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Capitalism losing its allure

Written By: - Date published: 9:09 am, April 13th, 2009 - 36 comments
Categories: capitalism, polls, socialism - Tags:

soc-vs-cap1The capitalist doctrine sure has taken a beating lately. Not only have its raw excesses created a global crash which shows no signs of abating, not only has it been bailed out and propped up everywhere by nationalisation and trillion dollar taxpayer funded handouts, but now it seems that the people are starting to lose the faith. Even in the supposed bastion of the free market, America itself, the people just aren’t quite so sure any more:

Only 53% of American adults believe capitalism is better than socialism.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 20% disagree and say socialism is better. Twenty-seven percent (27%) are not sure which is better.

In an ever more worrying sign for capitalism “going forward” as they say:

Adults under 30 are essentially evenly divided: 37% prefer capitalism, 33% socialism, and 30% are undecided.

It’s not a very big sample size, (1,000 Adults conducted April 6-7), and you have to wonder what Americans understand by such vague terms as “capitalism” and “socialism”. But even so, I can’t imagine a survey result like this even one year ago.

36 comments on “Capitalism losing its allure ”

  1. Bill 1

    That the small sample shows USers preferring socialism to capitalism comes as no surprise when you take in to consideration that over 50% ( I think it was over 50%) of USers believe that ‘From each according to ability, to each according to need’ is from the US Constitution!

    Disillusion has always been there, and sure, has waxed and waned to a degree. As has the action/reaction flowing on from it. But what to do? What actions should we take? What goals should we seek? Are our options really only between those two orthodoxes of socialism and capitalism?

    Offer me the choice of NZ as a Parliamentary Representative Democracy catering to the market or ( we’ll go for one of the more benign options) a Castro Dictatorship (sans embargo) catering to the market, and….yup, I won’t freely choose either.

    And yet all discourse seems to be trapped in the either/or dichotomy of state socialism on the one hand and capitalism on the other.

    As expressed on another thread, the problem appears that we are blind to the underlying commonality of these two systems: both are market economy management systems. And the crux of the problem is the market.

    Why is the discussion not focussing on whether we continue with market economies rather than the pro’s and con’s of the management systems, both of which will always be abject failures given the built in values and dynamics of the market economy they seek to manage?

  2. RedLogix 2

    As expressed on another thread, the problem appears that we are blind to the underlying commonality of these two systems: both are market economy management systems. And the crux of the problem is the market.

    Almost all mainstream socialists address this with a mixed economy model. The real question is, ‘what mix?” It’s an old question. (Who was the NZ Minister of Finance who famously asked a group of students about whether we wanted to nationalise corner dairies?) In my view the the answer are not necessarily cut and dried but a good first order sort can be made by addressing these three questions:

    1. Is this a high risk or low risk enterprise? Is this naturally ‘too big to fail’? A natural monopoly that society as a whole cannot afford to be without, eg water, roading, telecoms, money supply must be retained in public ownership, if only because in the event a bailout is required, at least public monies don’t finish up lining private pockets.

    2. Is the scope of this enterprise local or global? The wider the scope the more likely that it should be a public enterprise. A corner dairy can fail without major consequence, a national airline, maybe not.

    3. Is the risk/return profile short or long term? Investments that demand multi-generational payoffs are usually best kept in public ownership. This for instance is why private companies build cars, governments build roads.

    • Bill 2.1

      Your three questions revolve around financial risk. But financial risk can only exist in a situation where money has intrinsic value. What gives money intrinsic value is the profit motive embedded in the market economy.

      And that gives rise to all sorts of destructive mischief such as recessions, depressions, not to mention a ridiculous concentration of power.

      In cultures where the token of exchange has no value in and of itself ( shells for example) only a wanker would seek to accumulate excess tokens or excess ‘things’ gotten in exchange for those tokens. There would be no incentives flowing from such behaviour such as political power or any enhanced social standing. In all probability, such a person would be viewed as some sort of sad weirdo.

      Take away the intrinsic value of money by abandoning the concept of the market economy and we can build all the railways, bridges, houses and water systems we want limited only by the availability of raw materials, desirability and available labour.

      With the market in place, exchange values and trade signals get twisted in to weird and (not so) wonderful shapes that hinder social production and by extension human well being.

      Top down decision making also hampers all the above, but that’s another although not unconnected matter.

