Capitalism: A dirty word for freedom

2 months ago
68 in anarchy

capitalist pig.jpg

If you advocate for capitalism, you're probably used to receiving some criticism - people telling you that capitalism is the cause of suffering and death, catastrophic climate change, starving children, the impending eschaton, socks getting lost in the wash - basically everything bad that ever happened in the last 500 years, plus a few things that haven't even happened yet. To you, perhaps "capitalism" just means free trade, respect for people and their (private) property and peaceful cooperation. But that's not what it means to everyone.

I remember I was talking to a friend of mine and he told me he supported capitalism. I said "Me too". He said "You? I thought you were a hippie." I said "Okay, maybe. But the reason I support capitalism is because I support peace." He proceeded to tell me that the second world war had been a capitalist boon, boosting the economy of the United States, and spreading the wealth through the Americas. I disagreed - that wasn't capitalism; capitalism is about mutual agreement and mutually beneficial relationships, not killing people. I hope you disagree also, but bear in mind, when you mention the "C" word, this is the kind of baggage that it has attached.

One common objection that people have to capitalism, especially when associated with voluntaryism, is that, how can a society possibly be voluntary, when your only options are working for a capitalist, or starving to death? That isn't voluntary - that's a threat!

Part of the problem is, when people ask these questions they normally have a very fixed idea of what "capitalism" means - employees and employers, and nothing more. For many advocates of capitalism, they are talking about something much broader. So, my first response to this is to ask, in what possible situation would you only have the choice between working for an employer and starving? In a free society, you can work for yourself, you can work as a contractor, you can work with an industrial syndicate or cooperative, you can ask for the help of your family or community, you can go to the forest and forage for food. There are always other options. The only time when you're really in a situation where you must comply or die, is when there's a direct, violent threat to your life.

To elaborate on the point further, consider this speech from my friend, Conscious Kenny @kennyskitchen:

I recommend you listen to the whole speech, because it's fascinating. To summarise, Kenny is describing Rainbow Gatherings, which are festivals of hundreds, thousands or tens of thousands of people, getting together to share their food, labour and good vibes with their rainbow family. Generally, people don't use money at these events. They just give what they have and receive what others offer. Is this a part of capitalism? Well, it's not excluded from capitalism. So sure, why not?

You could have a charity which provides people food and board just because they ask for it, for whatever reason. I'm sure many would support such an organisation, even if it was just because it allowed people some time to consider what they want out of life. That's a part of capitalism too, in this broad sense. In fact, there are already organisations that exist with similar goals. The International Society for Krishna Consciousness has a stated ideal that nobody in the world should go hungry, and if you go to their temple, they will feed you.

Now, these things, peaceful hippie gatherings in the forest and Hare Krishna churches aren't what people normally think of when you say "capitalism". I'm sure Kenny wouldn't describe Rainbow Gatherings as a "capitalist" event. But when certain people (anarcho-capitalists and voluntaryists) advocate for capitalism, whether or not they support such events and organisations, they support the freedom to do these sorts of things.

Personally, I'm open to the possibility that capitalism isn't the absolute best way to do things, even though I think it's a good idea. As the Rainbow Gatherings demonstrate, maybe it's possible that we can even leave our ideas about money and property behind. However, when you get into a discussion with someone about capitalism, I hope you consider that they may not be talking about bosses and boring jobs, but that they may be talking about capitalism in the broadest sense - freedom, respect (including private property rights), and peaceful cooperation.


About me

kurt robinson in the mountains of puebla

My name is Kurt Robinson. I grew up in Australia, but now I live in Guadalajara, Jalisco. I write interesting things about voluntaryism, futurism, science fiction, travelling Latin America, and psychedelics. Remember to press follow so you can stay up to date with all the cool shit I post, and follow our podcast where we talk about crazy ideas for open-minded people, here: @paradise-paradox, like The Paradise Paradox on Facebook here, and subscribe to The Paradise Paradox on YouTube, and on iTunes

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55
  ·  2 months ago

I am a big fan of your thought process here and love the use of the "C" word! haha. I think you bring up some interesting point, when people choose to look only at the bad things that can be associated with capitalism instead of what major benefits it has, and how can we improve upon it to limit those types of things. Great post! Upvoted and followed

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68
  ·  2 months ago

Thanks for the follow, have a great day

58
  ·  2 months ago

Seen this in the Facebook Steemit Articles group. Gotta say a very well put together article here, upvoted and following to keep tabs on your future work. Keep up the excellent job with your writing!

68
  ·  2 months ago

I love how the mutually-exclusive concepts of individual liberty in a free market and government control for the benefit of cronies are both called "capitalism," and this conflated term is then used to confuse any attempts at rational discussion of the subject.

