Embracing Markets, Opposing "Capitalism"
Embracing Markets, Opposing "Capitalism"
By Gary Chartier / c4ss.org

Being a libertarian means opposing the use of force to restrain peaceful, voluntary exchange. That doesn’t mean it should be understood as involving support for capitalism.

Whether this claim makes any sense at all depends, of course, on what you mean by “capitalism.” For some people, perhaps, the term just refers to free exchange. And if that’s all you intend when you talk about “capitalism,” you’re quite right that there’s no real conflict between what you’re talking about and a sensible libertarianism.

But people very often have some other senses of the word in mind when they employ it. For instance: mainstream print and electronic media regularly use “capitalism” to refer to “the economic system we have now.” And it’s relatively common to hear “capitalism” employed as a synonym for “dominance of workplaces and society by capitalists—by the owners of substantial capital assets.” Libertarian principles as I understand them entail support for capitalism in neither of these senses.

To a very significant degree, the economic system we have now is one from which peaceful, voluntary exchange is absent. An interlocking web of legal and regulatory privileges benefit the wealthy and well connected at the expense of everyone else (think patents and copyrights, tariffs, restrictions on banking, occupational licensing rules, land-use restrictions, etc.). The military-industrial complex funnels unbelievable amounts of money—at gunpoint—from ordinary people’s pockets and into the bank accounts of government contractors and their cronies. Subsidies of all kinds feed a network of privileged businesses and non-profits. And the state protects titles to land taken at gunpoint or engrossed by arbitrary fiat before distribution to favored individuals and groups. No, the economies of the US, Canada, Western Europe, Japan, and Australia, at least, aren’t centrally planned. The state doesn’t assert formal ownership of (most of) the means of production. But the state’s involvement at multiple levels in guaranteeing and bolstering economic privilege makes it hard to describe the economic system we have now as free. So if “capitalism” names the system we have now, anyone who favors freedom has good reason to be skeptical about capitalism.

The privileges that mark the existing economic order, whatever we call it, inure disproportionately to those with the most political influence and the greatest wealth. And the network of privileges preserved by the state tends in various ways to boost the privileges of capitalists in the workplace. As regards the workplace: state-secured privilege reduces the possibility of self-employment (by raising capital requirements and otherwise increasing costs of entry, while simultaneously reducing the resources people might be able to use to start and maintain their own businesses). It also imposes restraints on union activity that reduces workers’ capacity to bargain effectively with employers. By reducing alternatives to paid work and reducing workers’ collective bargaining opportunities, the state substantially increases employers’ leverage. In short: dominance of workplaces and of society by “capitalists” is incomprehensible in anything like its current form without attention to the state’s mischief. Again, if this is “capitalism,” proponents of freedom have no reason to embrace it.

It’s certainly conceivable that someone could argue that, while “capitalism” is frequently used for objectionable social phenomena, it is just as frequently employed for an economic system to which freedom is truly central. I am not sure either what the relevant proportions are or what weight should be attached to particular instances of using “capitalism” in one way or the other. I am quite sure, however, that the negative usage has been around for a long time (“capitalist” in the pejorative sense was employed by enthusiastic advocates of free markets like Thomas Hodgskin in the first half of the nineteenth century) and is very common today. Indeed, all too frequently, I fear, when “capitalism” is employed in a positive sense, it’s used as a “package deal” concept (as Roderick Long has helpfully emphasized) that somehow means both “free exchange” and either “the status quo,” “rule by capitalists,” or both. It’s tainted. And when people in the streets of countries throughout the developing world chant out their opposition to “capitalism”—meaning, in reality, not genuine freedom but rather imperial dominance by the United States government and its allies—I think it’s vital for libertarians to be able to make clear that the system of statist oppression the protestors are naming isn’t the one advocates of freedom favor.

Contributors to the Wall Street Journal’s editorial pages, commentators on Faux News, and (other) spokespersons for the political and economic elite may continue to use “capitalism” for whatever it is they say they favor. They’re not libertarianism’s natural allies, and there’s no reason for libertarians to emulate them. Support for free (or freed) markets is quite consistent with enthusiastic anti-capitalism.

