Many writers have speculated that the unprecedented success of our species was due to the development of language in prehistoric times. Our emergent ability to plan and carry out attacks on so-called megafauna, such as the giant sloth and the hairy mammoth, is thought to have contributed to their extinction. Construction of the earliest city-forts within historic time clearly demonstrates the cooperative effort to accomplish something enabled by language skills; clay tablets found at these sites verify that symbolic representation of words in writing was generally accepted by a local population twelve-thousand years ago. From this evidence we can infer that people were long accustomed to using common definitions of words to exchange abstract meaning, that is, a seed and a pebble are not the same thing, so one presumes that people would have used different words for these objects in ancient times.
Definitions of words are not permanent, however, and there are often subtle differences in definitions of the same referent in different languages; sometimes the referent in one language does not even exist in another language. As Ruth Beebe Hill wrote in her note to the reader, "Admit, assume, because, believe, could, doubt, end, expect, faith, forget, forgive, guilt, how, it, mercy, pest, promise, should, sorry, storm, them, us, waste, we, weed" were neither words nor concepts in the language of the Native American Sioux (Hanta Yo, Doubleday and Company, Garden City, NY, 1979).
To alter the definition of a common word has always been a tool of political governments to deceive and defraud the people, as George Orwell dramatically demonstrated in his novel, 1984. Thus the Department of Public Safety executed hundreds of people during the French Revolution; thus the Department of Defense plans and directs wars of aggression on foreign soil; thus "to pacify" means to murder. The alteration of definitions has accelerated since 9/11, with the Patriot Act leading the assault. What is patriotic about voiding the Bill Of Rights? Followed by the more sinister Department of Homeland Security, a massive police-state institution of unlimited coercive power aimed directly at the liberty of individual American citizens. Thus am I "secure" in the knowledge that writing this could land me in the American Gulag, where I will no doubt be very "secure" indeed.
Because of its free-floating, flexible definition, one word that I don't ordinarily use is capitalism. My dictionary would like me to believe that capitalism incorporates the concepts of private ownership of production and distribution of products sold on the free-market for a profit. Thus we hear of a "capitalist economy," or "free-market capitalism," or "free-market economy," and we believe we know what somebody is talking about. Do we?
Article One, Section Eight of the U.S. Constitution specifies that Congress will regulate commerce, thus putting into law the time-honored practice of mercantilism, a collusion between private business and state coercion to achieve a mutually profitable goal. Thus when a certain private businessman would like to be granted clear title to land twenty miles wide and three thousand miles long in return for a promise to build a railroad on it, he goes to Congress. After negotiations where money changes hands and secret promises are made, the new railroad magnate not only gets the land, he also gets the use of the U.S. Army to defend this theft against the people who happen to live there. Is this capitalism?
From its beginning, Congress has been making laws that favor or punish special interests from all over the spectrum of "private" business, and I don't see any "free-market" at work at all, except in the case of innovations that escape the notice of Congress for a short while, like the airplane, radio, the personal computer, and the Internet. So what does "free-market capitalism" mean?
I think that the words signify the spectacular success of state sponsored public-relations fraud, just like the word "democracy," as described by Hans-Herman Hoppe in Democracy, The God That Failed. I believe that by a strict definition of words, the referent of free-market capitalism is a magnificent life-creating, life-sustaining concept, while I also believe that it has never, ever, existed, and it most certainly does not exist in the world today. Like the creation of the Federal Reserve to supposedly protect our economy, while it was actually designed to enrich a handful of powerful elite, the pious devotion to "free-market capitalism" by our politicians and bureaucrats is a fraud designed to enrich them personally. Thus we go to war for the oil companies. This is not capitalism.
So I don't normally use the word. In these dark days, perhaps near the end of the Dark Ages as perceived by future generations, I see the emergence of other ways to do things that I call economic government. I see private arbitration of civil disagreements as a positive move in the direction of true justice. I see banking investigations of individual banking history as a positive move in the direction of economic justice. I see the proliferation of what Spencer MacCallum calls the "multiple tenant income property" as a positive move in the direction of replacing political government altogether (see The Art Of Community, Institute For Humane Studies, Inc., Menlo Park, CA, 1970). And I would like to see insurance companies escape the chains of their masters, and fulfill their potential to protect property, but that may be asking too much at this early stage.
Even taking things as they are at this point, we would do well to emulate our ancient ancestors by making clear what we mean by words. A seed is not a pebble, after all.
March 10, 2003
Copyright © 2003 Robert Klassen