Rules for the Cult of Capitalism

Socialism is on the rise in America. Capitalists are on the defensive. So I’ve put together a handy list of rules to use whenever debating anyone who doubts the power of the Flying Invisible Market Hand to solve all life’s problems.

1. When market liberalization has a positive impact (such as in Chile), this is a victory for capitalism. When market liberalization has a negative impact (the recent economic meltdown), it’s because there is government intervention somewhere and free markets don’t really exist (therefore, capitalism is not responsible).

2. When they are doing things you don’t like, countries like Venezuela and Norway are socialist and therefore doomed to fail. But if someone makes the argument that socialism can work and uses these countries as examples, point out that they are actually capitalist.

3. When the government charges for its services (taxes), this is theft. When private enterprises charge for food and rent, this is just.

4. Theft is the worst crime known to man. It is a far worse that rich people are forced to pay taxes (if their accountants can’t get them out of it) than that poor children are allowed to go hungry.

5. Speaking of which: capitalism is both the fairest AND the toughest philosophy. If you think it’s unjust that children starve, you’re a pussy and need to awaken to the harsh realities of life. If you think that progressive income tax is a good idea, then you are an unjust Nazi bastard.

6. As an alternative to # 5, you can just claim that the US is actually a socialist nation and therefore starving children in this country are the fault of socialism. However, when it compares favorably to China or Soviet Russia, the US is a capitalist nation (refer to rules # 1 and # 2). Socialism puts naive faith in the nature of humans. But people would be good natured enough to donate to charities if they didn’t have such tax burdens.

7. Even though Karl Marx literally wrote the book on capitalism, his very concept definition of capitalism is “flawed.” Capitalism doesn’t mean what Marx said it meant, it means whatever capitalists say it means. Therefore, his whole critique is invalid. Also: Stalin and Mao killed millions of their own people – therefore nothing Marx said was ever correct.

19 Comments

  1. The cult of capital is exposed! Their hypocrisy knows no bounds! Viva la revolucion! Kill the corporate behemoth! Death to fascists!

  2. Scott Rassbach

    April 13, 2009 at 7:01 pm

    When the government charges for its services (taxes), this is theft. When private enterprises charge for food and rent, this is just.

    If this were true, we’d have fees, not taxes. The government would perform a service, and charge the recipient of that service a fee. Well and good. I pay my state park fees without a qualm.

    Taxes are are not fees. Taxes are an amount of money that must be paid, whether you use the services or not. I have never called the fire department, yet my property taxes help to pay for it. (whether or not it make sense to pay for a fire department is immaterial to this point).

    If Apple, Inc. (a private enterprise) came in, and said you had to pay $10/month for a computer that would be given to someone else, would that seem fair to you? That’s the analogy you’re making.

    If I pay Apple for a computer, I expect to get the computer. When I pay the government for welfare subsidies, I don’t get them.

    Usually, Wal-mart does.

    This is why Government is seen in some circles as being the worst thing ever. You pay for something, but you don’t benefit. Sometimes, people in need benefit. Sometimes, corporate fat cats profit. Sometimes, scientific research benefits. Sometimes, companies with good lobbyists or areas with strong congresscritters profit.

    I don’t object to the taxes, so much. I object to the lack of accountability for the money. I object to the fact that Walmart gets a 4 million dollar subsidy in Oregon THAT IT DIDN’T EARN.

    Now the people in charge are spending money hand over fist, that they DON’T EVEN HAVE YET. Have been for years. Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, now Obama. Only Clinton actually tried to balance the budget, and then only because he was forced to.

    Eventually, the piper must be paid. Who’s gonna do that?

  3. I just checked with the government and they confirmed that Scott has never ever used a single government service in his entire life.

    Tax is theft!

  4. PS – Any highway system other than private toll roads is fascist. And privatize the fire department!

  5. Taxes are not voluntary, and that is an abridgement of freedom. They are gathered by law, law backed up by force. I think everyone would agree to that. Where I see disagreement is among those (on one side) who say what is lost in freedom is gained in services and those (on the other side) who do not say that.

