≡ Menu

Capitalism is Libertarian!

It is clear that the left-libertarians have lost in their campaign to demonize the word “capitalism.” Nice try, fellas, but you lost. Libertarians are not buying your strained arguments and pointless attempt to fight semantic battles. Capitalism as a word just means private ownership of the means of production. I point you to a dictionary. This is obviously compatible with libertarianism, and arguably an essential part of the economy of an advanced libertarian society. Crony capitalism and corporatism are unlibertarian, but laissez-faire capitalism is not. The origin of the term may be interesting but does not change what meaning it has now. There is nothing wrong with using capitalism to describe a key aspect of a libertarian social order, as long as one is clear to distinguish it from crony-capitalism. See: Capitalism, Socialism, and Libertarianism; Rothbard: “True anarchism will be capitalism, and true capitalism will be anarchism”; Reply to Left-Libertarians on “Capitalism”; Left-Libertarians Admit Opposition to “Capitalism” is Substantive.

And it is not we libertarians who have things to learn from the left: rather the opposite is true. We non-prefix libertarians are not left, but we are also not right, and it’s wrong of left-libertarians to accuse us of being “right” merely because we reject the equally confused and false doctrines of the left. We already know that crony capitalism is wrong. Furthermore, we are aware of the fact that state intervention has distorted the market. We also do not just rubber stamp and endorse current land holdings out of some fetish for the status quo; non-prefix libertarians believe that if someone can show a better claim to a given piece of property than the current legal owner, he should prevail. But unless and until this occurs, the current legal owner, so long as he is private, has a better claim to the property than anyone else and should be its owner (property held by the state should be taken from it, of course).

Go capitalism, go! Here is some recommended recent pro-capitalist libertarian reading:

Share
{ 12 comments… add one }
  • steven May 11, 2010, 11:54 am

    Stephan, since so many people view capitalists the same way that you and I would view wealthy people who dump toxic chemicals into the lakes and streams and use their political connections to avoid having to pay the cost of the damages they caused, why should we knock ourselves out defending the use of the term capitalism? These are the same people that we need to reach if we ever want to have a free society. I know what you mean by capitalism, but they don’t. They’ve been conditioned their entire lives to think that the state must protect them from “evil capitalists”.Why don’t we just try explaining to them, in simple terms, what we really mean by liberty, and how it would work?

  • Stephan Kinsella May 11, 2010, 12:05 pm

    I’m not knocking myself out defneding it, but rather opposing the concerted efforts of our fellow traveler left-libertarians to do even more damage to the term. And it is and continues to be widely used in economics and political philosophy to refer to the private ownership of the means of production, which is what we do in fact support.

  • Thomas L. Knapp May 11, 2010, 1:48 pm

    Stephan,

    I’ve always admired Lew Rockwell’s dedication to providing a forum for idiosyncracy.

    One should not, however, expect a particular idiosyncracy — for example, an infatuation with re-defining long-settled terminology to mean its opposite — to catch on just because one delares that it must and then declares victory for one’s declaration.

    “Left-libertarians” (a label which is redundant and made necessary only by the use of “right-libertarian” which is oxymoronic) will continue to reject the state-regulated economy (“capitalism”) in favor of the free market, and we will continue to refuse to pretend that the two are the same. We will also continue to make common cause with vocabulary challenged libertarians such as yourself to the extent that, and in the areas which, your lexical handicaps have not yet fatally tainted your ideology.

    Best regards,
    Tom Knapp

    • M.D. O'Donnell May 12, 2010, 1:34 am

      “Left-libertarians” (a label which is redundant and made necessary only by the use of “right-libertarian” which is oxymoronic) will continue to reject the state-regulated economy (“capitalism”) in favor of the free market, and we will continue to refuse to pretend that the two are the same.

      Tom,

      I don’t see you giving Kinsella a fair argument here–your use of the term “capitalism” to refer to a “state-regulated economy” is wholly inconsistent with Kinsella’s use of the term. Either the term is wrong or your use of it is wrong; and considering that numerous lexical resources confirm Kinsella’s version of the term, you should acknowledge that your use of “capitalism” is inconsistent with the generally accepted definition. This fundamental misconstrual of terms is exactly what Kinsella is pointing out–attempting to demonize the term “capitalism” while supporting the “free market” that undergirds capitalist thought only serves those who demonize capitalism qua capitalism, i.e., the free market system.

      • Thomas L. Knapp May 12, 2010, 10:24 am

        M.D. O’Donnell,

        You write:

        —–
        I don’t see you giving Kinsella a fair argument here–your use of the term “capitalism” to refer to a “state-regulated economy” is wholly inconsistent with Kinsella’s use of the term.
        —–

        And Kinsella’s use of the term is wholly inconsistent with two centuries of mainstream historical use of the term.

        Per The Dictionary of Free Market Economics, the term “capitalism” was coined by Thackeray to denote a “mixed, state-regulated industrial economy.” It was certainly POPULARIZED (by Marx) to mean that.

        When Kinsella refers to “what it means now,” he’s referring to what it means to some portion of the tiny ideological sect to which we both belong, not to what it means to the other 99.x% of people who hear it used.

        If Kinsella wants to use it to mean “private ownership of the means of production” or “mmmm, frozen custard” or “meet me at the secret rallying point on Thursday,” that’s his prerogative … but he shouldn’t expect anyone outside the 0.x% of people in the same club as him to understand him when he does so.

