When Capitalism is Blamed on Socialism
by Ethan Glover, Wed, Dec 02, 2015 - (Edited) Wed, Dec 02, 2015
I previously talked about why Daniel Root, who has been writing a series called ‘Why I am Not a Libertarian,’ is in truth, a libertarian. I’ll admit it. I wasn’t being serious. Daniel has given himself a rough, but incomplete understanding of the common arguments libertarians make and taken them out of context. His articles thus far have been all straw man, zero substance.
Since my last response, Daniel has published two new articles to his series, and hopefully they will be the last. The first of the two subtitled ‘Inequality,’ starts with the premise that capitalist societies were built on slavery. He gives ancient Sparta, feudal Europe, and the antebellum American South as examples. In his next article, he will admit that libertarians aim to get rid of corporate welfare; or what is more accurately known as ‘corporatism’ or ‘crony capitalism.’ The reason I bring this up is to show how little thought Daniel has put into what he’s saying. Let’s look at his examples of capitalist nations.
Ancient Spartans did not own slaves. Sparta, as a state, did. Helots, as they were called,
…were originally free Greeks from the areas of Messenia and Lakonia whom the Spartans had defeated in battle and subsequently enslaved. Spartan men were enslaved to the state as soldiers, and could not do manual labor. So the state enslaved people from defeated cities to do that labor. There’s nothing capitalist about what’s going on here. Just an imperialistic state acting imperialist.
In fact, Spartan citizens were not allowed to trade or manufacture goods. All economy, save for the state imposed Periokoi monopoly, was banned. Citizens were given property and expected to extract all wealth from it. As far as economies go, Sparta was very close to communism. The only difference was the state outsourced its production. A semantic difference at best.
Feudalism, as Daniel’s second example, is really just your standard government operation. Oxford dictionaries define feudalism by explaining that,
…the nobility held lands from the Crown in exchange for military service, and vassals were in turn tenants of the nobles, while the peasants (villeins or serfs) were obliged to live on their lord’s land and give him homage, labor, and a share of the produce, notionally in exchange for military protection.
Replace “Crown” with U.S. federal government, “nobility” with state governments, “vassals” with public officials, and “peasants” with citizens, and you’ve got modern government. You are forced to pay homage and share your income with both nobility and the Crown just for living in a particular area in exchange for monopolistic services you may or may not want.
On his last example, Daniel uses the antebellum South as an example of capitalism being built upon slavery. While there are arguments to be made, it is clear that this isn’t the case. There is controversy in whether or not slaves were profitable at all in the long term. Daniel Root ironically quotes Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America” to highlight that wealth was built on the backs of slaves, and continued through generations who never had to work.
no more … [is] necessary to the … [worker] than physical strength without intelligence; … The master and the worker thus bear no resemblance to one another, and they differ more each day … Each occupies a place that is made for him and which he does not leave … What is this if not aristocracy?
-Toqueville, Alexis de. Democracy in America. London: Saunders and Otley, 1835. Rpt. of De la démocratie en Amérique.
Pretty doom and gloom? Consider this one line,
the colonies in which there were no slaves became more populous and richer than those in which slavery flourished. It’s fair to say that Tocqueville’s perspectives on slavery were a little more focused than the modern bleeding heart complaining about what percentage of the population has what percentage of “the money.” As if it were one piece of pie to be shared with all.
It’s not slavery that built the South. Tocqueville recognized, in Democracy in America, that the United States was the last country to abolish slavery. It’s outdated, and immoral policies were an embarrassment, and ultimately holding back it’s growth. Inventions like the cotton gin and bringing back a semblance of free trade by abolishing slavery is what helped fulfill the potential in the United States.
Just because the U.S. used to have slavery, doesn’t mean it was built on slavery. One of the staples of the United States that helped it grow, besides its geography, was the revolutionary move towards free trade and capitalism. While Britain had bogged itself down with corporatism, the United States had a period of people voluntarily trading with one another, creating wealth (not “distributing” it).
When Daniel Root says modern capitalism is just a new stage in a “pattern” of capitalism, he’s almost correct. Except the systems he uses as examples, weren’t capitalism. They were state run institutions that thrived on monopoly and serfdom. That’s what we have in government now, that’s what we always have in government, that’s what government is. You can bend the facts all you like, it doesn’t take away the inherent problems in trying to monopolize something as chaotic, uncontrollable, and beautiful as the market.
This is the problem with criticisms of capitalism. They are always pointing at the wrong thing. The government does something negative to the economy, it’s capitalism’s fault. Blaming something on capitalism is the equivalent of blaming something on all people as individuals. Capitalism is not a system of regulations and rules put into place by a monopoly such as government. It is simply a word that describes the act of many people trading. A trades with B. C trades with D. A, B, C and D make up a capitalist economy. That’s it. That’s all it is. When government begins to interfere by giving corporations special privileges, it’s not capitalism anymore, it’s corporatism.
This misunderstanding is what leads people like Root to make false historic comparisons and complain about modern workers being repressed. Daniel never gives any single example of how modern workers are being repressed, and instead talks about historic company towns in which employees lived in company housing and shopped at company stores.
These towns were built during the frontier period when settling down wasn’t as easy as searching for an apartment online. The towns were built in very remote areas where there was no place to live, and no place to work. Employee’s chose, by their own will, to work at these towns because it was their best option. Company towns didn’t decline because of government edict, they’re perfectly legal today. They declined because of economic prosperity brought on by capitalism in the 1920’s.