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45
  ·  2 months ago

But the first is a completely unrealized (and probably unrealizable) ideal, and the second a completely verifiable historically-unbroken rule- if wishes were fishes, we wouldn't have to think about patching the holes in the boat, or spending sall our time and energy bailing...

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68
  ·  2 months ago

The market is working all around you despite the interference of the State every day. Its interventions hamper, but do not obliterate, free trade. Black and gray markets demonstrate this most profoundly, and the violence associated with some black markets is the visible consequence of prohibition artificially restricting choice, not a fault in free trade.

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45
  ·  2 months ago

Seems to me hit men and mercs are a fundamental expression of the freest of market forces. Any way to rebut that? I've been in business most of my adult life NOT as an employee. State interference is onerous, but seldom as dangerous as "free" agents I've run into.

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68
  ·  2 months ago

Most assassins work for governments. The remaining in organized crime are only able to prosper due to the distortions created by prohibitions and black markets that they produce. Organized crime is a government consequence.

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45
  ·  2 months ago

Nope, they're companions, one's just the side that takes the time to codify the laws- you can argue just as easily government arise out of warlord armies, it happens all the time, and much more frequently it's the most violent and militarily powerful who START the growth of the society from which larger and interlocking markets arise.

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68
  ·  2 months ago

That does not make sense. Government action is antithetical to the property rights it claims to protect and the market action from which you claim it can derive. Government is only able to thrive as a parasite feeding from a previously-functioning society with a previously-functioning economy. You're not showing cause-and-effect.

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45
  ·  2 months ago

Historical citation of this general declaration?
There was no significant regional, and certainly no continental market in Eurasia, Norther Asia, or Europe after the Roman Empire until Genghis Khan, the Moghul/Mughul invasions effecting through the southern Indian continent what Khan did not reach much the same uniting of much smaller markets; how about Africa- certainly the European invasions repeated what earlier empires had in expanding markets, even if the "trade" was mainly just pillage and rapine. South America I don't know much about, but North America had very large civilizations that mostly died out by the time of our own invasions- and the French and Dutch didn't come with great military power, but they also had far more "local" effects than the English and Spanish had, but similar- what were small markets expanded, because there was more trade than had been for quite a few generations, and the larger markets that were still there were linked much more again (making the British and Spanish very, very rich, and even some Native tribes prospered somewhat). There was NO functional large scale society (the Native "nations" (some) confederated to some extent, but you can't even call them regional), no large-scale economy (that we have any records for, but there's enough anecdotal history to approximate a lot existed). The economies didn't come from Native peoples (although they contributed greatly), the invaders brought them along with the governments they imposed/were subject to, to the greater extent- not as much in PA and just a few other places.
You're continuing to argue theoretically, I'm trying to illustrate how cause-and-effect is usually chimeric. Government (monarchially-based and -descended) as an institution IS the source of "property rights" historically, because everything in the world belonged to King and Church (according to dogma), and everything was "granted" by their largesse- individual property rights are a VERY new-fangled notion in millenia-old cultures, and we're still ill-equipped to make GOOD sense of the concept

36
  ·  2 months ago

Statist can make any word dirty: anarchy, liberal, capitalism ... In the Soviet Union, even the definition of voluntarism has acquired a negative connotation.

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68
  ·  2 months ago

The Soviet Union has come back from the dead to kill voluntaryism

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45
  ·  2 months ago

They've dropped their kill rate from millions to thousands, so I guess that's quantitative progress after a century, though.

69
  ·  2 months ago

I'm a firm anti-capitalist. I'm always floored when people say that capitalism means freedom, cooperation, and everything good in the world. Capitalism is a broad term, which implicates many aspects of our lives, but if it can be interpreted in such a way as to include communal gatherings that explicitly denounce capitalist relations, I'm afraid the term has become so broad as to have lost all meaning.

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54
  ·  2 months ago

Why is the exclusion of the use of money in a communal gathering a denouncement of anything? The reason for such an exclusion may simply be aesthetic in nature. And if you read any of the serious capitalist thinkers of the last few hundred years, none that I've found mean anything other than freedom and peaceful relations. The word capitalist has a lot of different meanings, but to those who philosophically advocate for it, it means the peaceful exchange of goods and services. No forced labor, no war, no theft of property. That's it.

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69
  ·  2 months ago

It's not about the money at all. It's about constructing different forms of social relationships.

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68
  ·  2 months ago

That's an interesting point. I see it kind of like "freedom of expression" - a concept which is extremely broad. Freedom of expression is so broad, it can include the right to speak about limiting others' expression. Would you say it has lost all meaning?