        • Stephan Kinsella May 12, 2010, 11:14 am

          Tom, what in the world are you talking about? Capitalism is WIDELY used and has been for DECADES in libertarian and economic circles at least, to mean private ownership of the means of production. And the dictionary meaning reflects this. Words change meaning over time, and diverge from their origins. The word liberal changed–I’d love to say I’m “liberal” but its current meaning is different than it was. To obstinately cling to old definitions is just crankish and pointless–and leads to confusion, obfuscation, miscommnication, and time wasting.

          That said, by the same token I don’t deny there are some bad connotations now associated with capitalism–the term is not pure or completely unambiguous in all contexts, mostly due to anti-free-market types and now, to the efforts of left-libertarians themselves to further cloud the already somewhat murky water. Therefore, that is why if we use “capitalism” we just have to be careful with our context and audience. This is really not that difficult.

          Let’s be clear; libertarians are against the state and state interventionism. We are against aggression. We are NOT against semantic usages. That is not what we are about yet it is what the left-libertarians behind this absurd campaign seem to want to make us about.

          • Thomas L. Knapp May 12, 2010, 12:36 pm

            Stephan,

            You write:

            “Capitalism is WIDELY used and has been for DECADES in libertarian and economic circles at least, to mean private ownership of the means of production.”

            Libertarians = 0.x% of population

            Economic circles in which (capitalism = private ownership of the means of production without additional connotations of state regulation and privilege) = 0.0x% of population

            The dominant economic schools in terms of shaping public perception are the Marxian and Keynesian schools. Pretending otherwise won’t make it otherwise.

            The only “campaign” I’m aware of is your campaign against those of us who reject state regulation of the economy semantically as well as practically. I only mention the fact that I’m not a “capitalist” when someone falsely identifies me as one. When a libertarian identifies himself as a “capitalist,” I may mention that that’s a poor self-description which is likely to cause confusion, but I’m not exactly on a jihad about it or anything.

          • Stephan Kinsella May 12, 2010, 2:49 pm

            Teedog:

            Libertarians = 0.x% of population

            Economic circles in which (capitalism = private ownership of the means of production without additional connotations of state regulation and privilege) = 0.0x% of population

            Of course it’s not just there. It is obviously significant enough, hello, to make it into the dictionary.

            Can you deny that there are hundreds of books and articles by libertarians over the last half-century that use “capitalism” to mean either “an aspect of a free market” or as a synonym or metonymy for a libertarian society? This is a fact. Given this, what do we do? Assume when Mises said “capitalist” he really meant “corporatist” or “crony capitalist”? Or do we honestly admit he meant the word in a benign, pro-free market way? Peter Klein just released The Capitalist and the Entrepeneur. Obviously he’s an Austro-anarchist-libertarian, and doesn’t mean capitalist like you do. Will you pretend he’s really talking about corporatism, or will you translate from what he means to your own vocabulary?

            You guys want to argue what the definition WAS, or what it SHOULD be, and to use this as an argument for what the word DOES mean today. This is just a category mistake.

            The only “campaign” I’m aware of is your campaign against those of us who reject state regulation of the economy semantically as well as practically.

            disingenous. Of course I’m not against those against state interventionism. I just disagree with your arguments about the strategy itself, and the semantics of the word. I think my “concession” is all that is required and is very reasonable: we should say anarcho-libertarian, not -capitalist; we should recgonize the baggage associated with capitalism and use the term carefully and depending on the audience and context. This is eminently reasonable.

            I only mention the fact that I’m not a “capitalist” when someone falsely identifies me as one.

            This is a disingenuous comment b/c it assumes your definition of capitalism is correct. It’s akin to the labels pro-life and pro-choice adopted strategically in the abortion debate to try to sway substantive positions. I really hate conflation of strategy with substantive truth.

  • DrewT May 12, 2010, 12:32 am

    Capitalism as a word just means private ownership of the means of production.

    The point is made right there. The concepts of personal property, and the attendant personal responsibility for that property, are intrinsic to Libertarian thought.

  • Thomas L. Knapp May 12, 2010, 2:59 pm

    Stephan,

    I agree that your “concession” is reasonable. I’m not insistent that anyone else stop using the word “capitalism” to describe freedom; I just decline to so use it myself.

    I’m also at the point of formally rejecting conflation of “government” and “state” (for, among other reasons, the ones that Callahan invoked the other day). But that’s just me.

    • Stephan Kinsella May 12, 2010, 3:36 pm

      Heroic! We have a compromise! I’ll draw up the papers and fax them over. Shoot me your fax.

      Re government: there I agree: “government,” while often used by some libertarians as a synonym for “state” (and with good reason) has a much fuzzier meaning: some minarchists use it to mean the institutions of defense and justice, whether private or statist or whatever. So I am with you there: I have strived for years to just refer to the state as our bane, and to hardly ever mention “government.”

      Libertarians also use “coercion” confusingly as a synonym for “aggression.” This, too, is a problem.

      And simpleminded/disingenuous libertarians often conflate “violence” or “force” with “aggression”–so that if I use force to prevent a crime, they call that aggression, in a disingenuous attempt to say that we libertarians are not against ALL aggression, … so why can’t the aggression that their minarchy commits be permissible? etc.

      This is why I fight against the semantic trickery in the leftoids’ “capitalism” fulminations.

Leave a Reply to Stephan Kinsella Cancel reply

Bad Behavior has blocked 4787 access attempts in the last 7 days.

© 2012-2018 StephanKinsella.com CC0 To the extent possible under law, Stephan Kinsella has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to material on this Site, unless indicated otherwise. In the event the CC0 license is unenforceable a  Creative Commons License Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License is hereby granted.

-- Copyright notice by Blog Copyright

%d bloggers like this: