Over a period of months I have carefully cultivated for myself social media content that is entirely absent of any Owen Jones. I know; I shouldn’t confine myself to the ‘bubble’, but sometimes for the good of one’s health it is important to cut certain things from your diet. Occasionally, Owen still finds a way to wiggle through my carefully safeguarded Twitter stream, and into my day.
On Saturday it was with this Tweet, which has had me seething ever since:
The international slave trade, colonialism, imperialist famines from Ireland to India, fascism, two world wars: capitalism has unleashed unparalleled horror on the planet.
— Owen Jones🌹 (@OwenJones84) July 21, 2018
In objecting to this statement it is difficult to know where to start; perhaps the best place is with a definition of capitalism. It is often said by the left that ‘real socialism has never been tried’, they find solace in the seemingly fluffy words of Karl Marx. Perhaps they will forgive me then for going back to basics on capitalism.
A decent definition of capitalism may well be: ‘an economic and political system where the means of production are owned privately for profit and not by the state’. It is simple, but for our purposes probably sufficient.
It is not that these crimes have been carried out in the name of capitalism in some bastardised form, but that they simply do not fit into the fundamental principles of free markets. The International slave trade may well seem on the face of it to be the worst kind of exploitative capitalism, but free markets require the recognition of property rights and individual liberties. Slavery necessitates the neglect of both. Jones has fallen into the trap of allowing his world view, that money is bad in all its forms, to assume that the transfer of wealth from one person to another is explicitly ‘capitalist’.
What of colonialism and the tragedy wrought on nations subjected to imperialist rule? Again a favoured evil of the left (one might briefly suggest that this is the genesis of the left’s ‘Jewish problem’) Colonialism requires action from one state to occupy another. Imperialism relies entirely on the state ownership of land and capital in order to maintain control and exploit natural resources for their own gain. If capitalism relies on the free movement of goods between consensual parties in order that both may profit, colonialism can satisfy none of these aims.
Owen Jones is able to peddle such mistruths because those who believe in the benefits of free markets have been unable to articulate the benefits sufficiently. We have allowed myths to grow that are now more difficult to challenge. Chief among these is that fascism is somehow a capitalist extreme. When Hope Not Hate or Labour Council Candidates describe themselves as ‘anti-fascist’ they almost invariably mean that they are against capitalist principles. How have we allowed ourselves to fall so willingly into such a net?
Much as with colonialism, fascism is an ideology than relies on state ownership of the means of production. It is ‘National Socialism’. Fascism has far more in common with the Communist policies that are so revered in factions on the left. Free markets, if you will indulge me in some personification here, would view fascism as an inefficient monopoly that strangles enterprise and the free movement of goods and services. It is a protectionist ideology in which the state owns all political and economic modes of power. It is fundamentally against all of the principles of a capitalist society and was as much feared by the Chicago and Austrian economic schools of thought as Communism.
The final crime from which we must defend free markets is the blame for the two World Wars that brought so much misery and suffering to the World in the 20th Century. Again lefties fall into the trap of assuming that, because some people profit from wars, free markets must therefore like them. Few things can be said to be more useless to a capitalist system than wasteful wars. They are expensive in terms of capital, resources and the devastating impact that they will inevitably have on productivity. Wars can only be funded through the artificial generation of cash and they can only be organised through a state-run industrial strategy. If capitalists favour private ownership and the generation of profits – wars fundamentally damage both primary goals.
Free markets are not perfect and they are not the answer to all of the World’s ills. If power corrupts then we must accept that in the 21st Century wealth is one of the primary sources of power, and that has obvious consequences. Advocates for capitalism have allowed it to become a dirty word, mired in both the grubby industrial imagery of Dickensian literature and the often ‘corporatist’ policies that both major parties have pursued.
We have so focussed our attention on ensuring that socialists own the horrors of communism that we have forgotten to advocate passionately for its alternative. We categorically must not allow for the left to allocate to free markets crimes for which they are in no way responsible. There is a fundamental misunderstanding of what capitalism is, what it does and what its benefits are.
These questions of who we are and how we organise ourselves are going to grow more significant. As we head towards Brexit it is those deemed on the ‘right’ of the Conservative Party that are being blamed for ‘crashing out’ with no deal. We must make clear that markets favour stability, that they do not want the regulations and restrictions that will generate the problems when we leave. Markets don’t crash Brexit, people do.
Capitalism is in essence about liberty, responsibility and choice. Central to its observations is that if you take people and their motivations out of the way in which a state is organised, people are free to pursue their own goals. Capitalists believe that ‘the market’ is a better judge of value than people, who will bring ideology and moral judgements to decisions. It abhors monopolies and corruption and instead favours the competition that brings about better services and products at a cheaper price. Free markets are just that – free. If leaders of the Conservative Party can find their way to advocating capitalism through the prism of opportunity and liberty then we may just stand a chance of winning both the intellectual and moral arguments that define how we organise ourselves as a society.