  3. djp 3

    Both those cartoons show the initiation of force.. pure capitalism does not have the initiation of force whereas socialism does (usually state mandated).

    I am sure the US public are getting sick of what currently masquerades as capitalism these days.

    At a most basic level I think capitalism is simply something along the lines of “I get to do what I want with my stuff”… most people can resonate with that sentiment

    • Pascal's bookie 3.1

      Like many, you don’t seem to get that defining ‘my stuff’ isn’t as straight forward as you might think. there is an enormous amount of force hiding behind that phrase dj.

      edit: what waldo said.

  4. waldo 4

    of course capitalism requires force – the system of property rights that underlies capitalism could not exist without the coercive power of the State.

    The cartoon is clearly anti all statism, socialist and capitalist.

    • Felix 4.1


      They don’t like to see it as coercion unless it conflicts with their interests. Until it does, it’s out of sight, out of mind.

      And now you’ll have to spend the rest of the day walking them through your statement. In baby steps. Again.

  5. djp 5

    Well you could be right waldo, of course you could also say that the system of personal rights could not exist without the coercive power of the State.

    I would say that personal (and property) rights are not existent because of the exclusive power we give to the state but simply supposed to be protected by the power of the state.

    Is there the threat of force behind the statement “do not molest me”? No more so then “do not take my food/house/clothing/money”

    Capitalism arose out of common law.. taken to the logical extreme socialism and feudalism have no difference in their power structure

    anyhow.. felix! watch out you dont get too smug or you may lose the ability to walk.. or sit comfortably

    • Felix 5.1

      I would say that personal (and property) rights are not existent because of the exclusive power we give to the state but simply supposed to be protected by the power of the state.

      I would agree entirely. Without some mechanism for enforcing (protecting) them, any rights are just ideas about how we think things should be. That goes for property, personal, human or any other kind of rights we might want to make up. Of course, some do insist that there are such things as “god-given” rights, but until a god starts enforcing them it seems reasonable to question the authority of such a god to bestow them in the first place.

      • Paul Walker 5.1.1

        “Without some mechanism for enforcing (protecting) them, any rights are just ideas about how we think things should be”

        The question Felix is, Does this mechanism have to be the state? I give one example that suggests it doesn’t here and another two examples here.

        • Felix

          Most of us believe that some form of democratic selection is an essential element of a legitimate government. Would you agree?

          The reason I ask is that in your first example of 18th century Caribbean pirates you recognise this, indeed this idea is central to the entire article.

          The other two examples you give are a commercial entity where seats in government are bought and a hierarchical religious order – both profoundly anti-democratic institutions.

          I’m not sure you can use all of those examples to make the same point and still claim to hold democratic principles.

          • Paul Walker

            My point was not about democracy as such. It was about the fact that rights can be enforced without the state. All three examples show this, even if we don’t like the particular mechanism used to do the enforcement. After all there are many states who enforce rights which we would also not like.

          • Felix

            Of course rights can be enforced without a state, who ever argued that they couldn’t? The question is one of preference.

            Do you prefer democratic control over whatever enforcement mechanism is used? If so your last two examples are very weak.

          • Paul Walker

            “Of course rights can be enforced without a state, who ever argued that they couldn’t?”

            Actually almost everyone. It is one of the standard arguments for the state.

            The example of Japan isn’t one of much in the way of democracy, but it is one of competition. What in effect occurred was that “government services” were provided not by central government but in a competition market by private suppliers. This private provision was effective enough to allow economic growth to take place. The medieval Iceland example is one of democracy, it just doesn’t mention that in what I wrote.

            Do I want democratic control over whatever enforcement mechanism is used? Like Saddam Hussein’s democracy in Irag? Don’t much care for that. Competition among providers may be better than democracy. Competition and democracy may be even better still. It depends on what democracy actually means in practice.

          • Felix

            What a load of dross. Anyone with the power to do so can enforce “rights”, that much is self evident. If you find someone who disagrees with that then argue it with them.

            From there on you’re simply arguing preference. If you want to keep providing examples of anti-democratic systems and try to convince people that they’re a valid alternative, good luck.

            To recap, so far you’ve come up with buying and selling parliamentary seats (awesome) and medieval religious hierarchy (brilliant).

            And you’re comparing them not with well-run democracy, but with the corrupt, nepotistic regime of Saddam Hussein (sensible).

            I suggest you might want to look at feudalism next, but I won’t be joining you.

