Many of the people that I associate with love the ideas of free market capitalism. Whether free market capitalism has ever existed and whether it could exist is another article. This article is about why its easy for many people to hate capitalism.
When chatting with libertarians, one tends to be lulled into a false sense of “all common sense says that capitalism is great so why do so many intellectuals think otherwise?” In reality intellectual libertarians are a minority among intellectuals on the right, intellectuals on the right are a minority of intellectuals and intellectuals are a minority of the population. Reality has firmly established that the die-hard libertarian movement in London can fit into the upstairs of a pub on a Thursday night but have libertarians spent enough time asking why that is the case?
There are a few ways to look at this, one is by pathologising libertarians and the other by examining the institutions that exist in society which propagate anti-capitalist thought. I’ll spend more time on the latter since I don’t believe the former is particularly flattering to my fellow libertarians.
Brian Micklethwait is a person that I would call a libertarian intellectual (though he may shy from calling himself that). He wrote an article recently on what libertarians agree about. His article was illuminating, but the reaction to his article was almost as telling, in my opinion. I took from his article that libertarians are people that want to do and think what they want without any need for forcibly applied diktats or threat of force. What I took from the reaction to his article is that “libertarians” don’t agree on much at all! This, I think, is the hardcoded flaw of a “libertarian movement”. Since rules written by someone else are an anathema to libertarians, anything more complex than meeting at a pub becomes a fractious maze of coalitions between hundreds thousands and eventually millions of one member parties.
Regardless of Libertarian progress towards consensus (or lack thereof)and self organisation, the left is pushing forward and firmly embedded in the most vocal and psychologically powerful institutions in the society. Intellectuals in the media, academic institutions and the government bureaucracy are predominantly leftward leaning and in opposition to capitalism. While I could easily fill many pages with the routine attacks on capitalism by these institutions I’ll will instead argue that these institutions in and of themselves (by their very existence) teaching people to be socialist.
I’ll start with the media. Love it or hate it, Britain watches the BBC. In any single year, nearly every Briton will be exposed to Auntie. It might be the radio and it might be the website but it has a high chance of being the television. Content aside, the foundation of why the BBC exists is the principle that everybody with a device that watches live TV (even if it is not the BBC) is forced to pay for the programming on the BBC. If you watch Sky1 live, if you watch Comedy Central live, even if you watch Zee TV live, you must pay for Eastenders and Blue Planet. I would pay all of my licence fee directly to Sir David for his merely existing on this blue and green planet but neither me nor you ever get to make that choice. Even the recent kerfuffle between the Tories and the BBC is not about abolishing the TV licence but reapportioning it to other media houses. The right leaning party still want to take the money, they just want to start paying their own media platforms which will be more sympathetic to their particular political slant. The principles of socialism are indoctrinated into the largest media institution in the UK: Everyone must pay for what the elite insiders decide to show.
Academia is another system where people feel entitled to a service. Britain’s tuition fees are heavily subsidised and students quite vocally flinch whenever they feel slightly more exposed to actual market prices. It is significant because this is the institution that, outside of the family, begins to set the precedents for life. To impressionable young minds, the four walls of the classroom is literally their world: This world has a single un-elected benevolent leader; a society of equals; common resources; a syllabus decided elsewhere; automatic and fixed progression. Rewards and punishment are doled out based on the leader’s evaluations of effort and merit. Once within the enclave of an institution, everyone is offered a more or less equal opportunity within that bubble and everyone suffers similar hardships at the same time. Schools are so different from society that some people almost never leave! Perhaps this goes to the heart of the matter? Schools reward intellectuals while society seems to rewards celebrities and businessmen some of whom didn’t finish college. After years of progress and rewards the intelligent student is presented with this society’s version of capitalism: a system that rewards you based on gender, height, attractiveness, network connections, inheritance, luck or past crimes. It’s a system that is sometimes unfair, uncertain, predatory and filled with inequalities, a stark contrast to the school environment. Without a gimmick, a good set of peers or some insight (which they probably didn’t get from the classes) the academic leaves decades of a “good” (socialist) system to a “bad capitalist” system. Again, the socialist system is ingrained in academia and in the minds of developing minds.
Then there is government: The government is a system that “works” (debatable!) because of the benevolence of tax payers. It is pseudo-benevolent, of course, because when push comes to shove, there are tax collectors, police officers and prison cells (that one get shoved into) that ensure that tax payers remain as benevolent as they can legally position themselves. The government hates tax avoidance but at the same time enjoys being paid by tax avoiders to help them avoid paying taxes. A bird in hand is worth twenty trillion in the Caribbean the old saying goes. Regardless: both sides of the false dichotomy love the concept of taking everyone’s money so that they can decide what to do with it. The right love it of course because unlike their monarchical grandpapas, they don’t have to spend their own money on wars or castles. Many governments of the world are no longer based on such right wing principles as “divine right”, “tradition” or “you keep what you kill“. Existing right wing government officials hopefully admit that it was easy for the right to embrace capitalism since their exploitative pasts left them with a lot of capital. The leftist part of the government love taxation because they believe that they know how best to spend tax payers money. The opposite is true. While the left is rightly not trusted on the economy, leftist taxpayers would rather the country go broke than have rich people get richer. In the narrative of “have and have nots”, leftist governments will continue to have (both salaries and jobs) because their electorate (due to taxation and legislation) have not. Both left and right of the government and both elected and unelected members of government are able to live comfortably thanks to the “donations” of tax payers. Politicians and their families remain the most successful beneficiaries of taxes, more than refugees single moms and people put out of work due to the flagging economy.
A growing addition to this group of socialist institutions is the financial sector. While many significant numbers of economists and to a lesser extent intellectuals have faith in market dynamics, the actual financial sector has proven itself not to have this same faith. With cartels, cronyism, collective bargaining, backdoor deals, revolving doors into government, lobbyists and bailouts, capitalism in the financial sector is becoming less and less obvious. Banks are in fact more entitled to taxpayer money than a person in trouble or down on their luck! The blatant lack of capitalism in financial institutions is an interesting article unto itself. I’ll leave it there for now.
The task is daunting for a freedom oriented individual. Not only must they overcome the libertarian tendency to be anti-establishment but also a wider society that speaks, thinks and acts from a perspective of intellectualised socialist entitlements. From my point of view, the libertarians will need to orgnaise themselves just enough to concretely advocate the need for large institutions to become less organised. We must prove that media, academia and government benefit from decentralisation and that the few beneficiaries of current centralised models could derive even more benefit from free market models. This will mean successful high quality media content and organisations; schools, academies and tertiary institutions that appropriately exchange goods for needed service in a free way; and leadership based on consenting and voluntary contribution with appropriate compensation. Laissez-Faire insitutions are inherently benevolent because they emphasise individual freedom to progress (or not) at their own pace and prerogative. People and institutions are free to succeed and fail and others are free to help them as much or as little as they are able. Freedom to speak, freedom to learn, freedom to help, freedom to succeed, freedom to be: Isn’t that enough of a reason to love capitalism?