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Four questions for “anti-capitalist” libertarians (Carpio)/Is Capitalism Something Good? (Richman) (2010)

This is a post by my friend Juan Carpio from our now-moribund group blog, The Libertarian Standard. I paste the whole thing plus comments since I had some extensive comments there.

Four questions for “anti-capitalist” libertarians

Sheldon Richman, one of the best libertarian writers of the last decade and an all around excellent human being (I’m a grateful person and as my teacher at FEE in 2003, I must say he was by far the most fun and persuasive of the lecturers in an already very good set of speakers) has jumped on the wagon of the Left-‘libertarians’ latest initiative to decry and abandon the use of “Capitalism” as a term by our movement.

Hereby I would like to address his post at The Freeman [archived comments] [both reproduced below] but also his subsequent retorts on Facebook to my objections on such a linguistic and strategic initiative, by asking him and others including Gary Chartier, Roderick Long and Kevin Carson these four questions:

Since words are not doomed to be deformed when born deformed in the same way they are not free from bad usage even if their origin is noble (see “Liberalism”).

  1. Well then, what do we want it to mean from now on?
  2. Is there another word that describes the full and complex system that is the real promise (and hope) behind a free society?
  3. Yet another unanswered question is: why won´t the next term be hijacked or deformed by the (socialist/statist/authentic) Left?
  4. And the last question Sheldon, Chartier, Carson and others haven’t addressed is: how will be keep a word pure when no social system is pure nowadays (if ever) unless we coin a term only when we have a pure system so it corresponds to a pure reality and cannot be misconstrued? Of course we need a term for an ideal so we walk towards it, unless I’m missing something here.

 

Stephan Kinsella keenly added to the discussion:

“What some left-“libertarians” oppose is the economic order most standard libertarians favor and expect to accompany an advanced free society–whatever word you slap on it. Thus they go on about mutual aid, wildcat strikes, the workers, localism, self-sufficiency, they condemn the division of labor, mass production, factories,employment, firms, corporations, “hierarchy,” international trade, not to mention “distant” ownership, landlordism, “alienation,” industrialism, and the like. Their agenda is not required by libertarianism–most of it is not even compatible with it, I’d say, so is unlibertarian. But this is a debate we can have–it’s on substance. I think this is a large motivation for their hostility to the word “capitalism”–they mean capitalism like we do, and dislike it. I don’t mean crony capitalism–but actual libertarian-compatible laissez-faire capitalism. They want libertarians to stop saying capitalism because they want us to adopt their substantive unlibertarian, Marxian agenda. Yet they pretend it’s just for strategical or lexical concerns–which it’s not. This is yet another reason I think we should dig our heels in and not give in: they will then count it as a substantive victory for unlibertarian, leftist ideas.”

This bit of course is completely relevant when an attempt (some bona fide would be a requisite for it) to answer these four questions is made.

Anti-capitalists: the ball is now on your side of the court.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Juan, see also my update at the end of Capitalism, Socialism, and Libertarianism, and other comments from Sheldon s FEE blogpost Is Capitalism Something Good? and also from the facebook page:

    It seems to me that a legitimate definition of capitalism is the private ownership of the means of production, and that there is no doubt that any advanced economic order of a libertarian society would have capitalism so defined. Even if it has private-collective worker-owned firms, co-ops, kibbutzes, and the like existing in isolated pockets sort of like the Amish still do today. And in fact even such communalist enclaves are built on private ownership of capital–it’s just that the members of the co-op voluntarily co-own the property privately. So we can view the co-ops etc. of a free society to be a (probably marginal) subset of capitalism; and in any case they are certainly compatible with capitalism since the economic order of a free society can have a wide diversity. In my view there is little doubt that there will always be a dominant and significant role for corporations, firms, employment, mass production, the specialization and division of labor, international trade, and so on–though there well may also be more opportunities for self-sufficiency, localism, communalist experimentation, and so on.

    It is also true that the word capitalism nowadays has non-libertarian connotations like corporatism and crony capitalism. So where does this leave us? Capitalism, defined carefully, is a significant aspect of the economic order of a libertarian society. Even if defined carefully capitalism does not fully describe libertarianism or a libertarian society, but only one aspect of its economy. So I do not think we should use capitalism as a strict synonym for libertarianism (for this reason I use the term “anarcho-libertarian” nowadays instead of “anarcho-capitalist”), and when we do use it, we obviously have to be careful that we do not give the misleading impression that we are condoning crony capitalism or corporatism–so we can add a modifier if necessary, like “laissez-faire” or we can make it clear that we favor capitalism but condemn corporatism, etc.

    So: do not use capitalism as a synonym for libertarianism; keep the word around for use in describing an aspect of a libertarian social order; but use it carefully in a way that does not connote crony capitalism.

    A final note: we should not bash capitalism since this will be taken by anti-libertarians as siding with their hostility to property rights and the free market. And we should definitely not employ the word socialist, either, to describe our views.

    Another comment of mine on the FEE blog:

    @Little Alex:

    “@Carpio: Your “eternal-teen-rebel” rhetoric is making you look silly and evasive. Placing capital in a hierarchy above the liberty of self-management to define a social system is regression. (http://wp.me/pnWUd-2rW)”

    Libertarians view property rights as the only rights. Liberty is defined in terms of property rights. The libertarian conception of property rights immediately implies that all property, including “capital,” is privately owned. Thus “capitalism,” defined as a system in which capital is privately owned, is compatible with libertarianism and indeed an important aspect of any reasonably advanced libertarian society. Conceptually identifying this feature of the economic order of a libertarian society and attaching a name to that concept is not “Placing capital in a hierarchy above the liberty of self-management.” To the contrary, it is simply rational and honest explication and conceptual analysis of social and economic systems. As such, I can understand why it may rankle some leftists given the left’s hostility to rationality and clear thinking (and by saying this I do not mean to vindicate the right; they are both dishonest, wicked, confused views. Thank God we standard libertarians have escaped the left-right straitjacket).

    “I’d never read Clarence Carson’s article, but you continue to ignore this rationale that many have echoed: “linguistically, it does not stand for private property, free enterprise, and the free market. It is false labeling to make it appear to do so. Capitalism means either a system in which capital holds sway, which is largely what Marx apparently meant, or an ideology to justify such a system”.”

    “a system in which capital holds sway”–such vague, amorphous phrases are often trotted out and used for equivocation. We libertarians believe in property rights. Qua libertarians we need have no Marxian type opinion on whether any given feature of a free society “holds sway.”

    “@Kinsella: RE: “It seems to me that a legitimate definition of capitalism is the private ownership of the means of production”

    “Why? Assertion?”

    This debate is at least partly about the meaning of terms–semantics. I think many leftists are reluctant to admit this because although in disingenuous fashion they at first seem to acknowledge this, this is quickly dismissed and substantive issues are smuggled in via equivocation. Well if someone says a word is inappropriate, then a semantical inquiry into what the meaning of the controversial term is, is warranted. Thus if I state that a legitimate definition of a word is X, this is not an “assertion”–it’s understood to be an appeal to standard methods of determining what definitions of given words are. That is, resorting to a dictionary or the like. And if you consult dictionaries, or encyclopedias, you’ll see that a very common definition of “capitalism” is “an economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is made and maintained chiefly by private individuals or corporations, esp. as contrasted to cooperatively or state-owned means of wealth.”

    Or similar. This is not “assertion.” It’s a reasonable way to find out what a word means in a language. Now given this technical definition, as I argued, it is of course NOT incompatible with libertarianism and individual rights, and in fact is a crucial feature of any reasonably advanced libertarian society. As I acknowledged, it is not a good synonym for libertarianism but rather describes on part of the economic order of a libertarian society. It is associated with libertarianism because you cannot have true capitalism without a libertarian order (because capitalism requires property rights to be respected, and only libertarianism consistently does this); and you cannot have any reasonably advanced, productive, modern, prosperous, libertarian society without capitalism. So, they imply each other–so it is no wonder some people use capitalism as a stand-in for libertarianism, perhaps as a form of metonymy, in which “a thing or concept is not called by its own name, but by the name of something intimately associated with that thing or concept”.

    I also acknowledged that “capitalism” has other connotations that are incompatible with libertarianism, namely what we libertarians who try to keep concepts and definitions straight would call “crony capitalism” or perhaps “corporatism” or “mercantilism.” And because of these connotations and because of ambiguities and confusions (some of them caused by leftists and left-libertarians, perhaps), we have to be careful when we use the word capitalism: we should use it not as a synonym for liberty, but for a critical feature of the economic order of a free society; and we should be clear to use it in a context or way that makes it clear to the audience that it is the libertarian, free-market, anti-corporatist, technical, and libertarian-compatible meaning of capitalism that we have in mind.

    So what if we need to do this? Such caution is (perhaps unfortunately) necessary for many of the radical ideas we advocate, which turn off the masses and the malicious–when we use free market, profit, individualism, self-interest, property rights, rationality, reason, economics, welfare, government, and so on. We have to deal with such misanthropes and ignoramuses, unfortunately, but we do not have to join them.

