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.

4.0 · 1
What's Next
Related
Load Comments (8)
Trending Today
"Desert Goddess" Remembers Arizona's Glen Canyon
7 min · 11,660 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...
This Dude Just Used Jelly Beans To Convince Me To Live My Life To The Fullest
3 min · 7,685 views today · After watching this video, I just wanted to make the most of my free time. I also wanted some candy, so we will call that a 2 for 1. - Rafael Casal
Watch a Giant Suction Tube Gobble Up The Earth In This Brilliant Video about Our Economy
7 min · 4,772 views today · Modern production is based on extraction from the planet, and modern finance is based on extraction from the many for the benefit of the very few. What would a new economy look...
I Wish for You... Jeremy Irons is a Grandfather With A Beautiful Message for His Granddaughter
5 min · 3,579 views today · 'War Horse' author Michael Morpurgo and actors Jeremy Irons and Maxine Peake have joined forces to make a powerful new 5 minute film especially for you. Please watch and...
Varoufakis Leads European Left to Reclaim Democracy From "Authoritarian Technocrats"
Nadia Prupis · 1,855 views today · Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 seeks to find 'common solutions to common problems,' says former Greek finance minister
Feeling the Yern: Why One Millennial Woman Would Rather Go to Hell Than Vote for Hillary
Holly Wood · 1,512 views today · Stumping for Hillary Clinton this weekend in New Hampshire, hedge fund manager Madeleine Albright squawked, "There's a special place in Hell for women who don't help each...
Alan Watts: The World of Man and Nature
3 min · 1,450 views today · Words from Alan Watts combined with breathtaking timelapse footage by two amazing photographers, and beautiful music by Carbon Based Lifeforms.
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into A Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 1,396 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Republicans Welcomed Bernie Sanders to Wisconsin By Calling Him an Extremist. His Response? Perfect.
5 min · 1,233 views today · This was just awesome. No wonder so many people love Sander's message. The opening minutes of the July 1st rally was a classic #FeelTheBern moment, delivered to a 10,000...
HEIST: Who Stole the American Dream? (2012)
76 min · 1,217 views today · HEIST: Who Stole the American Dream? is stunning audiences across the globe, as it exposes the real truth behind the worldwide economic collapse, tracing its origins to a 1971...
9 Ways We Can Make Social Justice Movements Less Elitist and More Accessible
Kai Cheng Thom · 1,174 views today · In my first year of college, I stopped calling myself an activist. It took attending just a few meetings of the campus queer group for me to realize that I didn’t fit in with...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 1,065 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
Who Are You? This Breathtaking Video Might Change Your Life
2 min · 1,055 views today · "Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work, driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for, in order to get to a job that you need so you can...
Nigerians Are Building Fireproof, Bulletproof, and Eco-Friendly Homes With Plastic Bottles and Mud
Amanda Froelich · 938 views today · These colorful homes are bulletproof, fireproof, and can withstand earthquakes. They also maintain a comfortable temperature, produce zero carbon emissions, and are powered by...
When Corporatocracy Replaced Democracy - a Dystopian Warning From the Future
Andrew Butler · 568 views today · Ever since Trump was elected the question on everyone's lips has been, "Who’s next?" The border between the US and Mexico is effectively closed to people, although it’s still...
F*ck That: A Guided Meditation for the Realities of Today's World
2 min · 553 views today · Just acknowledge that all that sh*t is f*cking b*llshit — you're here now, in this place, with your inner stillness. Take in a deep breath ... now breathe out. Just feel the...
The Lie We Live
8 min · 477 views today · Spencer Cathcart raises all the right questions, exposes collective lies and stories we tell ourselves all the while retaining a sense of hope for humanity. This video will...
Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek)
David Cain · 429 views today · Well I’m in the working world again. I’ve found myself a well-paying gig in the engineering industry, and life finally feels like it’s returning to normal after my nine months...
HUMAN (2015)
382 min · 406 views today · What is it that makes us human? Is it that we love, that we fight? That we laugh? Cry? Our curiosity? The quest for discovery?  Driven by these questions, filmmaker and artist...
The Difference Between Empathy and Sympathy
3 min · 404 views today · What is the best way to ease someone's pain and suffering? In this beautifully animated RSA Short, Dr Brené Brown reminds us that we can only create a genuine empathic...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?