When you say these events are "anti-capitalist", it sounds like you're talking about a different definition of "capitalism" compared to what I'm discussing in this post.

I'm not sure if this is what you're doing, but when I thought about what you wrote, it occurred to me that, being an anti-capitalist, you are looking for reasons to criticise capitalism. In this post, you found nothing to criticise, so instead you started criticising the word "capitalism" instead.

Have a good one

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69
  ·  2 months ago

When you say these events are "anti-capitalist", it sounds like you're talking about a different definition of "capitalism" compared to what I'm discussing in this post.

What I'm saying is you're referencing things that are not capitalism. If you support both capitalism and freedom, there is no contradiction. But when you say that the freedom to reject capitalism and live communally is itself capitalism, then I think there is some confusion.

I am not criticizing (respectfully, I hope) the word itself, so much as your use of it.

Personally, I'm open to the possibility that capitalism isn't the absolute best way to do things, even though I think it's a good idea.

Here you show that you understand that capitalism is a way of doing things. But you want it to stand for doing things in other ways as well. You're framing the rejection of capitalism as an attack on freedom, but it isn't anything of the sort.

I appreciate the response and the opportunity to clarify myself. Thanks for prompting the discussion. :)

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68
  ·  2 months ago

What I'm saying is you're referencing things that are not capitalism. If you support both capitalism and freedom, there is no contradiction. But when you say that the freedom to reject capitalism and live communally is itself capitalism, then I think there is some confusion.

I agree, there is confusion. When you say "reject capitalism", you're using a different definition of the word "capitalism" compared to what I talked about in the article. People living communally might say they're rejecting capitalism - in terms of employers and employees - but they're not rejecting capitalism in the broadest sense. Obviously there is a lot of problems with the word, and that's part of the reason these debates between pro-capitalists and anti-capitalists tend to go so wrong.

Here you show that you understand that capitalism is a way of doing things. But you want it to stand for doing things in other ways as well.

Not exactly. When I said "way of doing things" I meant following the non-aggression principle and respecting private property rights. I didn't mean having employers and employees.

There are other words we could use instead, but each one has its pros and cons, and slightly different meanings of course. Panarchy, anarchy... At one stage I tried the phrase "cruelty-free government" to appeal to statists. Nowadays I'm not so sure about that one either. Even "freedom" means very different things depending on your political/apolitical background. So it's a tough question.

I hope you got at least one thing from the article - that when someone says "capitalism" it might not actually be the thing you're opposed to, so maybe you can hear them out and see if you have anything in common.

Thanks for your input.

54
  ·  2 months ago

Nothing has created so much prosperity for so many people than capitalism. It may not be perfect, but its the best we've got.
Good post, have a follow.

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68
  ·  2 months ago

Thank you, much appreciated.

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45
  ·  2 months ago

Capitalism has never produced or destroyed a single thing EVER. Its application has, though, brought wealth and terrible devastation.

45
  ·  2 months ago

I'm still upvoting you, but-
ALMOST all of the argument between the "pro-" vs "anti-" capitalist sides boils down to a nearly pathetic misuse or abuse of the term. It's a tool of social interaction, the mechanics of which Smith enunciated very well hundreds of years ago (it helps to have a defined and accurate description quite a lot to use a tool properly and intentionally). Properly applied, it HAS brought immense wealth to many, many people throughout history, and globally has proved most effective- but aside the past century, has any civilization used ANY other tool on a large scale ANYWHERE ? Every great (hell, EVERY) empire for the past 3000 years operated by using it- and EVERY empire fundamentally required economic stratification based on slavery to build with maximum rapidity, which is the completely intentional application of capitalist economic principles MINUS the one essential- the fundamental value of labor (except for force of arms, that's always a fundamental in every power structure).
Ultimately, I think you need to either sharply define your terms, or abandon them for better, more appropriate ones (a better choice, I think, because the greater population will continue to utterly misuse and abuse it, and it's time to stop the verbal clickbaiting of all available bandwidth, that's the politicians' job). I LIKE "voluntarism" and it's variants, I can't think of many Rainbows, hippies, or KRSNA devotees that would agree that what you advocate as capitalism has anything to do with the economic system prevalent in the world, and I've got a foot in all three worlds.- and have operated a small business for 30+. I think we should call it "institutionalized asymmetric class warfare", or better yet, "systematized rape". It sure ain't free-market capitalism, but I'm completely convinced not a single (large-scale) society extant today would be able to implement an actual free market. The only way we've managed to develop crypto-currency that works is by eliminating human bias from the blockchain, after all...