    Someone once said to me that they’d gladly pay many times as much as they did in taxes if they got the services they wanted from it. I’m not in disagreement. I’d pony up for subsidized medicine (maybe even if it was entirely for strangers). But I’d prefer to pay far, far less and not subsizide war crimes. I have little say in how my taxes are used, which is objectionable. Living with millions of others instead of dozens leads to those sorts of problems. When the social unit gets beyond a certain number, you just plain don’t get to call all the shots in your own life any more (unless perhaps you are very, very wealthy – which is perhaps a point scored for capitalism).

    Capitalism has a weak, flawed means to self-correct when it makes mistakes. That means is the market. Socialism has no means at all to self-correct. That scores a point for capitalism. I’d like to find a damning criticism of the economic calculation argument but so far I have failed to do so. Perhaps a reader of this blog can help.

    Starting with individuals and the market is usually a good idea. Ending with individuals and the market with no other option can be problematic.

    Again, I’m pretty certain the economic calculation argument is correct. Otherwise I’m leaning towards individuals and the market, not limited to them. My views have changed and will likely change again.

  6. FWIW, there is a way out of paying taxes: voluntary poverty. If your income is below a certain amount, you do not have to pay income tax. If you spend your money only on essential food items, you will not have to pay sales tax. If you own no property, you do not have to pay property tax. That doesn’t have anything to do with anything, I’m just sayin’.

    More to the point: in order to survive you need space to live in, and food to eat. These things cost money. If you abstain from them, you will die. Payment for these things is not voluntary – these laws are enforced at gun point just like taxes. You don’t get to choose who owns the food you buy, or who owns the land you rent or buy. You don’t get to choose what these companies do with your money after you pay it to them. Libertarians (broadly speaking) accept this as a fact of capitalism. But many (I would guess most) do not accept the fact that governments own property and perform services we all benefit from and charge a fee for it whether we want to pay for it or not. It would be more accurate to say that “Some taxation is theft.” But I haven’t heard any libertarian take such a moderate position (it would likely get the disinvited from all the good laissez faire parties). (My position: both taxation and property may be theft, but theft is not the worst thing we have to worry about).

    “Capitalism has a weak, flawed means to self-correct when it makes mistakes. That means is the market. Socialism has no means at all to self-correct.”

    That capitalism is “self-correcting” is a dangerous fallacy, and one that has gotten us into terrible mess after terrible mess. It is a religious belief.

    If we assume that economic systems are not self-correcting, where does that leave us?

    The economic calculation argument is correct, so far as I can tell. But so what?

  7. KF: You are correct (and I was incorrect, or at least incomplete) to say there are ways out of paying taxes in the USA. Joining a religious order, or the military (?), might be other ways to not pay taxes. Or a life of “crime.”

    You quote me saying capitalism has a weak, flawed means to self-correct when it makes mistakes. Then you mis-quote me saying capitalism _is_ self-correcting. I stand by the former and reject the later.

    A system with no means to correct for error is like a bucket with a hole in it. It can hold water for quite some time, but eventually it runs out. Even the weakest fix is better than no fix at all. I think the economic calculation argument is correct, thus socialism is not an option. Only capitalism, for all its flaws, does better than nothing. It makes some measure of socialism possible, for one thing.

    I certainly have fewer answers than I used to.

  8. Trevor – I apologize for the mis-characterization, but must ask: what is the difference between being self-correcting and having a mechanism for self-correction? What does it even mean that capitalism is potentially self-correcting?

    Why is it important for “the system” to be self-correcting, as opposed to correctable? A bucket with a hole in it can be plugged, or replaced when someone notices a leak. No one expects buckets to fix themselves.

    “I think the economic calculation argument is correct, thus socialism is not an option.”

    See the essay “Who’s Afraid of Friedrich Hayek?”, linked elsewhere on this site, for why this is incorrect.

    If a price system makes “some measure of socialism possible” possible, why is socialism “not an option”?

