This article originally appeared on the blog of Heretic, the magazine of We Are Libertarians.
I could write volumes about economics. Reading economics textbooks and theories has enraptured my mind and filled my spare time for the past few years. Many models come and go, but there are, undeniably, two major players on the stage today: Capitalism and Socialism. And both actors are quite dead.
It breaks my heart to say such a thing about either one. This title is not meant to be clickbait; it’s just true (Though I admit, I am trying to grab your attention). I can’t possibly even so much as dip a toe into either theory in a single blog, but I think I can explain why both are on a gurney and not merely on life support rather quickly.
Of the twenty-nine and counting economic schools of thought, capitalism is, by far, my preference thus far. I haven’t studied any that even come close, if I’m honest. Even ideas based on capitalism usually deviate in ways that make it, in my summation, much weaker. One of the reasons capitalism, in modern terms, is completely dead, might actually be the fault of its founder, Adam Smith. He never saw fit to name his “theory” since, while it had principles, it was not actually a theory at all but rather a set of observations. As the name “Wealth of Nations” indicates, the precepts are based on what practices create the most prosperity for societies, intellectually, socially, and materially.
While capitalism was earth-shattering for the peoples who adopted it, the words themselves quickly became lip-service. Socialists managed to name capitalism at about the same time as other capitalists named capitalism. Of course, socialists branded the name to people who were remarkably un-capitalist and they weren’t trying to be honest about it. The bad labeling lasts to this day; crony allies of politicians, sprawling corporations, and carpet baggers were all given the title of “capitalists” by those who absolutely loathed capitalism and these efforts were successful through today.
That being said, between the socialist intentional lies and the evildoers willing to accept the title of “capitalist,” we no longer have any existing dialogue today about actual, legitimate capitalism. Perhaps the final dagger was Keynes, who nefariously called himself a savior to capitalism all the while injecting centralized regulation and authoritarianism. After his book, “The Economic Consequences of the Peace” was produced, the Nazis embraced his vision for the economy and, sadly, the rest of the world followed suit soon after, adopting the model and income identity equation the Nazis used; not a single country does not use this model today.
But capitalists should have expected resistance and remained true to their roots. But the roots are completely ripped from the beautiful soil in which they were planted largely because very few remained true to Smith’s findings. How many capitalists today believe that property rights should be based on usage and not on purchase? Or believe schools should disband and teachers own their classrooms? Or insist we pay workers a percentage of profits with help from union representation? Or recommend that we dismiss borders and dissolve a country so that we can exists as markets and people? I would assume none at all, unless you follow me closely. Regardless, this thought process is dead in practice and dialogue. I would have to re-frame the entire concept of capitalism before I could even carry on a conversation about it. After so long, I might as well drop the name “capitalism” entirely and call it “Smithism” or “Hodeyism” because the ideas, I can safely assume, will be brand new and foreign to whoever I am conversing with.
Socialism is even less tricky to dismiss as completely eradicated. While the capitalists have been tricked into an incorrect definition of their economic model, the socialists, more or less, seem to have no idea what their model is. “What socialism means to me” followed by pretty much any statement is essentially what socialism is today. Which is a shame, because socialism, in the very name, is actually quite specific. While socialists often fought with one another, the goal was always the same: Total social equality. While this sounds like a justice or rights movement, the economic theory was more vital than either; people are treated differently if they are physically, mentally, or financially different.
You might do a spit take in reading that last sentence. Mentally and physically equal? Like, everyone is just as intelligent as another? This is not an exaggeration and each socialist philosopher has come up with some very fascinating ways in which, they believe, this leveling out of abilities is to be achieved. Most of them, like in the case of Proudhon or Marx, involve a ton of exile and even genocide, which is why most socialist solutions are not palatable to me, personally. I’m open to a society of people morally understanding they are giving away their rights to learn more or less than another person, but I wouldn’t join one and I would weep for the souls who did.
Much can be made of the usual tripe; that Venezuela and the USSR and China aren’t “real” socialism. It’s true! They were often far more forgiving and allowed for greater degrees of freedom than socialist economies call for. The USSR wasn’t even real Communism; that is to say, a specific kind of socialism where goods were produced and used in their own specific and isolated communities. These communities shared resources among each other, constituting a strict violation of Marxist credo. Yet those who say these countries aren’t actually socialist are technically saying the opposite of what they usually mean. They will explain how banning media, talking with your neighbors, non-government sanctioned romances, medicinal breakthroughs, entertainment, and choice of food were responsible for such egregious offenses against the people. They are right that these are to blame, but they fail to realize that these practices are absolutely core to socialist theory. They say it is not socialist, but if we’re to be correct, it is perfectly socialist, it’s just not what they want socialism to be.
Both are lost to the times. “Capital” and “Social,” even as root words, have evolved into meaning something very different from their intended purpose. “Capital” today refers to the principle part of a loan; loans were something Smith considered quite abhorrent, especially from the perspective of centralized banking. If something is “socialized” today, it means all of society pays for it to use as a public good; a direct violation of equality unless the service being socialized is distributed equally as well.
I enjoy discussing and researching both, for their own merits, but I make no excuses for my tragic findings. When I discuss the economics of either capitalism or socialism today I am viewed upon like a madman; like a time traveler who uses the same words but the meaning are jumbled about. But even if this is so and I’m insane, then we need to stop using either word; they have both become unrecognizable in both theory and practice. They are dead. Any successful economic movement will likely have absolutely nothing to do with the reality of capitalism or socialism. The bodies make for remarkable autopsies to study and learn from, but they are bodies nonetheless.