Capitalism – Not an "ism"

Because I am a fan of, a student of William Safire, a victim of William F. Buckley, Jr., and because I’ve made a living as a writer for over a decade, I get in a Webster funk when I can’t find le mot just. In all the grand discourses of politics, there is one word we all end up using that unfortunately has nothing but bent and contrived roots: “capitalism.” It does stick in my etymological craw. If we allow the enemies of free markets and individual liberty to determine our own label, we will have already lost. The Oxford English Dictionary lists the first literary use of “capitalism” in 1854 by Thackery: “The sense of capitalism sobered and dignified Paul de Florac.” I like it. Working and risking hard earned money will sober and dignify even your neighbor who voted for Clinton and Gore. But the word is still a bad label for the good guys. So, what’s wrong with “capitalism”? Well, we all know what “capital” means, especially since so much of it is expropriated from us by government at all levels. It’s the “ism” that is suspicious. And what is an “ism?” Sometimes we better understand a word or idea by contemplating its assumed opposite. Let us ask, What is “communism”? It is a belief – that’s it – a belief that the state, has title to everything. It owns all property and all businesses. It sets prices. It decides where and when you work and what work you shall do. The state is all knowing, all good, and all powerful. Put your hand on the manifesto, comrade, and chant, “I BELIEVE!!!!!” That’s an “ism.” The annals of human history are filled with one or another state-imposed “ism.” Communism” (or “commyism” as I dub it – see, I invent words, too) is just a recent one. The state imposes its utopian will until it exhausts all human and material resources used for its futile exercise. Then, the echoes of the “ism” chanters fade, people begin to produce and trade goods and services, and the market begins to prosper. No belief needed – except in yourself. Yet what is the label for this system? “CapitalISM” of all things! The tacit implication is that we must believe in some abstract intellectual notion to be productive in a market economy. We must believe (collectivist word twisters would have it) that the rich became rich at the expense of the poor, that the wealthy should have a state-ordained right to rule over the poor to keep them poor, that white people should rule the world, and that the world’s natural resources should be ruthlessly and profligately exhausted to make money for rich people. “Are you a capitalist?” they snidely ask us, as if they were asking, “Oh, do you scam poor u2018workers’? Do you want to destroy every living species on the face of the PLANET? Are you a white supremacist? Why aren’t you willing to give your wealth to the poor? Do you want the whole world converted into one huge Wal-Mart? How can you belieeeeeeeve in such an inhumane ideology?!!” Help! We need a better word! I’m trying to find or invent one before the revolution is over. “Free marketer?” “Laissez faire guy?” Anything without the suffix i-s-m. The word “communism” should be pointedly isolated in political discussion, never paired with “capitalism” as if it were its natural corollary. The “ism” should hang out there as an embarrassment to its advocates to force acknowledgement that they indulge in believing rather than thinking about how human action organizes for production (which is what von Mises did, and why he titled his masterpiece Human Action rather than, say, Human Theory). So let’s stop saying “capitalism.” But what? How about a contest! Safire, Buckley, Lew – somebody please help!