    “RE: “It is also true that the word capitalism nowadays has non-libertarian connotations like corporatism and crony capitalism.”

    “Nowadays? No, sir. Always.”

    So what? It still has a technical definition in economics that in fact accurately describes a crucial feature of any advanced economic order that will arise when property rights (liberty) are respected. And for anyone who seeks any economic understanding at all, we need a word that correlates with this concept. There is a word; it’s useful; there is no reason whatsoever not to use it–so long as one is careful as I have adumbrated above–and as most libertarians are, already–once again showing that the left has almost nothing to teach us libertarians. Where the left is correct, we libertarians already know it (as Rothbard, say, recognized long ago in criticizing Rand’s bemoaning of Big Business as being America’s most persecuted minority). And where the left is original, or non-libertarian, it is wrong (e.g., its crankish economics, silly views on alienation, etc.–not that every aspect of Marxism is incompatible with libertarianism–see Hoppe: Marx was “Essentially Correct”).

    I must say I have about had it with left-leaning libertarians having the gall to tell standard libertarians to learn from leftism–we are better than leftists, far better. It is they–these economically illiterate, individivual-hating, totalitarian-supporting, murderous, collectivist cranks–who should learn from us. Leftism, sir, frankly, is rank evil. Libertarianism is good. I know which side I’m on. The only thing I want from the left is for them to drop their crankism and misanthropy, acquire some economic literacy, and join us in respecting individualism and property rights. Other than that, I have no use for leftism/socialism, and am reminded of a comment by Sudha Shenoy in this regard about what socialists are really good for (this is said tongue in cheek, mind you).

    “The usage of “capitalism” in the Randian/Misesean sense wasn’t intellectually honest; whether or not they admit it, it was purely political, they got away with it for a bit, but the crisis of actually existing capitalism has come back to bite genuine free marketeers in the ass.”

    We will have to disagree on this. As a libertarian who appreciates the critical role of Mises in the fight for economic understandng and for individual liberty and property rights–and I also appreciate Rand’s role in the beginnings of the modern libertarian movement–I find such accusations to be completely appalling. Mises defended the private property order–the free society, whether left-“libertarians” realize this or not–and defended it proudly, using terms adequate to convey ideas–using terms that are part of the language, yes, using terms hurled pejoratively against us. The left also “accuses” us of favoring economic inequality (we do!), individualism (we do!), property rights (we do), self-interest (we do), and so on. I think Mises et al. are to be commended and appreciated for having the courage to proudly stand up for the goodness of the property-rights order that libertarianism favors. Mises fought for your rights, sir, and you call him dishonest? Utterly appalling.

    In any case: your argument here is yet another apparently attempt to pretend like your are making only a semantic point, while the underlying motive, the passion, etc. are clearly political and activist oriented. The origin of the term is irrelevant. A word acquires a certain meaning in a given time in a given community; this is what dictionaries are for. It is clear beyond cavil that one standard, accepted meaning of the word “capitalism” is a system with private, as opposed to state, ownership of the means of production. And it is clear also that such a system is an inextricably important and good aspect of a libertarian society. Yes, the word has other meanings and connotations, but this only means we have to be careful and vigilant.

    Another commentator on fcebook has a good comment too:

    Gerardo Caprav Being jewish i have many relatives that did the Kibbutz experience, one of them is my cousin who lived in a Socialist Kibbutz where the NAP system suppouse to work as a principle.Well, he realized that he was working really hard and he was receiving the same amount money that the rest of the other people living there and were working with less … See Moreeffort. After a couple of years he realized(he’s not even libertarian or anything) that even he was living in a NAP society that wasn’t still enough to live in a real liberty system, he realized that and moved to a private kibbutz, the socialist kibbutzim are almost all in bankrupt and most of them nowadays are own by companies who rent the land or make private neighborhoods, why? Because the NAP principle doesn’t work if you don’t understand that the capitalism is the consecuence of a full libertarian society. Leaving the terms that identify ourselves won’t help, if you are really sure of what you deffend the best way to do it is using those terms and explain it, if we think people won’t understand them is that we don’t even believe in our principles that I think is even worse.

    By the way, i’m from Argentina, if we stop using the word capitalism our work here to spread the libertarian ideas is going to be harder.

  • Well then, what do we want it to mean from now on?

    Well, there are a few options:

    a. Use it to mean capitalism-2.
    b. Use it to mean capitalism-3.
    c. Use it to mean the amalgamation of capitalism-2 and capitalism-3.
    d. Reject the term as unusable (unless qualifying adjectives are attached).

    I’m not sure why this problem has to be solved in order to accept the critique of the tern “capitalism,” though.

    Is there another word that describes the full and complex system that is the real promise (and hope) behind a free society?

    Almost anything would be better than “capitalism.”

    There used to be a”National Socialist Party” in what is now Czechoslovakia, back in the 1910s. (Jaroslav Hasek, of all people, was a member!) They called themselves that because they were nationalists (they wanted to secede from the Austro-Hungarian Empire) and they were socialists. Suppose they were still around — wouldn’t there be good reason for them to call themselves “National Socialists” today?

    Yet another unanswered question is: why won’t the next term be hijacked or deformed by the (socialist/statist/authentic) Left?

    The implied contrast in “next” makes it sound as though “capitalism” was hijacked or deformed by the left. But “capitalism” has had the implications we’re complaining about since the early 19th century.

    And the last question Sheldon, Chartier, Carson and others haven’t addressed is: how will be keep a word pure when no social system is pure nowadays

    I don’t know why we should be expected to address this, since we’ve never promised or imagined that any word can be kept pure. When someone points out that you’re eating tainted meat, “how can you guarantee that I won’t encounter some impure food in the future?” is a puzzling response.

    It seems to me that a legitimate definition of capitalism is the private ownership of the means of production

    On this, see POOTMOP and POOTMOP Redux.

    I have about had it with left-leaning libertarians having the gall to tell standard libertarians to learn from leftism–we are better than leftists

    We’ve said, over and over, that libertarians and leftists need to learn from EACH OTHER. Each is better on some range of issues where the other is worse.

    • Berserkrl,

      I’ll let Juan reply as to his part; I’d be curious if you agree w/ my own proposals about “capitalism” and its use.

      “I have about had it with left-leaning libertarians having the gall to tell standard libertarians to learn from leftism–we are better than leftists”

      We’ve said, over and over, that libertarians and leftists need to learn from EACH OTHER. Each is better on some range of issues where the other is worse.

      It’s not symmetrical. We are basically right; the left is basically confused at best, evil at worst. I would not mind a quick summary of 3 or 5 things we libertarians can learn from the left–things they know, that are important for libertarianism, that we do not know, or that we are wrong on.

      • Some anonymous left-lib replied here (why are they so often anymous or nyms?). A few replies. First, they point out that:

        Modern libertarianism is a direct descendant from classical liberalism. Since classical liberalism was (and as we argue still should be) considered a left-wing ideology this question doesn’t work on at least one level. “I would not mind a quick summary of 3 or 5 things we libertarians can learn from the classical liberals” would be quickly met with “virtually everything considered libertarian” yet that’s not far from what he’s asking of us. Moreover a great number of causes now considered “leftist” were originally championed by the classical liberals. The left-libertarian argument is simply that modern libertarianism can learn from its predecessors. That’s almost a tautology so I don’t see why we need to make such a fuss about it.

        I asked what can we learn from leftism? My view they can learn from us. But what can we learn from them? This paragraph argues that our origins are in the left. But so what? And that we can learn from our predecessors. Oh? Like what? This is not an answer. Plus it assumes too much and is too vague. We have lots of “predecessors”. And it’s not clear we are “from” the “left” especially the modern left. Or not only from the left. And if we came from them maybe we evolved, took the best parts, abandoned the nonsense. This is really weak, IMO.

        From a purely consequentialist perspective, the fate of those the left usually worries about is hardly an irrelevant issue. Why should we care about those with less than average wealth? Because they make up half the planet is why. If we can’t show why these people will be better off, or even just not worse off, in libertopia then we have only ourselves to blame when lots of people start saying they don’t like libertarianism. The same goes for vulnerable minorities, it’s not logically necessary for libertarians to care about them but the world would be much happier if they were less vulnerable. Kinsella, like me, is not a consequentialist so I wouldn’t expect him to be convinced by this alone, like I’m not, but I figure it’s worth mentioning in the same way Austrian economics is.

        But we libertarians already care about the poor and vulnerable minorities and everyone else. This is not a leftist concern. Or if it is, we libertarians already have it. Still waiting to hear what we have to learn from the left. In fact we care more about the poor and minorities since we oppose policies that harm them, while the g*ddamned left does not. Yeah, we have something to learn from the left: don’t callously advocate policies that harm the very people you pretend to care about (see, e.g., Sowell’s The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy).

        So the second point has also not shown that we can learn anything from the left.

