Decoupling the market from capitalism

Kevin Carson was the first to really enlighten me about the difference between capitalism and the free market. It's a difference I heartily embrace as a left libertarian. While Wendy McElroy is obviously not as hostile to capitalism, she definitely has her priorities straight, unlike the vulgar libertarian corporate apologists:

At the risk of being misunderstood, I am not a capitalist. Instead, I advocate the free market. Capitalism is a specific economic arrangement with reference to the ownership of property and capital. It happens to be the arrangement I prefer because I believe it is more just, a far better reflection of reality and produces more prosperity than the alternatives. But I wouldn't crusade for capitalism the way I would crusade for freedom of speech. What I would crusade for is a free market in which individuals exchange or co-operate with each other according to their own choices.

What's the difference? Consider: I live near an old-fashioned Mennonite community that organizes its economic life along socialist ideals rather than capitalist ones. The community is absolutely voluntary -- that is, it results from the free choices of individuals. In a free market, my neighbors can peacefully disagree with my assessment of capitalism and set up whatever voluntary alternative appeals to them…for whatever reason it appeals to them (e.g. religion). My approval of their non-capitalist lifestyle is not necessary until or unless they attempt to make me adopt their preference. That's the free market: everyone peacefully pursues whichever economic goals they wish by whatever means is voluntary. If your chosen means is not capitalism and you don't want my advice…then I wish you well… even though I doubt you will succeed in the way I define ‘success.' Nevertheless I feel no urge to knock on your door as an evangelist for capitalism who is determined to demonstrate the error of your ways.

Well said!

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Written on Thursday, January 24, 2008