            Good luck with your crusade, brave warrior.

          • Paul Walker

            You should realize that if you can enforce your rights, without competition to doing so, then you are the state. To a large degree that is what the state is, a monopoly provider of force to enforce, or not as the case may be, rights. You get non-state enforcement of rights only when there is competition in the “rights business”. What the three examples I gave show is such competitive provision of rights enforcement is possible. Democracy is another issue. As to whether democracy is a help or not to rights enforcement depends on the form and institutions of the democracy. What you want is free individuals, free markets, free trade, free thinking, and institutions that support all of the above and democracy can help in achieving this, but by itself it can not guarantee doing so. There are too many examples of states with “democracy” but without free anything to be able to say that democracy is the one and only answer to rights enforcement. Political scientist Brad Taylor gives a nice description of democracy here

    • Quoth the Raven 5.2

      djp – I think there is a lot of talking over each other and a misunderstanding of the concepts here. It’s perfectly understandable because in common discourse these words capitalism, socialism, free market, property rights are so misused. Captialism can be defined in different ways but I prefer to use the original meaning of capitalism before people like Ayn Rand started redefining for there own purposes. When people like Rand say capitalism they mean it in the sense of the free market something as yet unattained. Capitalism to others is not the free market because it inherently involves state interference in the market. If you think the system we currently have is capitalism then you’d have to concede that capitalism is not the free market. Capitalism is a product of the state, granting privileges and interfering in the market on behalf of the capitalists.
      Socialism is an even worse word to define. I prefer not to use the word at all. The only thing you could say is that self-described “socialists” have some things in common. What’s important though is that socialism is not synonymous with state socialism. Many socialists are anarchists or libertarians. Socialism does not always mean opposition to the market. In fact many socialists throughout history have been supporters of a free market. Coercion is what the state does and so if you accept the second definition of capitalism it is capitalism and not necessarily socialism that is coercive. There is a good article here on the different definitions of capitalism: Anarquistas por La Causa and here is a discussion on the definition of socialism: Socialist Definitional Free-for-All: Part I and Socialist Definitional Free-for-All, Part II
      I think this quote is good and relates to the picture:

      Let’s postulate two sorts of robbery scenarios.
      In one, a lone robber points a gun at you and takes your cash. All libertarians would recognize this as a micro-example of any kind of government at work, resembling most closely State Socialism.
      In the second, depicting State Capitalism, one robber (the literal apparatus of government) keeps you covered with a pistol while the second (representing State-allied corporations) just holds the bag that you have to drop your wristwatch, wallet and car keys in. To say that your interaction with the bagman was a “voluntary transaction’ is an absurdity. Such nonsense should be condemned by all libertarians. Both gunman and bagman together are the true State.

      On the issue of propety rights it must be understood that property rights are not an absolute and that there are different definitions of what is a legitimate right to property. One person’s property rights may be illegitmate to another.

  6. dean 6

    “Is there the threat of force behind the statement “do not molest me’? No more so then “do not take my food/house/clothing/money”

    but those statements aren’t capitalism.

    in capitalism the capitalist has a right to the product of the use of the capital over which he has ownership rights. Those rights will be guaranteed and enforced by the state. capitalism, like any system, backs up rights with force. without force behind them, rights are nothing but words,like felix says, and someone with force can ignore them.

    if there wasn’t a state, then control over property would fall to whoever had the power to keep it from others who would have it. again, the ‘right’ over property is actually only the ability to stop anyone else taking it away. That argument can be extended to rights more broadly – we like the fiction that rights are inherent or inalienable but in fact they only exist so long as the right holder or someone else has the ability to stop them being infringed or force reparation/retribution when they are infringed.

  7. Brett Dale 7

    As long as there are people who believe that you should make it on your own and no one owns no one else a living, then capitalism will survive.

  8. The situation is more complex than you suggest. I try to explain why here.

    Also Dean argues that “Those rights will be guaranteed and enforced by the state”. But they don’t have to be. I give an interesting example of where rights are enforced without the state here.

  9. Peter 9

    The captions are the wrong way around.

    Socialism – well, the US version – is doing its bit to ensure the US remains in a bust for a lot longer than is necessary.

    What they should not be doing is creating money out of thin air. Because they can’t. We’ve tried Keynesian economics in Japan. It failed there, too.

    The market will work it out, if they let it.