        Finally I’ll present some theoretical arguments about libertarianism and autonomy. For the sake of keeping this short this won’t be as specific as I’d like it to be. I highly recommend this if you’re interested in a detailed analysis of what I’m talking about. Libertarianism is by definition in support of political autonomy. Does this lead to a support for other kinds of autonomy? I think it does, though exactly how it does depends on how you ground your libertarianism. There are a number of theories people derive their support for liberty from but they all have one common factor; they all believe that the only ethical use of violence is to protect political autonomy. In my case it’s very simple, libertarianism is derived from already valuing autonomy, but even when the argument follows a less direct route the fact remains that to be a libertarian requires believing that self-direction is something worth defending so some of the best arguments for liberty are also strong arguments for autonomy. As for how this relates to libertarians and the left learning from each other:

        Well, libertarians can learn from leftists about – well I think that when libertarians and leftists sort of split up in the XIXth century, libertarians began specialising in understanding the benefits of market-oriented, for-profit solutions, while leftists specialised in understanding the benefits of non-profit, cooperative ways of associating.

        Libertarians understand perfectly well the benefits of mutual cooperation an exchange. Businessmen, entrepreneurs, etc. can become experts at setting up particular institutions in a free society. But I’ll grant that left-libs seem more interested in living in coops, etc., so maybe they will explore this as a viable model. But I am not sure why this is a libertarian concern. We libertarians favor the conditions that give freedom and recognize property rights, that are necessary for leftists to attempt their social experiments. What they do with their freedom is up to them.

        And likewise, libertarians specialised in understanding the evils of State-based forms of oppression, and leftists specialised in understanding the evils of non-State-based, private forms of oppression.

        We don’t need leftists to tell us this. We oppose all forms of aggression: institutionalized; private; and we also oppose and are quite aware of the intermingling of the state and business (and other interest groups like unions and so on).

        So I think what each has to learn from the other is – the leftists have to learn from libertarians good things about the market that the Left doesn’t understand and bad things about the State that the Left doesn’t understand. What libertarians need to understand is bad things about forms of private power, that libertarians tend to think ‘well, if it’s not directly supported by the State then it doesn’t matter from a libertarian point of view’

        This is a caricature. Libertarians do not say this. They have never been only about the state itself. We are aware of various forms of statism (what we may call “socialism”). E.g., Rothbard’s criticism of Rand’s bemoaning of Big Business as being America’s most persecuted minority; and Hoppe’s discussion of various forms of socialism as described i nthis post, from Socialism Russian-Style, Socialism Social-Democratic Style, the Socialism of Conservatism, and the Socialism of Social Engineering.

        and also, some of the benefits of forms of voluntary association that aren’t for-profit. [apparently a quote from Roderick Long]

        Libertarians have never focused only on for-profit institutions and behavior. The Chicago school might but we do not. We have highlighted the benefits of freedom for one’s spirit, civil liberties, private life; we have explained over and over again how there would be more peace, cooperation, charity, brotherhood, civility, prosperity, achievement, progress, women’s rights, minority rights, and so on, under conditions of freedom. Just part of this is concerned with catallactics. Again, we have no gaps that need filling.

        I asked a simple question for someone to give me a few things we can learn from the left. I hear “well we can learn from our predecessors” (general and without specificity), “we need to care about the poor” (we do), “we should care not only about profit” (we know); “we should realize direct state action is not the only way to commit aggression” (again, got it); “there are ways of setting up communities along coop lines and those details are interesting” (to libertarians qua libertarians?).

        • Thanks for the response. First things first,

          why are they so often anymous or nyms?

          You only had to ask, my name is James Briggs

          I asked what can we learn from leftism? My view they can learn from us. But what can we learn from them? This paragraph argues that our origins are in the left. But so what? And that we can learn from our predecessors. Oh? Like what?

          My point was we already have picked up lots of useful concepts from the left. I should hope we have taken the best parts and abandoned the nonsense; we do this with libertarianism too, like you said, so what? We’re still making use of leftist ideas. As for what we can specifically learn from our predecessors I think one of the things they, the leftists, got right but modern libertarians seem quite weak on is to stress more than rights violations as libertarian qua libertarian issues. To avoid repeating myself I’m going to argue for why this is the case in the third point but basically it’s thick libertarianism I’m advocating.

          I’m well aware of the fact this point is a little general and unspecified but so is your question. What can “libertarianism” learn from “leftism”? Do you want a comprehensive list of every leftist ideology, every libertarian ideology and every relevant concept each one has to the others or can we agree that some generalised concepts can still have validity?

          But we libertarians already care about the poor and vulnerable minorities and everyone else. This is not a leftist concern. Or if it is, we libertarians already have it.

          This is, in a word, nonsense. Not a leftist concern!? Why don’t you ask some leftists whether they agree with that statement? I agree completely with your argument that what most leftists advocate is very ineffective, even harmful, but I refuse to believe you don’t understand the difference between ends and means. What I’m saying is libertarians ought to take these ends more seriously. Some do, this I’m not disputing, but being insensitive to the poor is such a common argument against us and willful ignorance can only go so far. The uglier elements of actually existing capitalism are too often defended via free market principles; here is a great example from Gary Chartier’s blog. Stossel’s Myths. More importantly why are we so frequently labeled “Marxian” (another generalised term?) for pointing this out? What we end up with is some libertarians do care about the vulnerable and you agree that’s a positive trait. Caring about the vulnerable as an end is generally considered leftist. Therefore being a good libertarian involves some accepting some leftist ends.

          You’ve completely misunderstood argument #3. It has nothing to do with co-operatives or profit-making. This is about values that libertarians should support other than the non-aggression principle (thick libertarianism). Unfortunately this is the argument I’m most interested in too, being the most controversial one.

          We don’t need leftists to tell us this. We oppose all forms of aggression

          This is a caricature. Libertarians do not say this. They have never been only about the state itself. We are aware of various forms of statism

          Yeah, like I was trying to argue libertarians don’t oppose aggression. Talk about a caricature! I was arguing there are other ways to oppress someone than aggression and libertarians should pay attention to this. I was quite careful to avoid describing this as aggression and the fact you haven’t differentiated between “oppress” and “aggress” proves my point exactly. This is definitely not something present in some strains of modern libertarianism and maybe it should be. Two quick reasons why. The NAP is derived from a moral system that says “self-direction” is worth protecting so we should look at other ways it’s compromised than aggression. There is likely to be instrumental value in promoting some values over others as a means of maintaining liberty.

          Finally I noticed on my blog a link to an article called “against libertarian sectarianism” and apparently I’m mentioned in it. The link appears broken so perhaps it’s been deleted but I want to make this clear, I’m not trying to promote any kind of sectarianism this is just a debate. That’s why I called the post “challenge accepted” not “war declared”.

          • owelcome/James:

            “‘why are they so often anymous or nyms?’
            “You only had to ask, my name is James Briggs”

            The question remains. There is something odd and juvenile about it.

            “My point was we already have picked up lots of useful concepts from the left.”

            Sure, and from other disciplines and ideologies as well.

            “I’m well aware of the fact this point is a little general and unspecified but so is your question. What can “libertarianism” learn from “leftism”? Do you want a comprehensive list of every leftist ideology, every libertarian ideology and every relevant concept each one has to the others or can we agree that some generalised concepts can still have validity?”

            Well, by my quesiton I was trying to elicit a response which would demonstrate my contention that there are virtually no things you can mention that we need to learn from the left, that are uncontroversial. And you provided such a response.

            “‘But we libertarians already care about the poor and vulnerable minorities and everyone else. This is not a leftist concern. Or if it is, we libertarians already have it.’

            “This is, in a word, nonsense. Not a leftist concern!? Why don’t you ask some leftists whether they agree with that statement? I agree completely with your argument that what most leftists advocate is very ineffective, even harmful, but I refuse to believe you don’t understand the difference between ends and means. What I’m saying is libertarians ought to take these ends more seriously.”

            Maybe we should, maybe we shouldn’t. In any case the left, who harms the poor, have no place to tell us this. And no, it’s not a “leftist” concern to care about the poor. Libertarians qua libertarians of course care about the poor.

            ” Some do, this I’m not disputing, but being insensitive to the poor is such a common argument against us and willful ignorance can only go so far.”

            It’s a common–and dishonest–argument from the left. They are the problem, not the solution.

            “The uglier elements of actually existing capitalism are too often defended via free market principles;”

            True; and a principled libertarian ought to condemn the intermingling of the state and business. … As we do.

            “I was arguing there are other ways to oppress someone than aggression and libertarians should pay attention to this.”

            This is the problem. This is where leftists get into an a-libertarian opposition to “hierarchy,” “bossism,” etc. which borders on crankish. Libertarians are opposed to aggression, not vague, amorphous “oppression.” If oppression is aggression, we are already opposed to it. If oppression is not aggresion, then we, qua libertarians, are not opposed to it.

