the state. Enforcement comes from fellow slaves. And that is the genius of (agents of) the state..."

    And even Stefan with his knowledge, I believe, fell victim to "reification" (to regard or treat an abstraction or idea as if it had concrete or material existence), which Delmar England insists keeps most of us in oppression. Thus I've inserted "agents of" the state, since states do not exist except in abstraction.



Samarami's picture
    "...Today the dialectic is active in every political issue that encourages taking sides. We can see it in environmentalists instigating conflicts against private property owners, in democrats against republicans, in greens against libertarians, in communists against socialists, in neo-cons against traditional conservatives, in community activists against individuals, in pro-choice versus pro-life, in Christians against Muslims, in isolationists versus interventionists, in peace activists against war hawks. No matter what the issue, the invisible dialectic aims to control both the conflict and the resolution of differences, and leads everyone involved into a new cycle of conflicts..."


roach's picture

wow. it's hard to know where to start with what i think is wrong with this piece (you probably don't care, but i'll try and tell you anyway, since someone decided to just post a link to this peice under a comment i made about real historical capitalism, instead of actually engaging with anything i said).

you quote noam chomsky, in an article defending capitalism. have you ever bothered looking at chomsky's views on capitalism? or is he up in those "ivory towers" expect for the two seconds that you find him useful? lemme help you with that. he describes himself as a "libertarian socialist" (that's a codeword for anarchist… but the kind of anarchism that has an actual history dating back further than 1960. libertarian socialism has been a synonym for anarchism since the 1850's).

here's a quote from chomsky.. "In a capitalist system, you don’t have any rights. And in fact when modern capitalism developed in the early 19th century – this is post-Adam Smith or anything like that, but Ricardo and Malthus and so on – their principle was pretty simple: you don’t have any rights. The only rights a person has are what they can gain in the labor market. And beyond that, you’ve no right to live, you’ve no right to survive. If you can’t make out on the labor market, go somewhere else. And in fact they could go somewhere else, they could come here and exterminate the population and settle here. But in Europe, you couldn’t do that, so some remnants of the whole feudal system and conservative structures and so on did lead to – after all, Europe had huge labor movements, the German social democratic party grew out of very powerful movements, and they just forced the development of what became social market systems.".

you'll notice above that chomsky is not referring to 'mistaking the american system for capitalism', he is describing the real history of capitalism and it's consequences, including massive popular movements that do not like being held to the whims of 'the market'. it is what capitalism has always meant. people have been saying that "capitalism is violent" for almost two hundred years now. it is not a new thing to say. just because you didn't notice it before doesn't effect that.

you should realize that the term "capitalism" itself has been used in an insulting way by the left since the left invented in the early 1800's, when french socialists referred to it as 'capitalisme'. it's pretty much always been a reference to 'fat cats with cigars', both theoretically and practically. i know these aren't things one learns in an average school system, but they are true. it was actually french radicals that disagree your understanding of politics and economics that popularized the term 'capitalism', yet you seem to be mad that the same type of people are still using it in the same exact way.

so let's go back to the play that seems to come out of the official propertarian handbook (i've heard it many times). "why can't we just go by the definition in the dictionary?". ok. lemme get my dictionary from nicaragua. i bet it'll say something a little longer and more historically articulate than your definition.

or, as Chomsky would say, "well, who wrote that definition, and who wrote that dictionary? did it suit their needs to talk up capitalism? are they themselves capitalists? who gets to approve the definition?" i bet you'd be unhappy if i said that we should agree on 'socialism' as defined by a dictionary written by anarchists and socialists during the heyday of printing anarchist materials. and you also refer to yourself as an 'anarchist', and as far as many dictionaries are concerned, "anarchy" is synonymous with chaos, though i would think you would disagree.

and don't tell me that we should use the dictionaries that you prefer because "we all agree that they're right" or some other such nonsense. by the same logic we should accept that capitalism is unpleasant for many people. the whole point of your rant was that you don't like how everyone supposedly muddles the name of something you hold in high regard.

another problem with your idea of capitalism, is this "voluntary exchange". what about just acquisition? how can an exchange be free and pure if it is an exchange of something that was stolen beforehand? if i steal your car, the give it to my kid, when my kid sells it, it still wouldn't be a "voluntary exchange", because you never volunteered to let go of it in the first place. The U.S. sure didn't nicely ask for the land it currently sits on (yes, that effects all the land titles it has issued over it's history). barrack gold and others aren't nicely asking papuans to move away from the fertile parts of their land that they use to feed themselves so that a chemical hell can be unleashed to melt the rock away, leaving mercury laced water and gold. the original corporations from england didn't ask for any of the many many things that they stole and then sold, creating the economic foundations of the colonies. something usually only becomes "capital" after it is taken from the original possessor (who likely valued it according to their own needs) by it's first title holding property owner (who values it according to the market), thus transitioning it from its many dimensional capacity to it's one dimensional reference point as 'x amount of capital'

beyond all of this, you should also stop being so one dimensional as to think that any "ism" can be reduced to an eight word statement. it's a middle school level analysis. even high school asks for more. it's as ridiculous as boiling down the complex, 150 year old political theory of anarchism into "anti-state". Even old school anarchists at least boiled it down to 'fighting against the triumvirate of the state, capitalism, and the church', and then kept describing what they meant for another 20 minutes or 3 pages (depending on the format). "ism"s have histories too, and knowing and understanding those histories is just as important towards understanding the theory as knowing and understanding the theorists. so i think i'll stick to continuing to use the term 'capitalism' as i have been doing so, as a reference to a political-social-economic system that has a long and violent history, including the enclosure process, colonization, enslavement, and world wars.

