"The war against illegal plunder has been fought since the beginning of the world. But how is... legal plunder to be identified? Quite simply. See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime. Then abolish this law without delay ... If such a law is not abolished immediately it will spread, multiply and develop into a system." ~ Frederic Bastiat
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.