            It is similar re the concept of “harm.” It’s a vague word. We are not against harming people. If you steal my girlfriend or build a Wal-mart next to my mom and pop store, you are “harming” me, but it is your right. Only some types of harm count as rights violations that libertairnas oppose–namely, aggression. Which we already oppose.

            “I was quite careful to avoid describing this as aggression and the fact you haven’t differentiated between “oppress” and “aggress” proves my point exactly. This is definitely not something present in some strains of modern libertarianism and maybe it should be. Two quick reasons why. The NAP is derived from a moral system that says “self-direction” is worth protecting so we should look at other ways it’s compromised than aggression. There is likely to be instrumental value in promoting some values over others as a means of maintaining liberty.

            I find this thickish project to be misguided and confused. In any event particularly leftist to argue that there are strong interrelationships between libertarian ideas and others.

            “Finally I noticed on my blog a link to an article called “against libertarian sectarianism” and apparently I’m mentioned in it. The link appears broken so perhaps it’s been deleted but I want to make this clear, I’m not trying to promote any kind of sectarianism this is just a debate. That’s why I called the post “challenge accepted” not “war declared”.”

            Thanks.

  • Oops – When I wrote “wouldn’t there be good reason for them to call themselves” I meant “wouldn’t there be good reason for them NOT to call themselves.”

  • The question remains. There is something odd and juvenile about it.

    This comes across as a bit ad hominem. So what if I’m being odd and juvenile, I’m still right (about being left).

    Sure, and from other disciplines and ideologies as well.

    These aren’t mutually exclusive statements and you didn’t ask anyone to prove leftism is the only thing relevant to libertarianism.

    Well, by my quesiton I was trying to elicit a response which would demonstrate my contention that there are virtually no things you can mention that we need to learn from the left, that are uncontroversial. And you provided such a response.

    A response which you called a-libertarian and crankish, yet contains nothing controversial?

    Also what does this have to do with slightly vague statements and whether they are acceptable or not?

    Maybe we should, maybe we shouldn’t. In any case the left, who harms the poor, have no place to tell us this. And no, it’s not a “leftist” concern to care about the poor.

    Well it’s certainly closer to a leftist concern than a rightist one and I’m not convinced you could find many leftists who would agree they aren’t concerned about poor people, even if their solution is stupid. Again, it’s the difference between ends and means that’s important here. I don’t think I ever implied we should take their advice on the subject.

    It’s a common–and dishonest–argument from the left. They are the problem, not the solution.

    An excessively broad and sweeping statement. Are you denying the possibility that any of them are genuine but just don’t understand the conclusions of what they advocate?

    True; and a principled libertarian ought to condemn the intermingling of the state and business. … As we do.

    Yes exactly, those of us who are principled are “left-er”, on this issue at least, than those who aren’t.

    This is the problem. This is where leftists get into an a-libertarian opposition to “hierarchy,” “bossism,” etc. which borders on crankish. Libertarians are opposed to aggression, not vague, amorphous “oppression.” If oppression is aggression, we are already opposed to it. If oppression is not aggresion, then we, qua libertarians, are not opposed to it.

    But a term being vague is a reason to start defining it not to throw it away. Doesn’t assuming libertarianism should only concern the use of force kinda beg the question?

    It is similar re the concept of “harm.” It’s a vague word. We are not against harming people. If you steal my girlfriend or build a Wal-mart next to my mom and pop store, you are “harming” me, but it is your right. Only some types of harm count as rights violations that libertairnas oppose–namely, aggression. Which we already oppose.

    Actually the problem with a harm principle is it would be weird to oppose harm. Criminals for example can be harmed within reason in order to help or protect their victims. Oppression implies initiating some kind of harm, that the harm is systematic and that it’s related to the victim’s self-direction in some way that doesn’t necessarily involve violence. That’s something we can rationally take an opposition to and bother defining more carefully. I posted a link earlier that was pretty specific about what it defined as autonomy and how it could be violated.

    You’re correct that only certain things count as rights violations, the initiation of force, but since I don’t claim this is an issue of rights I don’t see that as relevant. Just because someone has the right to do something doesn’t mean we should endorse it or refrain from opposing it via non-violent means.

    I find this thickish project to be misguided and confused. In any event particularly leftist to argue that there are strong interrelationships between libertarian ideas and others.

    I find it well thought out and insightful. Now we have two assertions, I backed mine up with a couple of arguments though and I’d like to hear your thoughts on those. Granted we aren’t the only ones with ideas on what the rest of a libertarian morality (outside of rights) should look like but I don’t remember saying we were. I said our version makes more sense from a libertarian perspective.

    • “Well it’s certainly closer to a leftist concern than a rightist one and I’m not convinced you could find many leftists who would agree they aren’t concerned about poor people, even if their solution is stupid. Again, it’s the difference between ends and means that’s important here. I don’t think I ever implied we should take their advice on the subject.”

      Libertarians already have welfare of the poor as an end, and have the proper means to boot.

      “An excessively broad and sweeping statement. Are you denying the possibility that any of them are genuine but just don’t understand the conclusions of what they advocate?”

      Some of them are genuine but just stupid or dishonest or ignorant. Yes.

      “‘True; and a principled libertarian ought to condemn the intermingling of the state and business. … As we do.’
      “Yes exactly, those of us who are principled are “left-er”, on this issue at least, than those who aren’t.”

      We just disagree on this. The left is not against the intermingling of state and the economy. We are.

      “But a term being vague is a reason to start defining it not to throw it away. Doesn’t assuming libertarianism should only concern the use of force kinda beg the question?”

      No, it’s a reasonable definition of what this political philosophy is.
      I agree we should not throw “oppression” away. It’s got its uses.
      “Oppression implies initiating some kind of harm, that the harm is systematic and that it’s related to the victim’s self-direction in some way that doesn’t necessarily involve violence. That’s something we can rationally take an opposition to and bother defining more carefully. I posted a link earlier that was pretty specific about what it defined as autonomy and how it could be violated.

      You’re correct that only certain things count as rights violations, the initiation of force, but since I don’t claim this is an issue of rights I don’t see that as relevant. Just because someone has the right to do something doesn’t mean we should endorse it or refrain from opposing it via non-violent means.”

      I agree. And as decent people, we ought to oppose “genuine” oppression. It’s just that I don’t agree that all the typical examples of oppression given by the left are really oppression. Employment, hierarchies, “bossism.” If you can make a coherent argument that a given behavior is immoral, because it is a type of real oppression, sure, I’d oppose it too. At least morally.

  • Libertarians already have welfare of the poor as an end, and have the proper means to boot.

    Some do, some don’t. There’s nothing in the NAP saying we should worry about it which makes it external t0 what the “libertarian qua libertarian” would know. Obviously I agree the libertarians who “get it” are more correct than those on the mainstream left.

    We just disagree on this. The left is not against the intermingling of state and the economy. We are.

    They’re definitely selective about it but some very insightful work on government/business collusion has come from the Left. Gabriel Kolko for example, cited by Rothbard in the link you posted.

    I was referring to having they end of helping people out of poverty though.

    No, it’s a reasonable definition of what this political philosophy is.

    It is, though arguably an incomplete one.

    I agree. And as decent people, we ought to oppose “genuine” oppression. It’s just that I don’t agree that all the typical examples of oppression given by the left are really oppression. Employment, hierarchies, “bossism.”

    With employment and hierarchies it’s a little more complicated than either side of the debate wants to make it. On the one hand it’s just another mutually beneficial exchange but as the same time we should perhaps be vary of one group having too much decision over the actions of another. I think a much better example would be opposition to tradition for the sake of tradition. A culture that places little value on reflection will be more likely to succumb to some kind of intolerance and less likely to accept rational ethics (ie. libertarianism).

    ***

    Sheldon’s article at The Freeman

    Is Capitalism Something Good?

     

    Earlier this week I attended the annual meeting of the Association of Private Enterprise Education in Las Vegas to participate in a panel with the intriguing title “Free-Market Anti-Capitalism?” Organized by Roderick Long of Auburn University, the panel also included TheFreemanOnline columnist Steven Horwitz of St. Lawrence University, Gary Chartier of La Sierra University School of Business, and Charles Johnson of the Molinari Institute. Here is an expanded version of my remarks.

    The question concerning the relationship (if any) between the free market and capitalism can be addressed at many levels. Let’s start with history. The word capitalist was indeed first used disparagingly by opponents of “capitalism.” But it is important to realize that among those opponents were advocates of property rights and free markets, such as Thomas Hodgskin and later Benjamin Tucker. Why?

    The reason is this: In the periods regarded as classic “capitalist” eras, government intervention on behalf of capital was commonplace. Moreover, it was integral not incidental. In both England and the United States government intervened – on behalf of a privileged landed and then mercantile class – with land grants, subsidies, and commercial regulations. In America, this was true to various degrees at all levels of government, both before and after the Civil War.

    Thus capitalism did not mean the free market, or laissez faire, back then. It’s not that the system fell short of an ideal. To the people on the ground, and to historians looking back, this was the system that was intended. Thus pro-business interventionism has a far better claim to the term capitalism than any unrealized free-market system.

