What is Capitalism?


What is Capitalism?  It seems like a fairly straight-forward question, at least around these parts.  For most people on the right, if you ask them to picture Capitalism the skyline of Hong Kong will pop into their minds – or Ron Paul, as a symbol of Libertarian freedom – or the advanced technologies of the information age, perhaps.  For those on the left, however (and I mean the intelligent, hardworking liberals who believe in equality – not the Leftoids who run the whole show), they envision suited cronies passing around favours; the perpetually destitute, being foreclosed on by banks; the race to the bottom, as companies compete to see who can manufacture the shoddiest products.

What we have here is a failure to communicate.

Neither group can be really be called “wrong” – not unless you’re trying to live in a right-wing bubble as ignominious as the Leftoids we criticize.  The people who describe Capitalism negatively are simply defining the word in a different way from those on the right.  Keep in mind, these aren’t 1950s communists, whitewashing the crimes of the Soviet Union – these are decent people who are pointing out real – not imagined – flaws in this collapsing civilization.

So with that in mind, I think it’s a topic worth revisiting.

Capitalism ≠ Economic Theory

This is a mistake we on the right often make; we say the word Capitalism, when what we mean is Economic Theory.  Capitalism is an applied sociopolitical system, while Economic Theory is just that – a scientific theory based upon the observed laws of aggregate human behaviour, and an attempt to explain and predict future behaviour.  Economics just is – in the same way the theory of gravity just is, and it applies in all situations where there are exchanges going on within a complex system.

  • It exists in multiplayer video games,
  • It exists in predator/prey populations,
  • It exists within large companies,
  • It exists inside Communist countries.

Essentially what we have here is the failure to make an is/ought distinction: Economic Theory simply describes how things are, while Capitalism says how they ought to be.

That said, once you have arrived at an ought in the sociopolitical realm, Economic Theory usually has something to say; and this is where the left and the right come into conflict.  Quite frankly, Economic Theory is something that people on the right are far more familiar with than those on the left, and as any advanced science, its got some weird stuff to say.

Economic Theory is Deep Magic

Most sciences are self-evident in retrospect; that is, once you understand the principles underlying their conclusions, it’s hard to imagine how the world could be otherwise.  Prior to learning the principles, however, science can be downright counter-intuitive.  For instance, it’s pretty self-evident that objects fall at 9.80665 m/s2; all you have to do is drop an object and watch it accelerate, and yet for thousands of years nobody noticed this.  Up until Sir Isaac Newton came up with his laws of motion in the 17th century, they thought that objects fell at a constant rate – and that’s just kinematics.  When you start getting to the advanced stuff such like Relativity, understanding why you can’t travel faster than the speed of light needs more than just casual study.

Economics is no different.  It is both a fundamental aspect of reality, and it can be extremely counter-intuitive on the advanced-levels.  Even worse, because it is such a politicized field, there are armies of Yes Men whose primarily job is to justify policy, rather than advise it.  These are men who use esoteric terms to confuse their audience, while offering the comfort of an Appeal to Authority: “Don’t worry, folks, the experts have it well in hand!” The proper term for these people is Voodoo Economists.

Source: Futurama 4ACV16, “Three Hundred Big Boys”

Given that I find black magic repulsive, let’s ignore these snake-oil salesmen, and concentrate on a couple of important economic lessons which are theologically sound:

1. “People Respond to Incentives” aka “Do Not Feed the Bears”

This is a fairly basic assertion, and yet it has some implications which most people choose to ignore.  Most people realize that the less you charge for something, the more that people will consume, but they only view it along the two dimensions of supply and demand – they completely ignore the third axis of time.

Lowering the price of any particular good doesn’t just change the aggregate behaviour of consumers at the present moment – it changes their habits going into the future.  This is something we’ve seen repeatedly with gas prices: as the gas prices go up, people start to commit to long-term purchases of fuel efficient vehicles.  They’re not just choosing to postpone their road-trip today – they’re committing to future habits for the next several years.  Markets mature over time, and adapt to the circumstances.