  9. Capitalism can (sometimes) provide information about supply and demand via prices that can (sometimes) spur innovation (via profit) and (sometimes) auto-correct prices to make relations between supply and demand match the physical world. Capitalism provides a (sometimes) effective way to determine whether a goal is being met: profit. Is it better to build a farm or a school on a particular plot of land? Profit is one way to make that choice, and to measure if that choice should be amended.

    Capitalism can sometimes auto-correct. It does not always auto-correct. Prices can match supply and demand, or they can be out of sync (due to fads, or natural disasters, or innovations, or non-market forces like theft and government). I am doubtful that prices always adjust themselves to match supply and demand, but they do sometimes.

    I think the economic calculation argument article I linked to previously explains why socialism’s lack of self-correction is inherent and important better than I could.

    I’ve read the FH article you linked to and wasn’t convinced, but I will read it again.

    Capitalism makes places like food co-ops possible in the way that a greenhouse can allow rare flowers to grow in the arctic. That’s the measure of socialism that can exist, even thrive, in capitalism.

  10. Trevor – Ah, so you’re employing Rule # 2. Thank you for the clarification.

  11. BLASPHEMY!

    Hang and burn the unbeliever! This human sacrifice will please the market and it will shine its countenance and cheap goods upon us once again!

  12. I cannot understand the allure of the socialist notion to those who don’t find themselves of ardent supports of the government’s decisions.

    Because simply put – advocating socialism means prefering a world where the government would have more say over the the entire sphere of our social/material life (“the economy”).

    What have they done to deserve that trust?

    All yr hopes for what social good socialism will do are hopes.
    They have used the paradise planners scheme on you.

    Socialism is a scheme the government will weave – it will be agencies, staff reports, meetings, decisions, hearings, warehouses, kickbacks, lobbyists, enforcement, waiting rooms, policy.

    You won’t have more say in what that means or how it turns out than you do now – or have for the past decades – how is that going for us? how is that working out? they making the smart calls? they choosing the right shots?

    Why would you want them to have even more power over your life?

    Oh lord,
    If only all these greedy bad men could become good and just as angels so they could make the world happy and well. Would that be nice? Oh wouldn’t it?

  13. V: The government in is the in pocket of the rich and powerful, and make a number of either inept or deliberately malicious decisions. I’m certainly not going to deny that.

    At the moment I’m not recommending any specific course of action, beyond creating stricter laws regarding the behavior of the richest and most powerful interests in the US (banning complex derivatives, rolling back certain banking law liberalization), and expand the welfare state in the US. Is this socialism? If so, then yes I am a socialist. I’m not too worried that a few additional banking regulations is going to turn the US into China. On the contrary – the lack of our ability to manage our economy has put us into increasingly deeper debt to China.

    I also admit that my agenda is extremely unlikely under the present regime. Especially when when the very mention of banking regulations and universal health care still gets one tarred and feathered as a socialist.

  14. Okay, allocation of finite resources in an industrial or post-industrial economy is a legitimate problem, one which many current anarcho-socialists I know respond to by pointing out that civilization itself is bad for humanity, will ultimately destroy the conditions necessary for life to thrive on this planet, etc. And of course, on the small, sustainable scale, socialism works just fine. You don’t need ‘units’ to determine the efficacy of boar traps you built yourself out of resources you control yourself and which you use to feed yourself.

    Me, I like having computers and big warm houses and vehicles more complex than the horse-and-buggy or small sailboat, musical instruments that if built by individual craftsmen would require many dozens of hours of work to ultimately end up with an instrument that doesn’t play as well as the one I got off the assembly line. I like civilization and its opportunities, and I’m not personally of the opinion that we have to kill most of ourselves off and stop living in cities if we want to continue happily residing on this planet. I think we can fix this shit we’re in.

    That being said, I utterly fail to see how the economic calculation argument is IN ANY WAY relevant to the discussion of regulation of markets and advancement of the welfare state as proposed by social liberals. Nor does it in any way address the criticisms of capitalism.