    • Quoth the Raven 9.1

      What they’re doing in the US doesn’t even approach socialism of any creed. What they’re doing has been criticised time and again by those who call themselves socialists. What they’re doing is the epitome of capitalism – interfering in the market to benefit the rich at the expense of everyone else. Private gains social losses

  10. eldo 10

    a right without power is no right at all

  11. Lew 11

    Those numbers are fucking scary.


  12. Pascal's bookie 12

    Wuss 🙂

    Must say though, that I’m finding the new Fox ‘ganda interesting.

    ‘Inflammatory rhetoric’ is usually a metaphor right?

    More thoughts from Digby here.

    I think I’ll have to start reading Dave Niewert’s blog again.

  13. If individuals have no right to control their own bodies and the fruit of their own minds (property) then they cannot exist, except as slaves. Capitalism in its purist form defends the individual’s right to decide what to do with one’s own body, and as the extension of the acts of your body and mind, your property – which humans need for survival.

    You either believe that adults should interact voluntarily or not. Socialism does not, capitalism does. However, capitalism is not about evading reality. Reality is that to survive human beings must use their minds and produce for themselves or to trade with others, or sell their time (minds and bodies) in exchange for money, or convince others to give money/property to them.

    Socialism (and all other statists) approve of using force. Pure capitalists believe people should be convinced first.

    • Chris G 13.1

      Pure capitalists believe people should be convinced first.

      Spose thats what Dubya thought when he told everyone Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

    • Quoth the Raven 13.2

      LibertyScott – Read my comment above on the definitions of capitalism and socialism and follow the links. You are conflating state socialism with other trends in socialism. I think you’re definition of capitalism is mistaken (merely a semantic/historical quibble though). I believe in voluntary society like you do, as do many of those that call themselves socialists. I believe in a voluntary society and that is why I am an anarchist, that’s why I support a free market and since I support a free-market I am an anti-capitalist.

      • The Baron 13.2.1

        I’m intrigued Raven… how exactly do you describe your beliefs then? Sounds almost anarco-capitalist: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anarcho_capitalist

        • Quoth the Raven

          I don’t like to add any adjectives just plain anarchist. I’m quite influenced by the left libertarians. As I said the anti-capitalism is merely a semantic and historical issue of which I’ve taken one side, the side I believe to be correct. Rothbard I believe came up with anarcho-capitalism. Rothbard had some great ideas – in the sixties and seventies at least – but I believe him to be mistaken in using the word capitalism. Just because I support a free market does not mean that I hold market forces up as some divine faultless thing as some seem to though.

          • Tane

            Rothbard? Dude, the guy’s a nutbar. Have you read his stuff about privatising the police force?

            [Disclaimer: I haven’t followed this thread. Just noticed Rothbard in your comment while I was in the backend]

    • Tane 13.3


      The fundamental argument between capitalism and socialism is about control of property, not bodies. Private property ownership, and the right to behave as a fascist dictator on your own property and to those whose labour you have hired, is “capitalism in its purest form”.

      Through the accumulation of property capitalism concentrates power into the hands of those with economic resources and creates systems of coercion of its own. Indeed, the entire system of property ownership capitalism relies on is based on state coercion.

      The rest of your talking points simply reflect the mythology that the beneficiaries of capitalism have created to justify the current economic system.

  14. Quoth the Raven 14

    Tane – I did qualify it with some great ideas and in the sixties and senventies. On the issue of the privatisation there is private and there is private. As Roderick Long says:

    Another is so-called “privatization,” not in the term’s original sense of a transfer of services from government provision to free-market provision, but in what has come to be the prevailing sense of a conferral of governmental privilege and patronage — subsidies, monopolies, and the like — on private contractors. To the Rothbardian, far from stripping government of some of its powers, such “privatization” simply transforms private firms into arms of the state.

    So Rothbard wouldn’t have supported the kind of privatisation that the neo-liberals and conservatives in National and Act support. Rothbard’s ideas on privatisation (in the sixties at least) are miles away from the vulgar ideas of say the National party or Douglas or mentally deficient batshit crazy Randians. Rothbard’s idea of privatising the police would be more like devolution of services to the community level. In Confiscation and the Homestead Principle Rothbard discussed privatisation:

    Take, for example, the State universities. This is property built on funds stolen from the taxpayers. Since the State has not found or put into effect a way of returning ownership of this property to the taxpaying public, the proper owners of this university are the “homesteaders”, those who have already been using and therefore “mixing their labor” with the facilities. The prime consideration is to deprive the thief, in this case the State, as quickly as possible of the ownership and control of its ill-gotten gains, to return the property to the innocent, private sector. This means student and/or faculty ownership of the universities.

    and he most interestingly he goes on:

    The same principle applies to nominally “private” property which really comes from the State as a result of zealous lobbying on behalf of the recipient. Columbia University, for example, which receives nearly two-thirds of its income from government, is only a “private” college in the most ironic sense. It deserves a similar fate of virtuous homesteading confiscation.