    The mercantilist particulars of this era have been available to advocates of free markets for years. For example, Jonathan R. T. Hughes’s The Governmental Habit (updated as The Governmental Habit Redux) and Arthur A. Ekirch Jr.’s The Decline of American Liberalism, as well as Albert Jay Nock’s earlier Our Enemy, The State, have been in the libertarian canon for decades.

    I will focus on the post-Civil War nineteenth century because the abomination known as chattel slavery in the first half of the century makes it too easy to undermine the claim that this was the free market’s halcyon days. Post-Civil War “capitalism,” however, is often seen as the heyday of free-market society. This is odd, to say the least. Libertarians understand Randolph Bourne’s maxim, “War is the health of the state.” It so happens there was a war in the United States just past the midpoint of the century, so we should expect that it had the effects on the political economy that war always has: centralization, consolidation, and close government-business partnerships. That is exactly what happened.

    A few quotations from Ekirch make this clear. (I’ve written about Ekirch previously herehere, and here, and Hughes here.)

    “On all sides, in the North as well as in the South, the  new nationalism that succeeded the Civil War marked a further retreat [N.B.; emphasis added] from liberalism…. North and South the alliance of government and business had been much strengthened by the Civil War and its aftermath. Although business interests occasionally espoused a philosophy of laissez faire, basically they relied upon the favors and subsidies of the government. Especially in the North, Whiggery became the order of the day.”

    Quoting Merle Curti, an earlier historian: “A supreme national government, controlled by Republicans friendly to industry and finance, could insure favors to corporations, protective tariffs, a centralized banking system, the redemption of government securities, and subsidies to railroads.”

    Ekirch again: “The nationalistic ideas of Alexander Hamilton and Henry Clay had been revived….”

    “Beginning with the economic legislation of the war years, the Republican party gave the business interests of the North the protection and encouragement they desired.”

    “Instead of the limited state desired by Jeffersonian believers in an agrarian society, the post-Civil War era was characterized by the passage of a stream of tariffs, taxes, and subsidies unprecedented in their volume and scope.”

    “Also vital to big business was patent law, with its provisions granting exclusive rights to an inventor for seventeen years; this enabled companies to buy up and hoard patents, using such control to maintain a monopoly.”

    The era was a far cry from the free market.

    Semantics

    At the semantic level, capitalism is an unfortunate word when applied to the free market. It suggests a privileged status for capital over other factors of production, which is not the case in a free market. A capitalist is not a believer in capitalism but rather an owner of capital. One can be a socialist capitalist, that is, one who owns capital while favoring a system called socialism. All this was pointed out in The Freeman 25 years ago by historian Clarence Carson in “Capitalism: Yes and No.” He wrote:

    In sum, capitalism gained its currency from Marx and others as a blunderbuss word, misnames what it claims to identify, and carries with it connotations which unfit it for precise use in discourse. Even so, there has been a considerable effort to reclaim the word for discourse by some of those who are convinced of the superiority of privately owned capital in the production, distribution, and exchange of goods. It is a dubious undertaking. For one thing, Marx loaded the word, and when all that he put into it has been removed, only the shell remains. For another, linguistically, it does not stand for private property, free enterprise, and the free market. It is false labeling to make it appear to do so. Capitalism means either a system in which capital holds sway, which is largely what Marx apparently meant, or an ideology to justify such a system.

    Carson went on to point out the irony that “in view of Marx and socialist doctrine generally, capitalism is most rampant in Communist countries. It is there that the most extreme measures are taken to accumulate capital.”

    Finally, at the rhetorical level, we should appreciate how powerful the word capitalism is in its capacity to miscommunicate. Since we free-market advocates are trying to persuade, this should trouble us. In a recent newspaper article, “Caribbean Communism versus Capitalism,” the left-leaning journalist Stephen Kinzer compared socialist Cuba to what he described as its “capitalist” Caribbean neighbors. Who? Haiti, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, among others! For Kinzer a capitalist country apparently is simply one that has not declared its official ideology to be Marxism or one that has de jure private ownership of the means production no matter how much of a plutocracy it is. On the other side of the spectrum we find business commentators Lawrence Kudlow, Ben Stein, and others regularly condemning Barack Obama’s policies for “undermining our capitalist system.” That implies we have a capitalist system today.

    If capitalism designates what we have today, we should flee from it as we flee for the exits when we hear a fire alarm. I’ll take the free market.

    [archived comments] from Sheldon’s article at The Freeman

    There Are 44 Responses So Far. »

    1. Good stuff, Sheldon!

    2. Interesting article. It highlights the general problem in comprehending the individual and society – no one really knows what anyone is talking about because the words mean different things to different people. We can gain some insight from the progress made in science; especially physics whre words have singular and precise meanings. Everybody wants “freedom” but no one knows what it means absolutely.

      If capitalism is characterized as private ownership of the means of production, then what is the opposite? Public ownership of the means of destruction. Sounds like the state to me. What the hell does “public ownership” mean anyway? How can everyone own something? Sounds like a socialist fantasy to me.

    3. Daniel, I agree. Ownership indicates the authority to use and dispose of property. The division should be between voluntary or contractual ownership and coercive ownership of the means of production. The first category would include worker-owned firms, co-ops, etc., which are often excluded from consideration when discussing private ownership.

    4. […] Is Capitalism Something Good? | The Freeman | Ideas On Liberty […]

    5. Mr Richman, Now were getting somewhere! I was fortunate to discover V-50 many years ago so this giant fuzzball of man and society came into sharp focus.

      “Truth is ever to be found in the simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.” -Isaac Newton

    6. I think many would be surprised at the benificial impact on Americans, of rolling copyright protections back to seven (7) years, patents to seventeen (17) years, and disallowing patents on plant, animal, or other DNA – or processes derived from good engineering practices, including software and firmware improvements or differences that vary little from common practice. Repealing and rolling back these monopoly-enforcers will make a big difference in agriculture (break the monopoly of the Big Three seed corn and wheat seed conglomerates), in entertainment, etc. As I read the introduction to Patent legislation, the intent is to get such practices into the public domain, not enrich companies buying up so-called intellectual properties. I would also expire patents and copyrights on death of the author, and set a felony penalty (a form of treason, causing harm to the nation) for trying to patent or copyright something already in the public domain.

      Thanks for the article – patents really caught my eye.

    7. Brad K. sounds like a politican contriving magic numbers to re-tweek society. The problem is not intellecual property which belongs to the innovator forever, but with an irrational and hopelessly flawed political/legal patent system that creates a coercive monopoly and disallows independent innovation. Have you ever heard of Elisha Gray? He invented the telephone independently of Bell. Unfortunately Bell beat him to the patent office by a few hours. When Gray sold his ideas to Western Union, Bell (ATT) sued and won. How’s that for justice?

    8. […] Is Capitalism Something Good? | The Freeman | Ideas On Liberty […]

    9. […] Is Capitalism Something Good? | The Freeman | Ideas On Liberty […]

    10. […] Is Capitalism Something Good? | The Freeman | Ideas On Liberty […]

    11. […] Is Capitalism Something Good? | The Freeman | Ideas On Liberty […]

    12. Excellent! Ironically, the Texas educational authorities are fleeing “capitalism” for a diametrically opposite reason: the word sounds too “radical” and “left-wing.” Instead, they prefer that textbooks refer to the “free enterprise system”–but they use that term to refer to the corporate system we currenly live under. So it seems they are hostile to any attempts to distinguish “actually existing corporate capitalism” from a genuinely free market.

    13. Kevin Carson identifies the problem although maybe by mistake: any word we choose will be deformed and nuanced by people “hostile to any attempts to distinguish “asctually existing interventionism/mercantilism” from a genuinely free market. Contra the Left-”libertarian” eternal-teen-rebel attitude I akwnoledge that we’re dealing with pure/ideal concepts here. Thus, any term we choose for the “real thing” will be soon identified with the “current system”. The only way for common people and socialist (maybe in the days of yore that word meant “society” as opposed to “State”, but then again it’s perfectly descriptive of socialization as the act of destroying individual claims to property and human-nature incentives according to the laws of -individual- human action.) The only way for any term like “free enterprise”, “capitalism”, “free market” etc etc not to be confused with “the current state of affairs” is to launch a virginally pure word when we have a pure system. That of course is a bit silly, since no goal can be achieved by chance but through identifying it so we know how far we are from it and how to get there. Meanwhile, any term will be attacked and misconstrued. So what? That’s the nature of the battle of ideas. Capitalism is a formidable word that focuses on the Austrian (Misesian-Rothbardian but also Randian-Reismanian) key insight that the vertical division of labor, saving, investment, widespread wage-earning income opportunities, transnational investments and global brands are sine qua non for any standard of living we consider “decent” nowadays. Of course “freed market” or any description of the requisites and not the full system at work, will only help people regress to pre-Austrian Economics and hippie commune ideals. Due puns intended.

