no third solution

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“Free Markets” Are Not “Capitalism”

May 3rd, 2011

The word “capitalism” was coined by the socialists, often used as a pejorative, and has historically described a system of state-granted privilege and plutocracy. This is the definition to which most people subscribe, and which I would argue prevails today. A contrary definition is one that is synonymous, or nearly synonymous with “free markets”. My best guess is that this “definition” is a the result of a revisionist attempt to hijack the term “free markets”.

Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Joseph Schumpeter, J.M. Keynes

Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Joseph Schumpeter & J.M. Keynes walk in to a bar...

Bill Wurst, the author of this post highlights these two competing definitions of “free market capitalism” and argues that the term is not an oxymoron (although strictly speaking it may not be an oxymoron, I believe that it is certainly a null program). The first definition is prevalent in particular among American libertarians:

  • In one sense, “free market capitalism” may be viewed as a system in which individuals make voluntary arrangements involving the exchange of capital.

Although Wurst does go further with this definition (every imaginable transaction) it’s silly and sloppy to put emphasis on “capital” when (and I think he’d agree here) a truly free market is a “system in which individuals make voluntary arrangements involving the exchange of goods and services (i.e., not limited to “capital” but also to include non-capital goods, labor, land, etc.). Unfortunately, this definition of the term has never been widely accepted, and to this day 99 out of 100 people would probably not even come close to approximating this elegant definition.

The second definition of the term free market capitalism, he goes on to say:

  • In another sense, “free market capitalism” may be viewed … as a phrase combining words interpreted via historical realities and implications.  In other words, “free market” implies voluntary arrangements, whereas “capitalism” has become (rightly so)  known as a system in which business and coercive state forces collude to serve whatever arbitrary interests may be lobbied for by the businesses or championed for reasons of power by the politicians.

Words have meanings! And in order to have any meaningful, relevant definition, words must be “interpreted via historical realities and implications” regardless of whether we like them.  Whereas the former definition sloppily suggests that the properties of “free markets” dominate the term and carelessly ignores the historical and popularly understood definitions of “capitalism”, the latter definition is much more precise in defining both terms separately. Additionally, Wurst admits that this definition is the one that is popularly held, and as the language belongs to the people and their common use, I see no reason to pretend that it means something else.

So why bother trying to apologize for “capitalism” when “free markets” are what you (and I) really wish to obtain? That is, if you really do believe in “free markets”, then you should probably distance yourself from the word “capitalism”.

If it’s a free market, it’s not capitalism. And if it’s capitalism, it’s not a free market.

Those of us who believe in free markets need to stop trying to save the word “capitalism”. If anything, we need to save “free markets” from “capitalism”, because the two should never have been joined.



I Finally Saw Avatar

April 14th, 2010

I finally saw Avatar. Needless to say, the 4″ LCD in the back of seat 24E on Delta flight 6 to LHR was probably not optimal viewing conditions, but my Skullcandy headphones work awesome on airplanes, but I digress.

I’m not going to bore you with a review (plenty of other libertarians have already done this). And I’m not going to bore you with a summary of the story. Here’s just my thoughts, much as I put them on paper halfway through the movie—unable to wait for fear of losing the thoughts.

This is how it works: when people are sitting on shit that you want, you make them your enemies. Then you justify taking it.

The basic premise of the story in Avatar is exactly how empires have always behaved. And it is exactly how the corporate interests which control the world’s governments operate today: Exploit some people and/or resources (preferably beyond the fictional lines which define our national “borders”). Take everything from them—materials, resources, labor, life, dignity; and get drunk on the profits.

The movie saddened me, not because it was a particularly compelling story (although I do think it was a very good movie, c’mon, is “unobtanium” the best they could come up with?), but because I understand that this “fiction” is anything but.

Avatar is not an allegory. It is not a clever fairy-tale tree-hugger imagination, dramatization, or exaggeration. Look at the history of the world, the rise and fall of empire after empire. The names of the people and places may well have changed, but the story has played on a thousand stages.

Public Law 93-531

March 29th, 2010

On the flight home from Utah in February, I picked up a copy of some hipster zine that some previous Southwest Airlines customer had left in the seatback in front of me.

IMG00135-20100222-1248Thumbing through the pages, I read a brief article about Public Law 93-351 (you can read some history about it here), which was appalling on a number of levels.

What was once thought to be barren desert “only fit for Indians to live on” proved to be rich in oil, coal, uranium, and copper

And so the corporate interests, eager to exploit the land’s mineral rights, successfully lobbied the federal government to install puppet governments (amenable to corporate interests) among the Hopi and Dineh tribes which began selling-out to Uncle Sam about a century ago. Eventually though, that was not enough so they fabricated a dispute between the two tribes and the resultant solution was to force relocation of thousands of natives (in order that the land may be strip-mined for its valuable resources).

This happened in 1974.

If you think even for one second that the U.S. government is above imperialism, that they don’t do this sort of thing and that the complaints coming from the less-developed countries against the American Empire are unfounded, hateful propaganda, I think you’re sadly mistaken.

They’re willing to do this. Right here in the good ol’ US of A.

They’re more than capable of perpetrating atrocities just like this (in reality, probably much worse than this) in resource-rich foreign countries where the brown-skinned population has no effective voice, steward or guardian, and media coverage is slim to non-existent.

no third solution

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