With the invention of cars ,travel became easier; living on site was no longer necessary. Greater wealth meant employees were no longer dependent on someone else for healthcare and education. Something modern Americans know nothing about. Everything company towns provided to it’s employees was once unobtainable by individuals. That’s why people chose to work there. To obtain the unobtainable. Once the drive of capitalism brought on innovation, greater wealth, and decreasing prices, company towns were no longer necessary.
Imagine Daniel Root in America’s earlier days telling workers they shouldn’t work for companies that provide them with healthcare, education, and shelter when they could get no better quality anywhere else. Do you think anyone would listen to his nonsense then? Why then, without any modern example of repression, would anyone listen to his nonsense now? He’s quick to say that a company lives and dies by it’s customers, but never says anything about the fact that it lives and dies by the willingness of its employees to do the job.
Daniel Root’s What Ought We To Do
Oh no, we’re not done with Daniel yet. The above was just one of two articles, let’s keep this party going to the end. The Why I Am Not a Libertarian series continues in, “What Ought We To Do.”
Daniel says that libertarians are factually wrong to point out that welfare is slavery. The reason? Because it is the government taking the money, and because those who are being stolen from can vote. This tired social contract argument has never held any weight. It is a mere loose justification for morality. The fact that an imagined, but nonexistent majority says it’s OK to steal, without understanding that’s what they’re supporting, doesn’t make it OK. Taking money from someone, without giving them a choice, is theft. It doesn’t matter who does it. It doesn’t matter if there was a vote. If you and I vote to take half of Daniel’s money and give him the option to vote no, but not the option to refuse an obviously corrupt deal, it’s not OK. Even if we call ourselves a state.
There are an infinite number of solutions to the issue of poverty that don’t require theft. They have been explained and even done with greater effectiveness and efficiency than the state ad nauseam. Saying you need state welfare at this point is like saying the earth is flat. It’s clearly an incorrect statement based in ignorance and a refusal to change traditional thought.
But that’s not Daniel’s only argument. He also states that it is OK to steal from someone if you in turn provide a service. For example, as a former Verizon customer, it is OK for Verizon to begin charging my credit card again, so long as they continue my access to their network. It doesn’t matter if I want it or not. What’s important, in Daniel’s words, is that I’m
…receiving a lot in return for this arrangement…. Considering Verizon’s large network, it is true that I’m getting a lot in return. So it must be OK.
Daniel, like many others, has a confused sense of ethics based on the worship of the state. There’s no need to consider whether what is going on is right or wrong, as long as it is the state that is doing it. Daniel doesn’t have to worry about personally stealing from people to give to others he feels sorry for so long as the state does it. Thus, his opposition to theft may be hidden behind meaningless terms like “social contract.” Which, by the way, is no different than the European feudalism he had previously complained about.
Without spending too much time on alternatives to welfare (ask and ye shall receive), there’s one last point I want to highlight. In his final statements Daniel says,
Ayn Rand rightly called capitalism the unknown ideal, as it has never truly existed. Ayn Rand rightly said that capitalism has never truly existed. Take this with the fact that none of Daniel’s complaints even touched capitalism and you’ve got your average critic.
While simultaneously supporting the capitalism that helped rid the world of things like slavery and supporting things like modern feudalism they show no understanding of what a free market is. This is something I’ve personally struggled to understand. Anyone can look up the definition of capitalism and see that it means the private ownership or property. How does this get attributed to feudalism and inequality which so clearly links to state interference? Is propaganda really that good? Are people really that stupid? I reject both of these things, yet have no better answer.
Thomas Grennes’ Response
In a letter to the editor regarding Daniel Roots series, retired professor Thomas Grennes wanted to say nothing else than to remind everyone that libertarianism is not anarchy. Of all the incorrect statements to respond to. As a minarchist, Grennes couldn’t take the opportunity to address any of the arguments being made. Saying libertarianism is not anarchy is the same as me saying libertarianism is not minarchy. Whatever your personal beliefs, wherever your limits are, that’s what it is for you. I could argue with ease that a true libertarian, adherent to non-violence, can not possibly believe in government. Doing so would disqualify you from the title. And it wouldn’t be a no-true-Scotsman fallacy, it would be holding libertarians to their own standards of ethics.
Grennes is one of those libertarians who has put no serious study into natural law and how it has been enforced through history. He states that in the 19th-century buffaloes almost went extinct due to a lack of private property, and it is the governments current enforcement of property that may be attributed to their current population. Well, no, that’s not exactly an accurate analogy. The buffalo nearly went extinct for a few reasons, but primarily for two. First, the socialist railroad companies were encouraged to slaughter all buffalo they came across. Second, the United States Army attempted to drive buffalo extinct as a way to starve out native populations. This included both soldiers and hired hunters (by the Army) killing as many buffaloes as they could.
It is true that the private ownership of land has helped increase the populations of animals. Private hunting reserves have helped endangered species replenish the numbers to a much greater efficiency than any government regulation ever has. The buffalo issue has nothing to do with government enforcement as Grennes wants to highlight, and everything to do with the tragedy of the commons. To say that an issue caused by government interference should be solved with government interference, merely because of a fear of anarchy is naive. Minarchists have this tendency to recognize serious problems, but never take a step towards solving the issue because they don’t want the label of anarchist. Even though everything they know about economics, human action, and ethics implores them to do so.
Grennes’ second argument, that governments are unable to perform the duties they have monopolized, only drives this point home. In Root’s arguments against capitalism, he would be right if he were talking about socialism. Grennes argues against anarchy, except that his arguments would only be correct if he were arguing against government. The fear of words like capitalism and anarchy has caused a real development of split personality in society to help cope with that fear. As a result, we are confused and lost. Perpetually seeking help from the wrong places and in the wrong way.