    14. It seems to me that a legitimate definition of capitalism is the private ownership of the means of production, and that there is no doubt that any advanced economic order of a libertarian society would have capitalism so defined. Even if it has private-collective worker-owned firms, co-ops, kibbutzes, and the like existing in isolated pockets sort of like the Amish still do today. And in fact even such communalist enclaves are built on private ownership of capital–it’s just that the members of the co-op voluntarily co-own the property privately. So we can view the co-ops etc. of a free society to be a (probably marginal) subset of capitalism; and in any case they are certainly compatible with capitalism since the economic order of a free society can have a wide diversity. In my view there is little doubt that there will always be a dominant and significant role for corporations, firms, employment, mass production, the specialization and division of labor, international trade, and so on–though there well may also be more opportunities for self-sufficiency, localism, communalist experimentation, and so on.

      It is also true that the word capitalism nowadays has non-libertarian connotations like corporatism and crony capitalism. So where does this leave us? Capitalism, defined carefully, is a significant aspect of the economic order of a libertarian society. Even if defined carefully capitalism does not fully describe libertarianism or a libertarian society, but only one aspect of its economy. So I do not think we should use capitalism as a strict synonym for libertarianism (for this reason I use the term “anarcho-libertarian” nowadays instead of “anarcho-capitalist”), and when we do use it, we obviously have to be careful that we do not give the misleading impression that we are condoning crony capitalism or corporatism–so we can add a modifier if necessary, like “laissez-faire” or we can make it clear that we favor capitalism but condemn corporatism, etc.

      So: do not use capitalism as a synonym for libertarianism; keep the word around for use in describing an aspect of a libertarian social order; but use it carefully in a way that does not connote crony capitalism.

      A final note: we should not bash capitalism since this will be taken by anti-libertarians as siding with their hostility to property rights and the free market. And we should definitely not employ the word socialist, either, to describe our views.

    15. * The only way for common people and socialist types to leave us alone is not getting our terms “out there”. Confusion is part of life (as any reader of Menger, Hayek and emergent systems’ thinkers know by now) that is both good and inevitable. Shying away completely from any communication and activism is the only way to keep concepts “clear” by avoiding mistakes and deliberate manipulation from common people and socialist types respectively. Again, that’s surrendering not only terms but goals, IMO.

    16. p.s. I elaborate on some of this in my post Capitalism, Socialism, and Libertarianism on The Libertarian Standard.

    17. Well, from a relative newcomer to libertarianism, and from a UK perspective, and especially as a member of a centre-left political party (Lib Dems) I have to say that I probably would never have dared to look further into libertarianism, or to declare myself as such (without adjectives – I would probably have always said I was a “social/civil libertarian”) unless I had seen (on Kevin’s blog) the phrase “free-market anti-capitalism”.

      Although I was instinctively against big government socialism (particularly having served as a city councillor and seen the blather and bureaucracy for myself) the phrase “free-market capitalism” is, of course, for anyone vaguely “of the left” tainted by the 1980s with a connotation of grotesque corporate concentration of wealth (=capital, see!). And that strapline of “free-market anti-capitalism” did make me stop and want to look – “could we be economically free without those grotesque concentrations?” I wondered.

      And here I am, no more than a couple of years later probably, quite happy to be identified as an Individualist Anarchist/Mutualist and at times an Anarcho-Caplitalist, and finding that to a very great extent everything I read, from any of these schools, seems to aim and the same ends – the widest possible distribution of the ability to acquire wealth via the destruction of the means of creating and sustaining privilege.

      So I for one am for keeping “capitalism” as a word in our lexicon. Because it means different things to those both to the right and the left and neither of them are the same as what we understand by it. So it offers a “hook” to get both in to hear that explanation so long as we use it in the right context for each type of audience. “Free-market anti-capitalism” hooks the left in fascination and “free-market capitalism” hooks the right in self-interest, and when we explain what we really mean to each, it’s easier to keep them on board, because we’re only talking about a nuanced difference with their former prejudices!

      For me, “real” soi-dissant socialists are the easier to persuade – the hardest, for me, are the “social liberals” especially in my own party, who no matter how much you try and explain things to them insist in a politically tribal way that “you stand for what Thatcher did to us, and it was nasty and has been discredited“!

    18. @Carpio: Your “eternal-teen-rebel” rhetoric is making you look silly and evasive. Placing capital in a hierarchy above the liberty of self-management to define a social system is regression. (http://wp.me/pnWUd-2rW)

      I’d never read Clarence Carson’s article, but you continue to ignore this rationale that many have echoed: “linguistically, it does not stand for private property, free enterprise, and the free market. It is false labeling to make it appear to do so. Capitalism means either a system in which capital holds sway, which is largely what Marx apparently meant, or an ideology to justify such a system”.

      Expanding a free market as one where diverse models form as people choose to associate with one another past this is NOT regression. Isolating libertarianism to doing away with the State intervening in the economy is regression.

      @Kinsella: RE: “It seems to me that a legitimate definition of capitalism is the private ownership of the means of production”

      Why? Assertion?

      RE: “It is also true that the word capitalism nowadays has non-libertarian connotations like corporatism and crony capitalism.”

      Nowadays? No, sir. Always. If there’s a period of time to which you can refer otherwise, it’s the knee-jerk reaction term used in opposition to the USSR, as Kinzer was quoted by Richman. The only time “capitalism” ever means what you say it means is when militants stage a violent coup, establish a dictatorship and call the totalitarian structure “socialism”. (Because, totalitarian’s rarely call themselves “totalitarians”) And when “capitalism” is used that way, it’s free marketeers trying to appeal to enemies of totalitarianism. The usage of “capitalism” in the Randian/Misesean sense wasn’t intellectually honest; whether or not they admit it, it was purely political, they got away with it for a bit, but the crisis of actually existing capitalism has come back to bite genuine free marketeers in the ass.

    19. I originally posted this elsewhere. However, I think it equally relevant here.

      I recommend reading one of Hayek’s often forgotten but, in my opinion, most interesting essays: “Why I Am Not A Conservative” in “The Constitution of Liberty” (1960). You can also find it at: http://fahayek.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=46

      In it, and for several good reasons, he proposes the label “Whig” as the moniker we should return to:

      “We should remember, however, that when the ideals which I have been trying to restate first began to spread through the Western world, the party which represented them had a generally recognized name. It was the ideals of the English Whigs that inspired what later came to be known as the liberal movement in the whole of Europe[15] and that provided the conceptions that the American colonists carried with them and which guided them in their struggle for independence and in the establishment of their constitution.[16] Indeed, until the character of this tradition was altered by the accretions due to the French Revolution, with its totalitarian democracy and socialist leanings, “Whig” was the name by which the party of liberty was generally known.”

    20. @Little Alex:

      “@Carpio: Your “eternal-teen-rebel” rhetoric is making you look silly and evasive. Placing capital in a hierarchy above the liberty of self-management to define a social system is regression. (http://wp.me/pnWUd-2rW)”

      Libertarians view property rights as the only rights. Liberty is defined in terms of property rights. The libertarian conception of property rights immediately implies that all property, including “capital,” is privately owned. Thus “capitalism,” defined as a system in which capital is privately owned, is compatible with libertarianism and indeed an important aspect of any reasonably advanced libertarian society. Conceptually identifying this feature of the economic order of a libertarian society and attaching a name to that concept is not “Placing capital in a hierarchy above the liberty of self-management.” To the contrary, it is simply rational and honest explication and conceptual analysis of social and economic systems. As such, I can understand why it may rankle some leftists given the left’s hostility to rationality and clear thinking (and by saying this I do not mean to vindicate the right; they are both dishonest, wicked, confused views. Thank God we standard libertarians have escaped the left-right straitjacket).

      “I’d never read Clarence Carson’s article, but you continue to ignore this rationale that many have echoed: “linguistically, it does not stand for private property, free enterprise, and the free market. It is false labeling to make it appear to do so. Capitalism means either a system in which capital holds sway, which is largely what Marx apparently meant, or an ideology to justify such a system”.”

      “a system in which capital holds sway”–such vague, amorphous phrases are often trotted out and used for equivocation. We libertarians believe in property rights. Qua libertarians we need have no Marxian type opinion on whether any given feature of a free society “holds sway.”

      “@Kinsella: RE: “It seems to me that a legitimate definition of capitalism is the private ownership of the means of production”

      “Why? Assertion?”

      This debate is at least partly about the meaning of terms–semantics. I think many leftists are reluctant to admit this because although in disingenuous fashion they at first seem to acknowledge this, this is quickly dismissed and substantive issues are smuggled in via equivocation. Well if someone says a word is inappropriate, then a semantical inquiry into what the meaning of the controversial term is, is warranted. Thus if I state that a legitimate definition of a word is X, this is not an “assertion”–it’s understood to be an appeal to standard methods of determining what definitions of given words are. That is, resorting to a dictionary or the like. And if you consult dictionaries, or encyclopedias, you’ll see that a very common definition of “capitalism” is “an economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is made and maintained chiefly by private individuals or corporations, esp. as contrasted to cooperatively or state-owned means of wealth.”