This maturation of markets is what leads to the saying “If you want more of it, subsidize it; if you want less of it, tax it.” Have you noticed that College tuition is exorbitantly expensive these days?  That’s because it was subsidized.  At t=1, a $1000 bursary benefits the students who are presently attending post-secondary; at t=1+x, there are now more students competing to get in, and the Colleges responds by raising tuition rates, since more seats haven’t opened up.  Keep this up for long enough (say, about 50 years or so) and College winds up becoming so expensive, that if a student chooses the wrong degree – say, computer programming, back before Indian programmers bottomed-out the market – they wind up massively in debt, with no ability to pay it off.

Or, we can look to the case of charity: subsidize it and you’ll get more of it.

This is the part liberals balk at, because it sounds mean, heartless, and cruel – and yet economics is just economics.  It’s no different than explaining to a child that drinking bleach will kill them.

When it comes to charity, we need to ask ourselves: is this a one time event, or an ongoing subsidy?  On the one hand, if you have a single disastrous event – say an earthquake, flood, or war – the desperate refugees that come out of it will need comfort an aid; basic human charity dictates that we do what we can to help them.  If, on the other hand, what you have is a systemic problem – such as poverty in Africa, for instance – charity will do the exact opposite of what you’re trying do.  This is when you need to start thinking economically.  Feeding the bears will cause massive boom/bust cycles in the bear population, because they’ll grow dependent upon humans, and it’s no different with Africans – it’s all economics.  Sending monthly charity to Africa encourages dependence, and can even undermine local entrepreneurs: free food and free clothing puts farmers and tailors out of business, and those people are the basic building blocks of an economy.

You might feel good, engaging in this sort of systemic charity, but all you’re actually doing is hurting people.  That’s not my opinion, that’s not right-wing cynicism, that’s a fact derived from iron-hard economic law.

2. The Pareto Principle

This was a concept introduced by the Economist Vilfredo Pareto at the turn of the last century, and it can be summed up as “80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes,” aka the 80-20 Rule.

This is not just in economics; this is not just in Capitalist societies; this ratio appears in all things.

  • 20% of a firms customers will provide 80% of their revenue,
  • 20% of a plant’s leaves produce 80% of its energy,
  • 20% of a generation will produce 80% of the next generation,
  • And, yes, 20% of the people will hold all the wealth.

This is something I covered in my article “There Will Always Be a 1%“; what this boils down to is that, even in a perfect Communist system, “Some workers will be more equal than others.” There will always be an elite: whether it’s aristocrats, CEOs, or Commissars, they ain’t going anywhere: fighting against the 1% is like fighting against the tide.

Ask not, “How can we achieve equality?” Equality is a chimera – we’re never going to have it.  Instead, channel Karl Marx for a moment and ask yourself, “Who?  Whom?” This “equality” that’s being talked about – whether it’s the rich paying their fair share, or affirmative action to overcome a privileged class – is never going to happen; accept it.  But somebody’s going to make a profit out of this whole equality movement; who could that be?

If you think it’s the middle class or the underprivileged, you’re not thinking hard enough.  All you’re doing is shuffling pieces around the board.  You might be shifting power from the privileged to the underprivileged – or money from the rich to the poor – but neither of these groups are part of the 20%.  Race-baiting political arguments never address the 20% at the top, who have 80% of the influence – all they do is shift power around amongst the 80% of the population (white and black) who have 20% of the power.

Qui bono?  Give that question some serious thought.

The Problem with Capitalism

At this point, you might be saying: “But what about the Golden Parachutes?  What about the crony-capitalism?  What about the lobbying industry?”

Here’s the thing: us Capitalists on the right are trying desperately to fight them!

The irony of the word Capitalism is that it was coined by Karl Marx as an attack on the system in Britain; back in the 19th Century nobody but Communists used such a term, a term derived from hatred of the Capitalists who owned the means of production (remember the Pareto Principle, 20% of people will always own 80% of the means of production, if not through property law than through political influence); and yet, this term which was supposed to insult countries that embraced free-market economics, wound up being embraced by them instead.  Free-market economies are – overall – such a roaring success, and they’ve seen such a dramatic increase in the standard of living, that Free-marketers embrace the insult.

Yet none of those critiques mentioned above are considered “Capitalism” by its adherents; quite to the contrary, they’re considered to be the results of socialist interventions which undermine the purity of a market economy, and they are very much modern problems.

Now ain’t that funny – Capitalism has two different definitions, depending on who’s using it.  When somebody on the right uses it, they mean the freedom from being bullied by a commissar; when the left uses it, they mean plutocrats who buy their way into power.