3.7 ·
2
What's Next
Trending Today
10 Quotes From an Oglala Lakota Chief That Will Make You Question Everything About Our Society
Wisdom Pills · 31,005 views today · Luther Standing Bear was an Oglala Lakota Sioux Chief who, among a few rare others such as Charles Eastman, Black Elk and Gertrude Bonnin occupied the rift between the way of...
Brené Brown on How to Reckon with Emotion and Change Your Narrative
Brené Brown · 18,913 views today · The most powerful stories may be the ones we tell ourselves, says Brené Brown. But beware—they're usually fiction.
North Dakota Gov Cuts Water Supply to Native Americans as DAPL Protest Swells in Number and Spirit
Lauren McCauley · 11,712 views today · Thousands join protest camp as supporters are holding a rally in Washington D.C. on Wednesday outside of Army Corps hearing
When You Kill Ten Million Africans You Aren't Called 'Hitler'
Liam O'Ceallaigh · 10,969 views today · Take a look at this picture. Do you know who it is? Most people haven’t heard of him. But you should have. When you see his face or hear his name you should get as sick in...
Willie Nelson Has Some Advice for You: Don't Be An A**hole
2 min · 9,513 views today · Since childhood, Willie Nelson has been living by the golden rule. In this episode of "Hey Willie," the superstar talks about applying the golden rule to his everyday life and...
"Desert Goddess" Remembers Arizona's Glen Canyon
7 min · 6,964 views today · In this excerpt from the award-winning documentary DamNation, filmmakers Ben Knight and Travis Rummel interview the "desert goddess," Katie Lee. When the Glen Canyon Dam was...
The Top 100 Documentaries We Can Use to Change the World
Films For Action · 4,287 views today · A more beautiful, just and sustainable world is possible. Take this library and use it to inspire global change!
Time for Degrowth: to Save the Planet, We Must Shrink the Economy
Jason Hickel · 3,943 views today · What is so refreshing about the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals is that they recognise the inherent tension between economic development and the ecology of our planet. Or so...
Law Professor's Epic Response to Black Lives Matter Shirt Complaint
Social Design Notes · 3,559 views today · A first year law school student wrote a complaint about her professor having worn a Black Lives Matter T-shirt during class. The professor’s response is priceless. Scans of...
The White Man in That Photo
Riccardo Gazzaniga · 3,007 views today · Sometimes photographs deceive. Take this one, for example. It represents John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s rebellious gesture the day they won medals for the 200 meters at the...
Mesmerising Video of Tiled Roof Hut Built Entirely from Materials Found in the Forest
14 min · 2,985 views today · I built this tiled roof hut in the bush using only primitive tools and materials. The tools I used have been made in my previous videos. It should be pointed out that I do not...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 2,904 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
This Off Grid Handmade Island is One of the Most Amazing Homes in the World
3 min · 2,762 views today · Floating off the coast of Vancouver Island, a 45-minute boat ride to the nearest town, is a sustainable island fortress complete with a dance floor, art gallery and garden. For...
Donald Trump Supporters Given an Ideology Test. Spoiler Alert... They Fail
4 min · 2,218 views today · After Donald Trump proposes an ideology test for potential Muslim immigrants, Jordan Klepper quizzes the presidential hopeful's supporters. 
Mental Health and Masculinity - A Personal Perspective
8 min · 2,036 views today · 'I think people make quite positive assumptions about my mental health, because I'm outwardly very energetic, very enthusiastic. Actually, when I've been at my most energetic...
How Stress Affects Your Brain
4 min · 2,028 views today · Stress isn’t always a bad thing; it can be handy for a burst of extra energy and focus, like when you’re playing a competitive sport or have to speak in public. But when it’s...
If You Want to Say Thank You, Don't Say Sorry - And 6 Other Examples of Beautiful Communication
Yao Xiao · 2,004 views today · Appreciate others for what they have done, don't apologise for simply existing.
Powers of Ten - Fantastic Film from 1970s Takes us on Journey from Macro to Micro
9 min · 1,855 views today · Powers of Ten takes us on an adventure in magnitudes. Starting at a picnic by the lakeside in Chicago, this famous film transports us to the outer edges of the universe. Every...
Workers' Control in the Crisis of Capitalism
Dario Azzellini · 1,569 views today · Recent years have seen a proliferation of recuperated workplaces around the globe, laying the foundations for a truly democratic workers’ economy.
30 Days of White Privilege
Jonah Smith-Bartlett · 1,314 views today · The straw that broke the camel’s back was a New York Times comment section. “There is no such thing as white privilege. It’s something the liberal media created. Black people...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
Embracing Markets, Opposing "Capitalism"