      Or similar. This is not “assertion.” It’s a reasonable way to find out what a word means in a language. Now given this technical definition, as I argued, it is of course NOT incompatible with libertarianism and individual rights, and in fact is a crucial feature of any reasonably advanced libertarian society. As I acknowledged, it is not a good synonym for libertarianism but rather describes on part of the economic order of a libertarian society. It is associated with libertarianism because you cannot have true capitalism without a libertarian order (because capitalism requires property rights to be respected, and only libertarianism consistently does this); and you cannot have any reasonably advanced, productive, modern, prosperous, libertarian society without capitalism. So, they imply each other–so it is no wonder some people use capitalism as a stand-in for libertarianism, perhaps as a form of metonymy, in which “a thing or concept is not called by its own name, but by the name of something intimately associated with that thing or concept”.

      I also acknowledged that “capitalism” has other connotations that are incompatible with libertarianism, namely what we libertarians who try to keep concepts and definitions straight would call “crony capitalism” or perhaps “corporatism” or “mercantilism.” And because of these connotations and because of ambiguities and confusions (some of them caused by leftists and left-libertarians, perhaps), we have to be careful when we use the word capitalism: we should use it not as a synonym for liberty, but for a critical feature of the economic order of a free society; and we should be clear to use it in a context or way that makes it clear to the audience that it is the libertarian, free-market, anti-corporatist, technical, and libertarian-compatible meaning of capitalism that we have in mind.

      So what if we need to do this? Such caution is (perhaps unfortunately) necessary for many of the radical ideas we advocate, which turn off the masses and the malicious–when we use free market, profit, individualism, self-interest, property rights, rationality, reason, economics, welfare, government, and so on. We have to deal with such misanthropes and ignoramuses, unfortunately, but we do not have to join them.

      “RE: “It is also true that the word capitalism nowadays has non-libertarian connotations like corporatism and crony capitalism.”

      “Nowadays? No, sir. Always.”

      So what? It still has a technical definition in economics that in fact accurately describes a crucial feature of any advanced economic order that will arise when property rights (liberty) are respected. And for anyone who seeks any economic understanding at all, we need a word that correlates with this concept. There is a word; it’s useful; there is no reason whatsoever not to use it–so long as one is careful as I have adumbrated above–and as most libertarians are, already–once again showing that the left has almost nothing to teach us libertarians. Where the left is correct, we libertarians already know it (as Rothbard, say, recognized long ago in criticizing Rand’s bemoaning of Big Business as being America’s most persecuted minority). And where the left is original, or non-libertarian, it is wrong (e.g., its crankish economics, silly views on alienation, etc.–not that every aspect of Marxism is incompatible with libertarianism–see Hoppe: Marx was “Essentially Correct”).

      I must say I have about had it with left-leaning libertarians having the gall to tell standard libertarians to learn from leftism–we are better than leftists, far better. It is they–these economically illiterate, individivual-hating, totalitarian-supporting, murderous, collectivist cranks–who should learn from us. Leftism, sir, frankly, is rank evil. Libertarianism is good. I know which side I’m on. The only thing I want from the left is for them to drop their crankism and misanthropy, acquire some economic literacy, and join us in respecting individualism and property rights. Other than that, I have no use for leftism/socialism, and am reminded of a comment by Sudha Shenoy in this regard about what socialists are really good for (this is said tongue in cheek, mind you).

      “The usage of “capitalism” in the Randian/Misesean sense wasn’t intellectually honest; whether or not they admit it, it was purely political, they got away with it for a bit, but the crisis of actually existing capitalism has come back to bite genuine free marketeers in the ass.”

      We will have to disagree on this. As a libertarian who appreciates the critical role of Mises in the fight for economic understandng and for individual liberty and property rights–and I also appreciate Rand’s role in the beginnings of the modern libertarian movement–I find such accusations to be completely appalling. Mises defended the private property order–the free society, whether left-”libertarians” realize this or not–and defended it proudly, using terms adequate to convey ideas–using terms that are part of the language, yes, using terms hurled pejoratively against us. The left also “accuses” us of favoring economic inequality (we do!), individualism (we do!), property rights (we do), self-interest (we do), and so on. I think Mises et al. are to be commended and appreciated for having the courage to proudly stand up for the goodness of the property-rights order that libertarianism favors. Mises fought for your rights, sir, and you call him dishonest? Utterly appalling.

      In any case: your argument here is yet another apparently attempt to pretend like your are making only a semantic point, while the underlying motive, the passion, etc. are clearly political and activist oriented. The origin of the term is irrelevant. A word acquires a certain meaning in a given time in a given community; this is what dictionaries are for. It is clear beyond cavil that one standard, accepted meaning of the word “capitalism” is a system with private, as opposed to state, ownership of the means of production. And it is clear also that such a system is an inextricably important and good aspect of a libertarian society. Yes, the word has other meanings and connotations, but this only means we have to be careful and vigilant.

    21. @ Stephan Kinsella on 21 April 2010: “It is they–these economically illiterate, individivual-hating, totalitarian-supporting, murderous, collectivist cranks–who should learn from us. Leftism, sir, frankly, is rank evil. Libertarianism is good. I know which side I’m on.”

      Steven why the obsession with “leftism”? “economically illiterate, individivual-hating, totalitarian-supporting, murderous, collectivist cranks” equally described rightism. Indeed, rightism is also the greatest proponent of “capitalism” which is from whence the current debate arises… their “capitalism” is the antithesis of that so painstakingly described by Mises (Rand had major issues which made her capitalists just look silly). Mises was always and everywhere mindful of and devoted to the fact that “capitalism” was first and foremost defined by cooperation. Peaceful cooperation. Without cooperation you don’t have Mises’s idea of capitalism. For all your (justifiable) revulsion of Leftism, at least most leftists pay a kind of empty lip service to the ideal of peaceful cooperation. Rightists seem to despise it outright.

      It seems to me that what defines both “leftism” and “rightism” is their hatred of peace and freedom. Instead of singling out the odious leftists, what not simply refer to “those who hate peace and freedom.”

      Peace and Free Enterprise

    22. It has been overlooked that just as the political spectrum in general has been described in left and right terms, so the libertarian movement can be said to have its left and right wings, corresponding to certain emphases and nuances.

    23. “Sounds like the state to me. What the hell does “public ownership” mean anyway? How can everyone own something? Sounds like a socialist fantasy to me.”

      If you’re an anarchist, then how in the hell do you equal public ownership to state ownership? How is the public defined? How is the state defined? I am annoyed that people like you fall back on flawed representative theory to diss public ownership. If the public is everyone, and the state is run by an unrepresentative elite, then it is the socialist state which is against public ownership. As was written elsewhere by Roderick Long, state socialists are compromisers, Lockeans are the real egalitarians.

      Now, I’ve been thinking that there IS a sense in which public ownership can be true. A property can be called public if it is free to use by members of the public (that is, anyone). This is certainly a setback in terms of the right to dispose of it- obviously destroying something that is meant to be passed on is not too good an idea. Maybe public ownership really makes sense in mutualist communities.

    24. “It is they–these economically illiterate, individivual-hating, totalitarian-supporting, murderous, collectivist cranks–who should learn from us. Leftism, sir, frankly, is rank evil. Libertarianism is good. I know which side I’m on.”

      I don’t see that rank evil leftism has anything to do with collectivism. I am also annoyed at free market libertarians who take pains to explain that capitalism is fine if you seriously analyze the term, that state-capitalists are not really capitalists like anarcho-capitalists are. But then anarcho-communists say just the same with regards to state-communists. In fact, there seems to be a pattern in which all state institutions defile the ideals in the name of which they are raised: state ‘education,’ state ‘health care’,etc.

      Well, it so happens that there is only one correct definition for a collective, and that one is not a collectivist just because there’s large populations he’s targeting. In terms of the spirit of his policies, this person is not a collectivist but a nationalist: the nation, the fake entity, is the source of the problem. You have not joined it, and you are therefore not part of it. The nation is not a collective. In terms of the law, the nationalist is a criminal as soon as he touches anyone. But then, so is the individualist who breaks up unions in fascist Italy.

      I don’t see that there is a clear black and white world in which all things individual are legal and all things collective criminal: the law is the limit of all things, not the free market capitalist system. Kinsella merely means to say that collectivism is dangerous. So say the communists of Kinsella’s system.

    25. @Kinsella: Just came across your response. Alex Strekal posted a response to you and I don’t disagree, but there are specifics missing that don’t give it the same tone I would: http://l.pr/a4eff

      I’ll specify where I was most likely misunderstood or unclear on the specifics of your response, but it’ll have to wait until the morning. I have to face south and pray to Chavez and Castro for the fifth time today before bed.