What, you think that’s a bug?  No, that’s a feature.  The breakdown in communication is part of the system.

To call oneself a Capitalist is to assert that Economics is a true science; it’s making a descriptive statement about reality, not a normative one.  In fact, the vast majority of self-titled Capitalists do not place wealth at the top of the pyramid of virtues.

Economics exists to analyze complex systems; it is present within all of them.  It can help you build an efficient baby-bottle factory, or an efficient death camp; like all science, it is inherently amoral.  It is up to us, then, to implement it in a system which is founded upon moral principles; a society which recognizes humans as ends in themselves, not as means to be manipulated.  This, I think, is what liberals are angry about – that we’ve been reduced to means, to satisfy the ends of an irresponsible elite who are shirking their duty.

Socialist — Capitalist
Occupussy — Teabagger
Nanny State — War Machine

They are two sides of the same coin!


All of that said, I ask that you consider the past 50 years of history: which side has been winning?  Over a 50 year time-line,

  • Do any minority groups have less legally-sanctioned rights than 50 years ago?
  • Have taxes decreased?
  • Has regulation become more laissez-faire?
  • Have social services declined?
  • Has the military become more isolationist?

Upon every metric you can imagine, the Left has been winning; anything they wanted back in 1950 has been accomplished, and as for the Conservatives, they’ve been reduced to begging for the good old days of 1970.  And yet…

  • The middle class is eroding,
  • The Negro community is at its worst state since the years following the Civil War,
  • The elites are increasingly unaccountable,
  • Jobs are being shipped overseas,
  • The police state is growing,
  • More children are being raised in poverty,
  • More and more people are reporting dissatisfaction with their lives.

Maybe – just maybe – this isn’t a bug; it’s a feature?

Social Justice does nothing but shift privilege amongst the least-powerful 80%?

Your hatred of self-described Capitalists has only resulted in your economically illiterate?

And by supporting the Leftoids, all your doing is further empowering the 20% that treat you like scum?

Ah, but what do I know?  I’m just a cisgendered white male.

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Davis M.J. Aurini

Trained as a Historian at McMaster University, and as an Infantry soldier in the Canadian Forces, I'm a Scholar, Author, Film Maker, and a God fearing Catholic, who loves women for their illogical nature.

25 Responses

  1. Tufnel says:

    I saw Ralph Nadar in the news proposing that the tea party and occupiers unite for their common goals. It’d be a nice idea if the two groups didn’t have total contempt for each other. Big media strikes again?

  2. Kristophr says:

    If you ask me to picture capitalism, this is what I see …

    or http://tinyurl.com/nqhjjbf

  3. Kimura says:

    “and I mean the intelligent, hardworking liberals who believe in equality”

    1. Equality doesn’t exist.

    2. ‘Intelligent’, ‘hardworking’ and ‘liberal’ are oxymorons.

  4. Aurini says:

    That picture is pure win.

    I keep some forgiveness available to people who are productive members of society, but who never looked in to the philosophical underpinnings of modern political discourse, and who make the mistake of taking it at face value.

    Mind you, that’s pure Christian Charity, since they neither deserve it, nor do many of them ever do the good works needed to earn it… but occasionally you’ll be surprised. Scientists in particular are very much K-type, but incredibly ignorant of the humanities.

  5. Sean says:

    Last time I checked, Davis, Tea Partiers did not rape people, smear feces on cop cars, and vandalize brand-name shoe stores while wearing that self-same brand. The Tea Party is infinitely better behaved than the Occupiers. Mind you, the Occupy Movement got co-opted by the Left very soon after its conception. I was sympathetic towards it at the beginning, but I got turned off when the adolescent whining started. That, and a lot of them were moronic Liberal Arts majors who expected to be handed jobs because of their worthless diplomas, or unemployed who were more interested in complaining about their woes than trying to improve their situation.

    I remember video of a Occupier being asked what the ultimate goal of the movements was:

    “To bring down the system,” he said with absolutely conviction.

    “What do you want to replace it with?” asked the reporter.

    The Occupier looked surprised, thought for a moment, and shrugged. He had obviously never considered the “and then what” part. Yes, while I dislike the Soros and Lehman Brothers types, I won’t work with a mob that is reacting out of anger: “And those people should not be listened to who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness.”

