Capitalism should be thrown into the dustbin of history.
Not the economic system of capitalism, but the word “capitalism.”
The word has such negative connotations that it has become a pejorative to call someone a capitalist.
Karl Marx was the first to use the word to flagellate the bourgeoisie. Now in a form of self-flagellation, capitalists use the word on themselves.
A case in point is the new book by the noted conservative intellectual, Jonah Goldberg: Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy. He makes similar points that I’ve been making for years but is a much more gifted thinker and writer. In the process, however, he uses the word “capitalism” in his defense of capitalism—just as I will use the word in this commentary to explain why the word should no longer be used.
The problem with using the word is that capitalism has become associated with imperialism, corporatism, mercantilism, crony capitalism, and most recently, white privilege. This is especially so on college campuses, where gullible cadres reap the benefits of capitalism (and liberal democracy) while being brainwashed in anti-capitalist thinking by some of the most privileged people on earth: college professors.
This brainwashing is made easier by the fact that many young people and their parents suffered as a result of the Great Recession, which they have been misled into believing was totally caused by capitalism. Others have suffered from the creative destruction and global trade of capitalism.
As such, even the most doctrinaire capitalists should admit that there are some pieces of straw, or truth, in the tons of bullcrap that are spewed about capitalism—just enough straw to sustain such anti-capitalists as Bernie Sanders and the 48% of young people who disavow capitalism and favor socialism.
Not only has the word “capitalism” been sullied, but the definition of the word isn’t exactly something to rally around. After all, “the private ownership of the means of production” doesn’t have the same zing as “social justice,” “fairness,” and “community.” Besides, how many people know what the means of production are?
It doesn’t help to sell capitalism by modifying the noun “capitalism” with the adjective “free-market,” for the adjective has its own negative connotations among the miseducated and brainwashed. To them, free-market capitalism is worse than just plain capitalism.
It’s time to throw the word away. It’s time for a rebranding.
There is already a term that resonates with just about all Americans: civil liberties. Why not use that? After all, in addition to the right of free speech, the right of assembly, the right of worship, and other rights, civil liberties include the right to own property, the right to keep the fruits of one’s labor, and the right to trade with others. Even the most ardent supporters of Bernie Sanders would agree with these rights, although the supporters might not have thought of the latter ones as civil liberties, which is a marketing failure on our side.
Take the owner of a tattoo parlor who is an ardent supporter of Bernie Sanders. And take his customers, who also are ardent supporters of Bernie Sanders. Certainly, the owner would agree that he has a right to operate his business for money and to keep the profits. Certainly, his friends would agree that they have a right to loan him money for his business. And certainly, his customers would agree that they have a right to give their money to the owner in exchange for his services. No doubt, they would say the same about buying an iPhone, or pot in a marijuana store, or a coffee from Starbucks, or Bitcoins, or some item on eBay. Yet, chances are, those who engage in such private transactions might rail against capitalism.
What should you do if you are confronted with this contradiction? Instead of debating the point, you should say that you are not a capitalist, either. Once the emotionally-loaded word is out of the way, you can then explain what you do believe in—that you believe in all civil liberties. You believe in them, you could go on to say, because the alternative is slavery or dictatorship.
This puts the other person in the position of either agreeing with you or saying that he doesn’t believe in all civil liberties.
Imagine debating Bernie Sanders and painting him into this intellectual corner.
Isn’t it just semantics to replace the word “capitalism” with the words “civil liberties?” Of course. But semantics is the use of language to convey meaning.
The word “capitalism” now conveys a bad meaning, while the words “civil liberties” convey a good meaning. Don’t continue to use a word that conveys a bad meaning. Throw “capitalism” into the dustbin of history.
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