    In regard to V’s concerns about state control over individual lives implied by the increased state control of the economy, I have a few quick points:

    There is a world of difference between the state making good use of economies of scale and the state arresting you for having discussions like these. The one does not imply the other. The US is not fundamentally more free than the vastly more socialist countries in western Europe. They pay more in taxes, they get more services, and economies of scale combined with reductions in the cost of opportunity make it profitable, as with other investments in infrastructure.

    In Europe, protesters frequently get what they want, and their politicians will at least make a show of considering their arguments on the merits. In the US, protesters get beaten and arrested. Who’s more free, the social liberals of Europe or the classical liberals of the US? And why is that? Could it be that regulatory structures making it more difficult to amass large fortunes also serve to protect individual and environmental freedoms in a world where government can be purchased?

    Does taxation and strict regulation amount to the re-allocation of resources? Absolutely. But not only is that acceptable, it is utterly necessary for the effective sustainable functioning of any (mostly) free society. Why? Because it allows a community to create an accounting for the elements that market capital does not effectively manage. It allows you to apply units of measurement to intangible resources and prevent monopoly power from disturbing not only the economy, but the individual freedoms we all prize.

  15. Trevor: Military members (I am one) are taxed, as are clergy.

  16. Klint, this post opened with some bullet points that sure seemed like you were anti-capitalist/pro-socialist.

    Perhaps I should address your “arguments” to capitalists cultists:

    1. Whether “market liberalization” works or not depends on whether the the market moves towards or away from reality. I.e. fascism (Chile), etc. distort reality (aka “the market”) while in the U.S.A. reality is so media managed that “market liberalization” means market manipulation – and really, the government/media/banks/society letting banks sell thin air for top dollar isn’t “market liberalization” it’s a fucking swindle.

    2. I don’t know enough about daily life in Norway or Venezuela to speak about the merits of citizen life in those countries but Venezuela’s Chavez is simply using oil $ to maintain support and further his pretty autocratic rule.
    Of course, please somebody who advocates the adoption political/economic system of another country – go live there!

    3. “When the government charges for its services (taxes), this is theft. When private enterprises charge for food and rent, this is just.”
    If salesmen imprisoned me with force of arms for not buying their product or giving them money it would be theft. Technically robbery. All government power is ultimately based on the bullet and the fact that the government has the right to use violence against you.
    The difference is a matter of choice or a matter of force.
    The market is about everybody making their own choices, socialism is about somebody making all the choices.

    4. “Theft is the worst crime known to man. It is a far worse that rich people are forced to pay taxes (if their accountants can’t get them out of it) than that poor children are allowed to go hungry.”
    I think childgangrapemurder is alot worse than theft.
    What infintisimal percentage of taxes goes towards child hunger? Puleaz!
    Let’s throw the blame around more – what sort of sin is it for you to drink beer and coffee when that money (and more, comrade) should go to charity. Why is any morally righteous person living at anything above the global per capita level of subsistence?
    I wish everybody who was so eager to give away everybody’s money would start with themselves.

    5. I won’t even bother with this one. I’m a Nazi babykiller, yr a pussy Maoist! blahblah

    6. Of the major economies of the world, the U.S. is probably the most capitalist of the bunch. It also has pervasive and increasing fascist and socialist tendencies, both of which are bad. The very premise of this country, its Constitution, premises a limited, divided, small government that will stay cabined within a limited sphere, outside of which will exist citizens free to make their own decisions about what is worth what and what is worth having. Our recent history (and communists/socialists in the 20s/30s and nazi/fascists in the 40s/50s and on) has modified that and America’s fall from its historical highwater can be directly attributed to the increased centralized control where select groups and people manipulate the economy and distort the market for private gain.

    7. “Even though Karl Marx literally wrote the book on capitalism, his very concept of capitalism is “flawed.” Capitalism doesn’t mean what Marx said it meant, it means whatever capitalists say it means. Therefore, his whole critique is invalid. Also: Stalin and Mao killed millions of their own people – therefore nothing Marx said was ever correct.”
    So according to you Hitler wrote the book on Jews? on struggle? Many of Marx’s critiques of capitalism are insightful and valid – but where’s that worker’s paradise I’ve heard about? How much are tickets there? Did they built it on the mass graves?
    I believe it is perfectly valid to critique the results of Marx’s thought manifesting in recent history. For example, the best socialist economic planners in the world seem to be the Chinese – you put people in a factory and grind them down to GNP.