  6. anonymous says:

    “Mind you, the Occupy Movement got co-opted by the Left very soon after its conception.”

    OWS was started by Ad Busters, a highly lefist magizine and organization, and it was designed to be astro-turfed. They admitted to leaving OWS goals vague and undefined so people would just project whatever they wanted onto it.

    The way it was organized was distinctly “horizontal” with no “vertical” hiearchy. That is why watching OWS meetings is painful. Everyone is given a chance to speak (though at some Occupies you get a push foward in the que for being a minority) with everyone chanting what the speaker is saying (which is a brain washing technique, though they were using it as the ultimate ghetto speaker system, doesn’t change the fact it is brainwashing). This is one of the reasons it didn’t go anywhere and declined very rapidly. They applied actual leftist theories to organizing and activism, and it just flailed around like a fish out of water. Course that was sort of the point. You can see OWS as as a rejection of Saul Alinsky’s style of activism, which is actually well structured and organized, focused on distinct goals and missions; in favor of chaotic, confusing, meta protests that allows people to project their narcassistism into it.

    It’s activism for activism’s sake.

  7. Sean says:

    Thanks for the tip, anonymous. I did not know that OWS was originally astroturf. Makes a certain amount of sense, I suppose. My original complaints still stand, though. OWS is an illustration of how not to organize a protest movement.

    I’m a little mixed on the Tea Party. While I like their economic views, I think they may be wasting their time trying to internally reform the Republicans. Europeans who sympathized with the Tea Party and learned their tactics have opted for the “nth-party” approach.

    UKIP is fascinating to me because it is a party that has no legislative power in the British Parliament, but has a big presence in the EU Parliament, which is largely powerless. I think their presence in the EU Parliament may be a viral protest vote, if you will. The Brits know that they’re vote won’t make a difference, so why not let the tossers know what you really think? It’s like that scene from Game of Thrones where Danaerys catapults broken slave collars into Meereen and the slaves pick them up: the Brits are warming up to the idea of an alternative to the three-headed LibLabCon Party.

    Oh, and Davis: I don’t know how you did it, but you’ve opened my eyes to the glamor of monarchy. All my typical Yankee protestations aside, I see the appeal of a monarch with actual legislative power. I wouldn’t mind it future-King William sent his brother to be Viceroy over here and put the “colonies” back in order.

  8. Kristophr says:

    Notice the Smith is cleaner than my poor keyboard …

  9. Aurini says:

    Arnold Schwarzenegger for King; he’s the most American American that there is, and better yet, he wasn’t born in the US!

  10. From OP:
    “and concentrate on a couple of important economic lessons which are theologically sound:”

    “like all science, [Economics] is inherently amoral. It is up to us, then, to implement it in a system which is founded upon moral principles; a society which recognizes humans as ends in themselves, not as means to be manipulated.”

    From comment:
    “Mind you, that’s pure Christian Charity, since they neither deserve it, nor do many of them ever do the good works needed to earn it… but occasionally you’ll be surprised.”

    @Aurini, I would be interested in concise-as-possible definition of your morality/ethos. If science is indeed amoral, then so is the universe which it objectively describes. How is it that we are to construct a theologically sound, or otherwise morally sound system defined as treating humans always as ends and never as means? Humans that are not suitable means are useless, whether they are blacks in Africa or whites in North America. The laws of nature and evolution are deduced with the axiom of universality. What theology on earth is not regulated by the laws of nature and the universe? What choice do we have of morality outside the scope of the laws of evolution? Your inclusion of the time dimension is the inclusion of evolving behavior (and memes and genes) into your systemizing of morality for societal relationships. If out of Christian Charity the ROI on people who don’t deserve charity is overwhelmingly negative and increasingly negative over time despite the occasional positive surprises, does not the law of conservation (per the laws of evolution) dictate a happier result would have occured without the charity (read: altruism), just as with Africans? The apparent fact that most civilized people are white does not conflict with the apparent fact that most whites are not civilized any more than women having more sex lifetime partners would preclude the dearth of heterosexual service in lifetime instance counts and total time of PIV, which is precisely to say the absense of critical threads prerequisite to cultural transmission and certainly civilization.

