II. Three Senses of “Capitalism”
There are at least three distinguishable senses of “capitalism”:
Capitalism-1 just is a freed market; so if “anti-capitalism” meant opposition to capitalism-1, “free-market anti-capitalism” would be oxymoronic. But proponents of free-market anti-capitalism aren’t opposed to capitalism-1; instead, they object either to capitalism-2 or to both capitalism-2 and capitalism-3
- capitalism-1 - an economic system that features property rights and voluntary exchanges of goods and services.
- capitalism-2 - an economic system that features a symbiotic relationship between big business and government.
- capitalism-3 - rule — of workplaces, society, and (if there is one) the state — by capitalists (that is, by a relatively small number of people who control investable wealth and the means of production).
Distinguishing three senses of “capitalism” — market order, business-government partnership, and rule by capitalists — helps to make clear why someone .. might be consistently committed to freedom while voicing passionate opposition to something called “capitalism.” It makes sense for freed-market advocates to oppose both interference with market freedom by politicians and business leaders and the social dominance (aggressive and otherwise) of business leaders. And it makes sense for them to name what they oppose “capitalism.” Doing so calls attention to the freedom movement’s radical roots, emphasizes the value of understanding society as an alternative to the state, underscores the fact that proponents of freedom object to non-aggressive as well as aggressive restraints on liberty, ensures that advocates of freedom aren’t confused with people who use market rhetoric to prop up an unjust status quo, and expresses solidarity between defenders of freed markets and workers — as well as ordinary people around the world who use “capitalism” as a short-hand label for the world-system that constrains their freedom and stunts their lives. Freed-market advocates should embrace “anti-capitalism” in order to encapsulate and highlight their full-blown commitment to freedom and their rejection of phony alternatives that use talk of freedom to conceal acquiescence in exclusion, subordination, and deprivation.