    And Klint, you calling me a peasant? Yr the one preaching that if the lords would just start flexing their muscles on the merchants they would start treating the serfs right, and this ol’ world would be a swell place for everybody… nobody wanting for anything, the lamb laying down the lion, all lemonade and sunny days.
    THAT is peasant gelt talk with a long long long record of keeping peasant and lords in their places – the asker and the doer.
    Maybe you should consider taking away the lords privileges and ending the serfs restrictions – wouldn’t that be better?

  17. “Klint, this post opened with some bullet points that sure seemed like you were anti-capitalist/pro-socialist.”

    I might be, depending on who’s definition of capitalism and socialism we play with. That’s part of the point of this article.

    1. I have no idea what you’re trying to communicate.

    2. Love it or leave it! Yes! Still, what does this have to do with anything?

    4. OK, so you don’t think that theft is the worst crime in the world. That means you aren’t really a capitalist. You’re out of the cult. Sorry, no tequila shots with Anne Coulter for you!

    5. Satire just really isn’t your thing is it?

    6. Or nuance.

    7. “Many of Marx’s critiques of capitalism are insightful and valid.” – Yep, definitely out of the cult.

    As to your closing paragraph: way to put words into my mouth.

  18. V – I did notice an error in my original post, however. In # 7 I wrote “concept” when what I meant was “definition.” The argument being satirized, paraphrased: “What Marx was critiquing wasn’t REAL capitalism.”

  19. V:

    “Oh lord,
    If only all these greedy bad men could become good and just as angels so they could make the world happy and well. Would that be nice? Oh wouldn’t it?”

    Actually this is the argument of liberals, progressives, and libertarians. NOT socialists. You have a horrible misunderstanding of what socialism is. That’s your job to correct, not mine.

    “Of course, please somebody who advocates the adoption political/economic system of another country – go live there!”

    So move to Switzerland. Or New Hampshire. I’ll help you pack.

    “All government power is ultimately based on the bullet”

    All political power flows from the barrel of a gun. One of my favorite idiotic oversimplifications. You do know this came from the Stalinism Mao Zedong, yes? Again, I know that you hate any argument with the slightest whiff of nuance, but some might be in order here to avoid sounding like a 60’s campus radical.

    “The very premise of this country, its Constitution, premises a limited, divided, small government that will stay cabined within a limited sphere, outside of which will exist citizens free to make their own decisions about what is worth what and what is worth having.”

    Which was written over 200 years ago by men whose wealth and power was at least half derived from chattel slavery. And guess what? That matters. INB4 “ZOMFG YR SAYING FOUNDERZ WERE BAAAAAAD.” Nope. They were progressive revolutionaries. And they wrote a constitution by and for people of their own ilk- white male property owners. Let’s not bullshit ourselves into pretending they were great defenders of liberty in the sense that anyone here understands it.

    “Our recent history (and communists/socialists in the 20s/30s and nazi/fascists in the 40s/50s and on) has modified that and America’s fall from its historical highwater can be directly attributed to the increased centralized control where select groups and people manipulate the economy and distort the market for private gain.”

    PROTIP: Right wing rhetoric is not evidence. Provide some or shut your damn mouth. I might also advise you to not use dubious sources such as anti-Semitic Senators from the 30s, Alex Jones, or anyone who thinks the moon was built by Masons twenty minutes ago.

    “Yr the one preaching that if the lords would just start flexing their muscles on the merchants they would start treating the serfs right, and this ol’ world would be a swell place for everybody… nobody wanting for anything, the lamb laying down the lion, all lemonade and sunny days.”

    Again. Fundamental misunderstanding of socialism. Learn something. Come back. It might help to read something and attempt a critical evaluation, rather than just launching into a pre-emptive rant about the subject at hand. You’ll come off a lot less foolish anyway.

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