    I fail to see how any morality can exist without culture and society, or how rules that fail society by mere definition given natural law as unavoidable context are in fact morality or culture.

    In short, I don’t think you have the latitude in morality you seem to think you do the way I read you. You are brilliant and I enjoy reading your stuff. The free market of ideas works, and this is part of the process. I hope others embrace it like I do. I suffer from the condition of being a Keirsey Temperament Achitect. I see inconsistencies readily and seek to systemize them away. I consider that the be the highest morality possible, but not with just anybody (I’m done getting fucked for such efforts), as this OP makes clear enough.

    Besides the question of latitude that right-wingers I think violate just like the left, why would we try to salvage weak-amygdalas or genetically weak whatever? It pollutes the gene pool. In any event, the left (and the right per Dark Enlightenment, two-ring circus) pollutes the meme pool, and we do not have infinite resources to salvage their minds, nor could we do it without enslaving them, for that is how their minds respond even now per apparent design rewarded currently by evolution. Would it not be more humane to enslave or let starve the inveterate slave of natural design, and to release resources to those who can be happy by being free and self-reliant? If not, conquest is wrong and we should never have left the trees or the garden. Either way on earth, our theological rewards are safely in the supernatural firmament of heaven, so why be of the world when one can devoutly be only in the world without a systemic care?

  11. Liz says:

    In the worldwide market economy, consumption demand does create jobs, but not necessarily US jobs. US business failure based on a slightly lower price in competition half a world away.
    At present, even the department of defense is absolutely reliant on technology imported from an enemy country. We don’t import our bullets or military uniforms, we import what is most vital: Tech equipment. At this point, we can’t even make a kindle here, let alone a classified computer. Is that a feature or a bug? Whatever it is, it is bad. We’re buying the rope to hang ourselves.

  12. Jay says:

    What most socialists see as the failure of Capitalism is that life is not fair. But life not being fair is exactly why Capitalism works. If life where fair then everyone would be born with equal talents and abilities, everyone would work equally hard and be equally successful, everyone would set equally lofty goals for themselves and work equally hard to achieve them. But people do not have equal abilities, nor are they equally hard working or on the same path towards their goals. Because everyone has different talents and motivations it allows for specialization, innovation, and entrepreneurialism. It also means that some will be more successful than others.

    By trying to level the playing field and make it fair the basic core of economics is destroyed. There is no incentive to work hard, there is no incentive to excel, there is no goal worth achieving. Socialists believe that everyone should work hard for altruistic reasons, not economic, but altruism won’t buy a bag of groceries or pay the electric bill or increase your savings. You need cash for that. Being a do-gooder and giving away other people’s money only encourages dependency and sloth. They do it because they want to feel good about themselves. The long term good of the people they are helping means nothing. Capitalists believe that allowing people to keep more of their money and encouraging businesses to grow without burdensome regulations is the best way to raise the standard of living for everyone.

    Socialists believe that the evil rich Capitalists only want to steal from the poor. But how can you steal from people who have nothing? What Capitalists really want is for EVERYONE to be rich. You can make a lot more money off people with money than people without. You can sell a lot more products to people who have disposable incomes than those who merely scrape by. The reason why corporations do things that seem unethical, like moving jobs over seas, reducing employee hours to avoid the cost of healthcare, is because they are simply playing by the rules they are given. Government tries to manipulate the economy to get a socially desired result while totally ignoring the economic reality that corporations are not in the business of social services. They are in it for the money. Take away their ability to make money and they either go out of business or find some new business model that eliminates the excess costs of doing business, which most of the time means labor. The feel good legislation ends up with the opposite result every time. Socialists just can not understand this. Capitalists understand it explicitly. So where is the middle ground?

  13. Robert What? says:

    I know I am not the first to raise this point, but in the US we to a great degree have Crony Capitalism – not “real” Capitalism. Obviously “pure” Capitalism can never exist, any more than pure Communism can. But its a matter of percentages. A functioning society can tolerate a certain amount of cronyism, freeloaders, etc, as long as the general consensus of the society is that cronyism and freeloading are shameful. What percentage of society can we tolerate and still function reasonably well? Who knows – but I’m pretty sure we’re close to passing it. But even more destructively, the shame factor is gone and now even celebrated.