    26. @Mark:

      “Steven why the obsession with “leftism”? “economically illiterate, individivual-hating, totalitarian-supporting, murderous, collectivist cranks” equally described rightism.”

      It’s Stephan. Sounds like Stephanie, without the -ie. Not Stephen or Steven.

      It’s not my obsession with leftism that is the issue–it is the left-libertarians’.

      I agree that this describes rightism. That’s why I’m against the left and the right, as all libertarians should be.

      “It seems to me that what defines both “leftism” and “rightism” is their hatred of peace and freedom. Instead of singling out the odious leftists, what not simply refer to “those who hate peace and freedom.””

      I am unaware of the mistake of “singling out.” We libertarians do criticize both left and right, of course. Right now there is an effort by some libertarians to push the idea that left and libertarianism go good together, like peanut butter and chocolate. This idea deserves to be countered.

      @Sheldon:

      “It has been overlooked that just as the political spectrum in general has been described in left and right terms, so the libertarian movement can be said to have its left and right wings, corresponding to certain emphases and nuances.”

      We libertarians reject the left-right spectrum as based on false assumptions and ideas about politics. I’m sure you’ve seen the Nolan Chart, which shows libertarians are orthogonal to that axis. I think that axis is so misdefined and imprecise as to not be an axis; there are some differences of emphasis between left and right but they both fall near the bad end of a statism-freedom spectrum. We are at the good end. That is the spectrum: statism and institutionalized aggression at one end; property rights and liberty at the other. The “left-right” stuff just describes basically irrelevant differences between all the statist ideologies clustered together at the statist end of that spectrum.

    27. Left and Right at some point -in France, the political cancer of the world as Jesus Huerta de Soto called it some sunny day at lunch time in Madrid- described political positions.
      Those days are long gone and now they describe psycho-social attitudes towards either personal issues or power-wielding. If it’s the former they are orthogonal; if the latter they are antagonical to our values as much as distractive, misleading.

    28. Stephan wrote: “In my view there is little doubt that there will always be a dominant and significant role for corporations…”

      Even if the state was no longer around to issue incorporation protections?

    29. MarkZ: of course. Corporations don’t need the state to exist. See Hessen. But we might call them something else to mollify the left-libs who are hung up on semantics–I propose calling them Hessens. See Pilon on Corporations: A Discussion with Kevin Carson.

      P.s. for more on this general issue I just posted this: Left-Libertarians Admit Opposition to “Capitalism” is Substantive.

    30. Stephan, please accept my apologies on writing “Steven” it was an honest mistake and I meant no offence. But, are you sure its not Stephanie? Your skin seem pretty thin on this topic and, after all, it was you who picked the fight :)

      You wrote: “I am unaware of the mistake of “singling out.” We libertarians do criticize both left and right, of course. Right now there is an effort by some libertarians to push the idea that left and libertarianism go good together, like peanut butter and chocolate. This idea deserves to be countered.”

      I did not claim you made a “mistake” by singling out the left. It was simply an observation in the form of a question. In the post to which I refer, you DO use Left or Leftism, ect., 17 times on my count (to the exclusion of any condemnation of “rightism”). I found this odd. Your characterization (with which I agree btw) of the left as “these economically illiterate, individivual-hating, totalitarian-supporting, murderous, collectivist cranks” equally and properly describes the right — including some who claim, on occasion, to be libertarians, i.e., Glenn Beck, and others who are sometimes characterized as libertarian, i.e., Ann Coulter.

      Given that, in the current environment, its the Becks of this world and not the Noam Chomsky’s who are presented as representing libertarian ideals — by the usual media suspects — it seems to me that all self-respecting freedom loving libertarians should be blasting the right, at the top of their lungs, as often as possible.

      Those few libertarians who you claim think “the idea that left and libertarianism go good together, like peanut butter and chocolate” are a miniscule and in most cases insignificant minority. Far and away, the vast majority of libertarians today come out of the (gag) Randian movement or other rightist traditions. And, unfortunately, many carry with them excess rightist baggage and an often misguided dedication to capitalism as it is commonly understood, i.e., corporatism. To quote you … “This idea deserves to be countered.”

      No one in America today confuses libertarians with leftism. So again I ask, why your obsession with the left?

    31. Stephan, your dedication to the common dictionary definition of “capitalism” — i.e., private ownership of the means of production (or something similar) — may provide the root to understanding the “capitalism vs. not capitalism” debate among we lovers of peace and free enterprise.

      It occurs to me that, for the purposes of libertarians — namely those who understand capitalism in the sense of Mises or Rothbard — this definition is lacking. For our understanding of capitalism it is surely a necessary condition. It is, however, far short of a sufficient condition. And this is where the problem rests. For those who see what is around us in America today (e.g., state capitalism, corporatism, cronyism, etc.) as representing genuine capitalism the common definition is both necessary and sufficient. For them the story ends with “private ownership of the means of production.” And, according to this “common” definition (that even you accept) they are correct.

      Unfortunately, this necessary but “insufficient” definition leads to all kinds of confusion; Namely, economic systems which can clearly and properly be called capitalist but which are anathema to the capitalism described by Mises and Rothbard. Some obvious examples include: Fascist Italy and Spain, and Germany and Japan in the 1930s.

      No, Mises made it very clear (see: Socialism) that private ownership of the means of production was just one of three parts which when combined were both necessary and sufficient for peaceful economic development — what Mesis and Rothbard call capitalism. The other two parts are liberty (i.e., the freedom to voluntarily cooperate with others according to ones own subjective preferences) and sound money (i.e., a medium of exchange which cannot be arbitrarily manipulated by any elite or authority). In Mises’s view, if even one of these three condition were not met then society would devolve into something less than peaceful and prosperous.

      So, since the common definition of capitalism is not sufficient to describe what we lovers of peace and freedom are striving for, why are you so adamant that we must maintain, or indeed, promote its application?

    32. I wanted to read this thread, but I kept getting distracted by Stephan Kinsella’s annoying pretense at Oxford Don status, citing “authorities” in lieu of logic or rational explanation. Okay, Stephan, you hate “the left” and you love “capital” and “libertarianism,” and you have precise definitions for each.

      Good for you.

      You might want to consider that such formalism-as-religion is useful only when converting idiots into religious zombies. That your religion is made up of capital and libertarianism doesn’t make it any less a religion. You’re still pushing obeisance to doctrine, and shoving personal interests aside, even while lauding “liberty” as etymologically related to your beloved libertarianism.

      You’re as bad as a Marx pedant. And just as annoying. Thanks for making a halfway decent thread positively impenetrable and annoying.

    33. CF Oxtrot : Your comment regarding Stephan Kinsella’s contributions is a silly and unhelpful. I personally (as my posts clearly show) do not agree with his position (or, more correctly, his interpretation/characterization of those who wish to eject the word capitalism from the peace and freedom movement). Nevertheless, his is a legitimate position. It is unfair to label it as dogmatic religiosity. Moreover, it is a position honestly held by many good and dedicated lovers of peace and freedom. Your attempt to marginalize Stephan as some kind of cook is simply misinformed.

    34. Oops, that should read “kook” :) Although, Stephan probably is a cook.

    35. […] has been going at it again recently, once again after a post by Sheldon Richman arguing against state capitalism, and I had an occasion to post a few comments. Others posts were subsequently submitted, the latest […]

    36. […] Capitalism Is Not The Same As A Free Market Economy Is Capitalism Something Good? | The Freeman | Ideas On Liberty […]

    37. Stephan wrote:
      “Libertarians view property rights as the only rights.”

      I disagree. I believe that Libertarianism is more properly based on the right to life. If the right to life is to have any meaning, it must encompass two additional rights: (a) the right to sustain one’s life and (b) the right to defend one’s life.

      Property rights (that is the right to the fruits of one’s own labor) follow from these additional rights because life can only be sustained (and defended) by material means (food, clothing, shelter). Property rights also follow directly from the right to life since time is the stuff of life. Any property that I create is purchased with a piece of my life and is therefore mine to dispose of as I please.

    38. […] of this debate has been sparked and is being flamed by the use of “capitalism” to describe what libertarians advocate. Some have been clinging to it, others want it jettisoned, […]

    39. […] I leave aside here what we should call the existing nonfree-market economic system. (Regarding the name capitalism, see this.) […]

    40. […] if historical capitalism has faithfully mirrored the principle of free, voluntary exchange. In fact it did not. But this is no objection to Nozick, who was doing political philosophy, not economic […]

    41. […] I leave aside here what we should call the existing nonfree-market economic system. (Regarding the namecapitalism, see this.) […]

    42. It is obvious that you choose to take great pride in some recoverable format quality informative articles. Your article is writing I¡¯m able to really appreciate. Maintain the best work.

    43. This is the correct Is Capitalism Something Good? | The Freeman | Ideas On Liberty journal for anyone who wants to essay out out nearly this matter. You attention so more its nearly wearing to converse with you (not that I real would want…HaHa). You definitely put a new stunting on a subject thats been scrawled nearly for period. Discriminating lug, but extraordinary!

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