Capitalism is to blame for everything



The Backbencher’s Daniel Pryor recently interviewed Canadian market anarchist Neil M. Tokar on the subject of anarcho-capitalism. The following is an excerpt from that interview, in which Neil discusses common objections to anarcho-capitalist political philosophy:

Apparently, capitalism is to blame for everything.  It is sort of like watching the Simpson’s episode when the “Movementarian” cult took over Springfield. In one scene, Bart Simpson’s elementary school classroom has been transported to the Movementarian cult compound.  Bart’s teacher, Edna Krabappel, asks Bart a series of questions along the following lines:

Teacher:  Where does lightening come from?
Bart:  The leader!
Teacher:  Correct!

Teacher:  Who invented the telephone?
Bart:  The leader!
Teacher:  Correct!

Planned ChaosThe “correct” answer to every question is “the leader.”  Similarly, the “correct” answer to the question of “what is wrong with our current world” is that “capitalism did it.”  Capitalism is to blame for everything that is wrong in our current world. This objection is, of course, nonsensical and consists of conflicting and contradicting assertions.  Ludwig von Mises, in his 1947 book Planned Chaos (which is now republished as The Epilogue to Socialism) explains very clearly how “capitalism” is the “cause” of “everything wrong” in this world.

Mises writes:

…nothing is more unpopular today than the free market economy, i.e. capitalism.  Everything that is considered unsatisfactory in present-day conditions is charged to capitalism.  The atheists make capitalism responsible for the survival of Christianity.  But the papal encyclicals blame capitalism for the spread of irreligion and the sins of our contemporaries, and the Protestant churches and sects are no less vigorous in their indictment of capitalist greed.  Friends of peace consider our wars as an offshoot of capitalist imperialism.  But the adamant nationalist warmongers of Germany and Italy indicted capitalism for its “bourgeois” pacifism, contrary to human nature and to the inescapable laws of history.  Sermonizers accuse capitalism of disrupting the family and fostering licentiousness.  But the “progressives” blame capitalism for the preservation of allegedly outdated rules of sexual restraint.  Almost all men agree that poverty is an outcome of capitalism.  On the other hand many deplore the fact that capitalism, in catering lavishly to the wishes of people intent upon getting more amenities and a better living, promotes a crass materialism.  These contradictory accusations of capitalism cancel one another.  But the fact remains that there are few people left who would not condemn capitalism altogether.

I would address the issue by providing people with a clear, unambiguous, and straight forward definition of what capitalism is.  From the Mises quote above, it is clear that the term “capitalism” is being used indiscriminately as a “catch-all” term for anything that people dislike.  What distinguishes capitalism from socialism is the issue of property.  The idea of property was succinctly described by Rothbard in his book The Ethics of Liberty.  Rothbard tells us that everybody has property in “his own person, the labour of his body, and the work of his hands.”  Also, property is created when a person takes anything out of the state of nature and mixes his own labour with it.  Capitalism, then, is simply an institutionalized respect for property; socialism is simply an institutionalized violation of property.

The issues raised above can be dismissed by applying this simple criterion:  does it respect property or not? If I want to use my body in such a way that I am labelled as an atheist (i.e. I denounce organized religion) then I have every right to do so.  If Randy wants to use his body in such a way that he is labelled “Christian” then he can do so and nobody has a right to stop him.  Capitalism didn’t make me an atheist; nor did it make Randy a Christian.  All that capitalism does is this:  it lets the individual use his body in a way that he or she feels is best for himself or herself.  Capitalism gives the individual the choice in how the individual wants to use his or her body.

The same line of reasoning applies to the issue of sex.  Capitalism is accused of simultaneously causing too much sex and not enough sex.  Terms such as “too much” and “too little” are subjective to the individual.  Suppose that John has sex three times per week.  Some uptight conservative politician might say that is “too much” sex.  Maybe John is a teenager and so he would label this situation as “not enough” sex.  Whose opinion is correct?  The capitalist answer begins by asking:  who owns John’s body?  Does the uptight conservative politician?  Or does John get to decide how to use his own body?  Who decides?  The capitalist response is that since John was the first person to occupy his body, he is the rightful owner of it and therefore can use it in any way he chooses.  In this case, he can use it to pursue more sex.

The capitalist objection to socialism boils down to this:  the fact that you come to us in the name of “society” or “the common good” or “to help the poor” or whatever feel-good name you have chosen is completely irrelevant to the question at hand, i.e., what should be done.  What matters is not the intention of the socialist; even if Jesus whispered into the ear of the socialist what to do, the capitalist would still object on the grounds that “good intentions” are irrelevant.  What matters is only who legitimately owns the property–that person gets to decide what should be done with the property.

For more of Neil’s writings, visit his blog or follow him on Twitter.



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