  14. Liz says:

    Jay: ”The reason why corporations do things that seem unethical, like moving jobs over seas, reducing employee hours to avoid the cost of healthcare, is because they are simply playing by the rules they are given. Government tries to manipulate the economy to get a socially desired result while totally ignoring the economic reality that corporations are not in the business of social services. They are in it for the money. Take away their ability to make money and they either go out of business or find some new business model that eliminates the excess costs of doing business, which most of the time means labor. The feel good legislation ends up with the opposite result every time.”

    There is a variable missing for the free flow of economics in Aurini’s write up above. Security. It’s actually the biggest one. Without security there is no free market. Man walks through the park with a gold-laying goose and another man points a gun at him: who has the power, the man with the gun or the one with the supply of golden eggs? Money is always hostage to the power of the gun. And the law can be outgunned. Writing a rule that says ‘no stealing’ doesn’t make it so.

    The global economy is never a free market by any stretch of the imagination. Our competing nations subsidize both directly and indirectly (even universal healthcare coverage is a huge business subsidy that greatly cuts the cost of workers to businesses…these costs the host government absorbs, so even when a US company moves overseas to Europe where the wages are higher, it’s still a cost savings to them because the companies do not). Aurini’s equation “time” is certainly correct but it’s a little too succinct. Humans aren’t elves so time can be a very precious thing indeed. It has only been a matter of time since Og sold the first club to Org, but that’s a great deal of things have transpired in the human experience.

    When China subsidizes its solar panel industry to the tune of billions…in fact, selling at a loss and creating a market monopoly on supply as the solar panel industries around the globe fail due to pricing pressures, quality everywhere falters. Eventually China won’t be able to keep selling at a loss…but by that time they’ll have a monopoly. In fact, they have a monopoly already. And these are huge highly leveraged industries that can’t be recreated easily.

  15. Liz says:

    Need to read before posting…finishing the one thought above, 3rd paragraph:

    (…even when a US company moves overseas to Europe where the wages are higher, it’s still a cost savings to them because the companies do not have to provide healthcare insurance, a huge part of expense to employers in the states)

    The above isn’t a support for universal healthcare, necessarily, it’s an example of indirect business subsidization that is very often overlooked in free market discussions.

  16. Keith says:

    Capitalism is simply the pursuit of profits within a price system. That is all it is…

  17. Liz says:

    And Communism is simply common ownership of the means of production. Devil would seem to be in the details.

  18. Keith says:

    When discussing anything you always start with the basics. Since Capitalism is just the pursuit of profits within a price system and is the basic cake, the other forms of capitalism are like flavors. A lot of what we have now is hybrid form of Mercantilism much like the Dutch and British cartels in the 16th and 17th centuries. Your interlocks within these large global corporations form virtual cartels rivaling the Dutch or British East Indian companies. Capitalism is an economic instrument not a governing tool like Socialism. By the way ALL modern governments are Socialist to one degree or another…

  19. Liz says:

    I agree. Start with basics (theory) and then we’re on to practical reality (how that theory turns out when put to practice).

  20. M. Simon says:

    Some one thinks the left and right will be getting together to destroy the cronies.


  21. Moishe says:


    I enjoyed your latest video: Primary Religious Emotions and Race. My hear skipped a beat when you said “The JEWS”…, but we were let off easy this time, thank G-D.

    One point: There is no belief in myticism that Europeans are a lost tribe. Europeans descend from Japheth, and Jews come from Shem. However, righteous Gentiles are perceived as being as good as Jews, and there is no requirement at all for conversion as there is in Christianity for salvation.

    I’ve been reading Mad Monarch blog as of late, and I find myself agreeing with his view of the restoration of absolte Catholic monarchies in the West… If Israel has demonstrated anything, it is that we are absolutely incapable of ruling ourselves. In order for Jews to survive, we will either require absolute Monarchy from thr West propping up a Rabbinic State as was in the case of Artaxerxes or Cyrus, or some form of immediate Divine Intervention.

    Your thoughts please.

  22. The ultimate douche says:

    As much as I like economics, I cannot call economics a science. For a discipline to be considered they have to perform experiments (I’m not alone in this). This is something that economics, like other social “sciences,” lack. These instead result to surveys, observations, questionnaires…Etc which lack precision, control, reproductibility, and quantifiability.

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