Samarami's picture

Roach, after reading your post I wish I had included in my post just above yours the following quote from the Hegelian Dialectic review:

    Hegel's dialectic is the tool which manipulates us into a frenzied circular pattern of thought and action. Every time we fight for or defend against an ideology we are playing a necessary role in Marx and Engels' grand design to advance humanity into a dictatorship of the proletariat. The synthetic Hegelian solution to all these conflicts can't be introduced unless we all take a side that will advance the agenda. The Marxist's global agenda is moving along at breakneck speed. The only way to completely stop the privacy invasions, expanding domestic police powers, land grabs, insane wars against inanimate objects (and transient verbs), covert actions, and outright assaults on individual liberty, is to step outside the dialectic. This releases us from the limitations of controlled and guided thought.


We can debate back and forth all day over how we perceive Noam Chomsky might have defined "capitalism" and it won't change Robert's defense of a free and open market unfettered by "regulation" from agents of state. Arguing over the meaning of a word indeed "supports the Marxist's global agenda".

Without state agents' interference (that is, in a truly free environment) free individuals will save and/or borrow the resource needed to produce a product or service. Call it what you will, most refer to it as capital. If the product is good and the entrepreneur masterful and efficient in his manufacturing and his assessment of the marketplace, everyone benefits. He does not lobby "legislators" of state for tariffs, laws or embargoes in his favor to handicap or eliminate competition and artificially raise prices and profit margins.

All business monopolies are the creation of politicians. The free market filters away the ingredients that give rise to monopolies and unfair business practices.

In the absence of politics, capitalism (unless you're simply bound to be averse to that term) is honorable and forthright.


roach's picture

with respect, this article that i am responding to, the one that you have exclaimed is "nice work", is indeed "arguing about the meaning of a word". the article itself is arguing over the meaning of capitalism. so is the "nice work" that you have complimented also supporting the "marxist global agenda"? or is it only when i challenge your half of the cold war dialectic that i am?

if you are interested in "stepping outside the dialectic", then maybe you should ponder the idea that economics is not as simple as a marxist/capitalist dialectic. many of marx's "ideas" were taken from proudhon's work anyway, and proudhon attempted to create a mutual credit banking system. mutualism, the original anarchism.

i do not believe that the free market is inherently bad or some other rubbish. i just don't think that all human actions boils down to economics, and if that's true, then not everything should be considered as capital, nor held account to the market. nor do i think that capitalism is a synonym for free-market. it has a historical meaning which is far different.

you live in society, and that means you have to interact with other beings, and in doing so you have to use viable mediums. capital is one such medium, sometimes useful, sometimes not. language is another one, sometimes useful, sometimes not. i can call my car my "gr" all i want, and my friends will eventually get my meaning, but most people will just think i'm dyslexic or slightly off, and will generally ignore what i say when i'm referring to my "gr". what this article, and other works like it, is attempting with the term "capitalism" (a term that the vast majority of the world's population has associated with the current economic system for at least a hundred years) is essentially the same, and will negatively effect growing ideas about actual free-market thought.

roach's picture

edited ^comment meant as a reply. apologies

Suverans2's picture

"what this article, and other works like it, is attempting with the term "capitalism" (a term that the vast majority of the world's population has associated with the current economic system for at least a hundred years) is essentially the same, and will negatively effect growing ideas about actual free-market thought."

This holds true for all variations of the word "anarch", ("The author of confusion; one who excites revolt."[1]) also.

[1] Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language

Samarami's picture


    "...I just don't think that all human actions boils down to economics,..."

All human actions may not boil down to economics, but Mises seemed to believe all economics boiled down to Human Action: http://mises.org/Books/humanaction.pdf

You make some good points, Roach -- especially in regard to your Gr. I perhaps need to peruse Robert Taylor's piece more thoroughly to uncover the innuendo you apparently think I overlooked.

'Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.

From Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, 1600:

(I once heard Shakespeare wrote this as a snide joke about the Rose Theater -- competitor to his Globe theater -- which is rumored to have had certain odoriferous characteristics due to poor 17th century attempts at "inside plumbing").

But whether we're debating "capitalism" or "Gr", the odor probably does not change that much. The idea of a free voluntary exchange of goods and services unfettered by parasites of state still beats anything I've ever studied regarding economics.

Some dare call it "capitalism".