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What Social Animals Owe to Each Other

Saturday, January 23, 2010

"Capitalism" versus Communism

Stephen Kinzer provides a good reason not to use "capitalism" to mean "free market":
Visiting unhappy Cuba is especially thought-provoking for anyone familiar with its unhappy neighbours. Cubans live difficult lives and have much to complain about. So do Jamaicans, Dominicans, Haitians, Guatemalans, Hondurans, Salvadorans, and others in the Caribbean basin who live under capitalist governments. Who is worse off? Does an ordinary person live better in Cuba or in a nearby capitalist country?
I take it Kinzer defines "capitalism" as "not Cuban-style Marxist state socialism."

HT: Jacob Hornberger


Gallego said...

That's more of wishful thinking than an observation, what you suggest author means by the word capitalism. I thought you at least had some good case for the re-definition, but this seems as a drowning man catching at a straw. Frankly, what's your clue that Kinzer defines capitalism like you do? Just because he calls some far-from-free-yet-freer-than-Cuba countries capitalistic? Come on...

Stephan Kinsella said...

Dictionary says capitalism means "an economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is made and maintained chiefly by private individuals or corporations, esp. as contrasted to cooperatively or state-owned means of wealth"

In a free market, we would have private ownership of the means of production. There is no doubt a close connection between capitalism and a libertarian order. But I agree, it's not the best term for describing our philosophy, because of distortions and ambiguities in that term, and because even if properly construed it only denotes one aspect of a libertarian society.

Sheldon Richman said...

Gallego, I don't know what you mean. All I did was post an article in which the author seems to regard any country "capitalist" as long as it has not proclaimed Marxism to be its ruling philosophy. How else to explain his grouping all other Caribbean basin countries under the capitalist flag? It was an inference -- but a strong one -- from the article itself. Pray tell, god sir, where have I gone wrong?

Gallego said...

Sheldon, you might be right that he defines it vaguely and capitalist in his mind really means anything not openly communist; a relic of cold war thinking probably. However, it does not mean he defines it as a type of state socialism, as you suggest. And I thought from the "official description" that your point is that capitalism means mercantilism, not that it is a vague term.

Sheldon Richman said...

I never said he defines it as state socialism. And I have said from the beginning that people generally use the word to mean a variety of things (including mercantilism), excluding outright State ownership of the means of production. It appears you have misread me.

Gallego said...

-I never said he defines it as state socialism.-
-I take it Kinzer defines "capitalism" as "not Cuban-style Marxist state socialism."-

Look, English is not my native language, so mistake may be on my side, but... is it?

And I must have missed you saying the term is vague, all I got is the original statement of Libertarians against Capitalism with you believing the term means mercantilism. So are you A) against using the word at all, for its vagueness, or B) are you for using it as a synonym of mercantilism? If A is correct, I have nothing to add, except of apologies for my misunderstanding; if B) is, as the official statement suggests, that's what I've been calling bullshit from the beginning. Which is it?

Sheldon Richman said...

What I said in the statement is that "historical capitalism" always meant -- in the sense of "had" -- a dominant cronyist element. Mercantilism was one variation. Existentially, capitalism was not laissez faire. (That's why Benj Tucker opposed it.)

I am saying it is vague and we should not use it to mean "free market." I would not use typically use it to mean corporatism for the same reason -- some people won't understand me.

But I will not say I am FOR capitalism.

Bullshit, I guess, is in the eye of beholder. Apology acccepted.

VangelV said...

I am saying it is vague and we should not use it to mean "free market." I would not use typically use it to mean corporatism for the same reason -- some people won't understand me.

I agree with your statement. The socialists have been winning the language wars and if we can no longer use words like Liberal without making clear about what we mean we should be careful to use the qualification 'free market' when we state our preference for 'free market' capitalism.