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Should Libertarians Oppose “Capitalism”?

Excellent post by Bryan Caplan, Should Libertarians Oppose “Capitalism”?, arguing against Sheldon Richman’s contention that we libertarians should not only not use “capitalism” as a synonym for favoring free markets, but that we should say we oppose “capitalism,” because of the term’s connotation of the historical collusion between business and the state.

I have myself for years now preferred the term anarcho-libertarian instead of anarcho-capitalist, mostly because libertarianism is about more than just free markets. But to the extent capitalism means the private ownership of the means of production–and I think this is a defensible meaning still–it is of course libertarian. We can expect any advanced libertarian society to be “capitalist” in that it would have an industrial, productive economy where the means of production is privately owned, characterized by the division and specialization of labor (see my post Rothbard on Self-Sufficiency and the Division of Labor). In my view we should certainly be in favor of free markets and not adopt instead other terms like “market liberal” or “freed market”. I’m not sure what term best describes us–we favor peace, cooperation. Perhaps Henry Hazlitt’s proffered term, “cooperatism,” is a good one. I think it best to use capitalism to refer to a catallactic aspect of the libertarian, free society, while making it clear that we oppose corporatism and business-state collusion, and use free market or libertarian to describe our preferred socio-political order.

But, in my view, we certainly should not say we are opposed to capitalism (and we most certainly should not say we are for “socialism,” as some left-libertarians propose!). Just as saying we are “capitalist” might imply pro-corporatist sentiments if we are not careful, saying you are against capitalism would imply you have left-libertarian sentiments such as hostility to corporations, “bossism,” and like–which may be a subset of libertarianism but is certainly not necessary to libertarianism. We are neither left nor right; we are libertarian.




Stephan Kinsella

Stephan Kinsella is an attorney in Houston, director of the Center for the Study of Innovative Freedom, and editor of Libertarian Papers.

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