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Fans of Capitalism Message Board › Definition of "Capitalism"

Definition of "Capitalism"

Bill
user 2341848
Group Organizer
New York, NY
Post #: 237
It's been suggested that we come up with a definition of "capitalism" to be used at this meetup group.

Discussing the definition of capitalism will be one of our topics for the first meeting.

I approach this task with some angst, because I see a major pitfall here. I do not want to come up with a Utopian definition of what a capitalist society would be like, and then claim that everything would work perfectly under such a system. I have had frustrating conversations with communists who define communism that way. If I talk about some historical instance that, in my mind, demonstrates the failure of communism, they say "Oh, but that wasn't true communism. That particular tyrant wasn't interpreting Marx properly.". And thus, their assertion that communism is a great system becomes completely non-falsifiable by anything that might happen, because they will claim that any experiment that was actually performed doesn't qualify as true communism.

Libertarians often fall into the same trap. One talks about some situation where the marketplace did a crappy job of finding an optimal solution, and they say "Oh, but that wasn't true capitalism." and the reason it wasn't might be that the government was enforcing legal tender, or the roads weren't privatized, or the government was levying an income tax. So similarly, Utopian claims about capitalism become unaccountable to history.

I would like to restrict the definition of capitalism to economics. I believe in democracy, free speech, and civil liberties, but I think they are separate issues from economics. I think it is possible to have capitalism without democracy, it is possible to have capitalism without free speech, and it is possible to have capitalism without decent civil liberties. Does capitalism lead to greater civil liberties, as many libertarians claim it does? That's something that we can discuss, it doesn't need to be decided up front.

I would define a capitalist society as one where most economic decisions are made by voluntary exchange, usually but not necessarily involving money, and a fairly high level of inequality is tolerated.

At the first meetup we can flesh out the definition more than that. Clearly all societies exist on a continuum between laissez-faire capitalism and communism. I understand the Soviet Union made a brief attempt to run things without money after the Russian revolution but that was quickly abandoned as unworkable. All countries on earth have governments with the possible exception of what are called "failed states" like Somalia a few years ago, and few would advocate we emulate those countries.

At our first meeting, we can also discuss whether the following countries are, or were, "capitalist"

  • Taiwan in 1950
  • South Korea in 1955
  • Nazi Germany in 1936
  • Red China right now
  • Red China in 1959 (they were exporting rice while tens of millions died of starvation)
  • Sweden right now
  • Sweden in 1980, when the income tax was so progressive that no one could take home more than $40K
  • Russia right now
  • The Soviet Union in 1985

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