    But if Columbia University, what of General Dynamics? What of the myriad of corporations which are integral parts of the military-industrial complex, which not only get over half or sometimes virtually all their revenue from the government but also participate in mass murder? What are their credentials to “private” property? Surely less than zero. As eager lobbyists for these contracts and subsidies, as co-founders of the garrison state, they deserve confiscation and reversion of their property to the genuine private sector as rapidly as possible. To say that their “private” property must be respected is to say that the property stolen by the horsethief and the murdered [sic] must be “respected”.

    But how then do we go about destatizing the entire mass of government property, as well as the “private property” of General Dynamics? All this needs detailed thought and inquiry on the part of libertarians. One method would be to turn over ownership to the homesteading workers in the particular plants; another to turn over pro-rata ownership to the individual taxpayers. But we must face the fact that it might prove the most practical route to first nationalize the property as a prelude to redistribution. Thus, how could the ownership of General Dynamics be transferred to the deserving taxpayers without first being nationalized enroute? And, further more, even if the government should decide to nationalize General Dynamics—without compensation, of course—per se and not as a prelude to redistribution to the taxpayers, this is not immoral or something to be combatted. For it would only mean that one gang of thieves—the government—would be confiscating property from another previously cooperating gang, the corporation that has lived off the government.

    And more interesting ideas from him; in sixties he saw as did the New Left the New Deal for what it was a corporatist rort. I’ll quote:

    Every element in the New Deal program: central planning, creation of a network of compulsory cartels for industry and agriculture, inflation and credit expansion, artificial raising of wage rates and promotion of unions within the overall monopoly structure, government regulation and ownership, all this had been anticipated and adumbrated during the previous two decades. And this program, with its privileging of various big business interests at the top of the collectivist heap, was in no sense reminiscent of socialism or leftism; there was nothing smacking of the egalitarian or the proletarian here. No, the kinship of this burgeoning collectivism was not at all with socialism-communism but with fascism, or socialism-of-the-right, a kinship which many big businessmen of the twenties expressed openly in their yearning for abandonment of a quasi-laissez-faire system for a collectivism which they could control . Both left and right have been persistently misled by the notion that intervention by the government is ipso facto leftish and antibusiness.

    So you see he did have some interesting ideas and wasn’t all that crazy.

  15. Chris G- GW Bush never claimed to be nor ever was a laissez-faire capitalist.

    Quoth the Raven- Ah well you DO have an interesting perspective, the difference is probably in the philosophy behind it, but all power to you supporting voluntary adult interaction!

    Tane-” Private property ownership, and the right to behave as a fascist dictator on your own property and to those whose labour you have hired, is “capitalism in its purest form’. No it is not. You cannot be a fascist dictator, you have no right to initiate force against individuals who you allowed onto your property, you have no right to breach any contract or commit criminal acts against individuals whose labour you have hired.

    Voluntary adult interaction is the key.

    Individuals accumulate property because they have created wealth or convinced others to give it to them. “Capitalism” doesn’t do it, it is done through individuals trading value for value. Of course property must be defended. If there is no such thing as private property rights, human beings are slaves to the law of the jungle where “might is right” and you are subject to people stealing from you or using your property. Property is simply the fruit of your own labour.

    Of course if you take the Marxist view that property is theft, as you apparently do, then presumably you think some institution should control all property, which is of course just a collection of individuals.

    What would you do instead Tane? Who do you think should own the proceeds of an individual’s efforts?

    • Maynard J 15.1

      Interestingly enough, LS, you made an agument for property rights, but then added in the “Private” parts (so to speak) without justifying why they must be “private” after all.

      James – don’t waste your time either.

  16. James 16

    Don’t waste your time Scott…..you are the only one here arguing from a consistent,non contradictory position,….the others are mixing terms and attacking strawmen….which they have to as they can’t deal with your points.

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