Is ‘Capitalism’ Politically Incorrect?

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Say u2018Yes’ to Capitalism

by Walter Block by Walter Block Recently by Walter Block: The Economist on Ron Paul and the Fed, aCritique

There are some new kids on the libertarian block. Their group is called Libertarians Against Capitalism; see here or here. They describe themselves as follows:

"We are a group of libertarians who understand that historically the word u2018capitalism’ has meant, not the free market, but crony capitalism — that is, collusion between business and State at the expense of consumers/workers. Thus we refuse to use the word u2018capitalism’ to describe what we favor: individual liberty in all respects and free, competitive markets. We believe that what we have today IS capitalism — and we oppose it."

Sheldon Richman is listed as the founder, creator and administrator of this group. Ordinarily, I am a great fan of this libertarian author and leader. He has inspired me with his eloquence, wit, learning and enthusiasm for liberty on many more than one occasion. But, in this one instance, I must respectfully part company from him.

I can readily appreciate where Sheldon is coming from in this case.

If U.S. Presidents such as George Bush (41st or 43rd), Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan are widely considered capitalist supporters, and they are, then I, along with Libertarians Against Capitalism, want no part of this moniker. (Ronald Reagan magnificently utilized free market rhetoric; but budgets and regulations increased when he was governor of California and President of the U.S.) And the same goes for the likes of Vice Presidents Spiro Agnew, Dick Cheney, Dan Quayle and Nelson Rockefeller, along with talk show hosts Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly. I will not say that there is a 180 divergence between what they mean by "capitalism" and how I use this word, but the differences are very stark. This includes other politicians of the following ilk: John Boehner, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, John McCain, Mitch McConnell, Tim Pawlenty, Michael Steele, and Fred Thompson. Their "capitalism" and mine are very, very different.

Nor can we afford to ignore a large group of neoconservatives, who are also linked with "capitalism" in the public mind, for example: Elliott Abrams, John R. Bolton, Dick Cheney, Douglas Feith, Carl Gershman, Christopher Hitchens, David Horowitz, Robert Kagan, Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Richard Perle, Daniel Pipes, Norman Podhoretz, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Stephen Schwartz, Leo Strauss, Ben Wattenberg, Paul Wolfowitz and James Woolsey. Irving Kristol, the father of neo-conservatism, wrote a book called "Two cheers for capitalism." As for me, I want no part of this sort of "capitalism." It is three cheers for me, all the way.

And the same goes for conservatives such as Roger Ailes, David Brooks, William F. Buckley, John Derbyshire, David Frum, Robert Gates, Jim Geraghty, Jonah Goldberg, Lawrence Kudlow, Rich Lowry, Jay Nordlinger, Ramesh Ponnuru, Karl Rove, Mark Steyn, John Yoo and Byron York. If they support capitalism, and they are widely seen to do so, then I, too, along with Libertarians Against Capitalism, oppose it. For the "capitalism" of these people includes as a central tenet war, militarism and imperialism. They may call it "American Greatness," but what it amounts to is the U.S. tossing its military weight all around the world, in a totally unjustified manner.

Also, there are foreign dictators who have been, willy nilly, linked with capitalism, and I wouldn’t want to be linked, politically, with them either. For example, Pinochet, Franco, and even, help us please, Hitler.

Reading the above, one might infer that I am as good a candidate as any other libertarian to join Libertarians Against Capitalism. Not so, not so. My main reason is not etymological but rather linguistic. I readily admit that "capitalism" has a bad press, and its historical use is none too salutary either. But, the enemies of libertarianism are always trying to take words away from us. They have already long ago stolen “liberal.” We must now call ourselves "classical liberals" if we want to use that appellation at all. Some have recently had the audacity to try to take away the word “libertarian.” I refer, here, to Noam Chomsky, who has the temerity to characterize himself as a libertarian. On this attempted theft, see here, here, here, here, here, and here. (Also see this and this essay on Chomsky, written by real libertarians; and here is Chomsky on Rothbardian libertarianism; and here he is on Ron Paul libertarians.) True, Chomsky does not try to pass as a plain old libertarian. Rather, he describes himself as a "libertarian socialist." But, this creates more problems than it solves. For most people use the word socialist to depict a nation where the means of production, that is, capital goods, pretty much all of them, are owned by the government. A situation more removed from the world favored by libertarianism would be hard to imagine.

Every word we use to describe ourselves is precious. We must keep them all, jettison none of them. And this includes (classical) liberals, free enterprisers, libertarians, Austro-libertarians, anarchists, anarcho-capitalists, laissez faire capitalists, and, yes, plain old unadorned "capitalists." Ayn Rand, bless her heart, never failed to rally to the banner of capitalism. I do not of course agree with everything she ever wrote, but on this matter I am very grateful to her. There were few wordsmiths in our movement better acquainted with the importance of language.

I say, let us hang on to all the words we can, up to and certainly including “capitalism.” I have written quite a bit about the importance of language in our quest to promote liberty, free enterprise and private property rights; see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. I am now happy to add the present column to this list.

So, I beseech Sheldon Richman and the other members of Libertarians Against Capitalism to disband their group, and, instead, work with the rest of us to save as many words as we can for our own use. At this rate of word loss, we will not be able to articulate our own views, for we can only do so with the use of words, and if they are all taken away from us, we must perforce remain silent in the face on injustice. (A prime example of this is the use of "Ms." and "he or she" instead of the traditional "he." If we are compelled to use the language of our intellectual enemies, we are to that extent handicapped in verbally promoting liberty.)

I readily understand the group’s purpose. It is to distinguish us from ideologues who hold very different philosophies than we do. Yes, product differentiation is important, if we are to avoid fraud. However, we need not give up on this valuable characterization. Instead, let us renounce “corporate capitalism,” or “state capitalism” or “monopoly capitalism” but certainly not “capitalism” itself.

Yes, "capitalism" was originally used as a slur against those of us who favor private property rights, free trade and economic liberty. But, instead of abjuring this word, we should adopt borrow a leaf from homosexuals and blacks. "Faggot" and "queer" were initially used to deprecate the former. Instead of running from these words, they proudly adopted them as their own. A similar situation has taken place with regard to the "N" word, within the black community. There, it is often used not as an insult, but as a badge of honor. Should we libertarians be less "in your face" than these groups of people? No, say I. They have thumbed their noses at their detractors, and so should we.

One final point. If we libertarians "refuse to use the word u2018capitalism’ to describe what we favor," what, then, can we make of the phrase “laissez faire capitalism”? Based on the interpretation of the Libertarians Against Capitalism, this phrase would have to be considered a logical contradiction, like “square circle.” For, in their view, "capitalism" is a synonym for "crony capitalism." But, surely, “laissez faire capitalism" and "crony capitalism" are polar opposites. Yes, indeed, what we have nowadays "IS capitalism"; that is, crony capitalism, not laissez faire capitalism. In order to progress from the former to the latter, we need all the verbal tools we can lay our hands on. And, one of them is certainly "capitalism."

Dr. Block [send him mail] is a professor of economics at Loyola University New Orleans, and a senior fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He is the author of Defending the Undefendable and Labor Economics From A Free Market Perspective. His latest book is The Privatization of Roads and Highways.

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