We Are All Capitalists
I’m a capitalist. You are a capitalist. Karl Marx was a capitalist. Josef Stalin was one of the biggest capitalists ever. Bernie Sanders is a capitalist. AOC is a capitalist. All the members of Occupy Wall Street, Antifa and BLM are capitalists, even if they don’t know it or won’t admit it.
Capital is anything used in production that is not a free gift of the earth like land or human effort like labor or entrepreneurship. That is a bit of a long economist way of saying capital is tools. So, if you favor using tools, you are a capitalist.
Less abstractly, if you favor having a smart phone, a laptop, a car, or any other tool at work, then you are a capitalist. If you prefer to dig a hole with your hands rather than a shovel, a post hole digger or a machine, then perhaps you aren’t a capitalist. There seem to be few people who really prefer to dig holes with their hands.
Karl Marx popularized the term capitalism and despite clearly being a capitalist. Pictures of Marx show that he used pen and ink, which are tools which of course are capital. Further, Marx published his writings using his publisher’s printing presses and binding capital. So, apparently capital was not the issue to Marx. Perhaps it was borrowing money to get tools he could not afford, as people often confuse capital good or tools with money capital that might be borrowed money.
If you don’t have a tool that would make your job easier, it is natural to want that tool. If you cannot afford to buy that tool today, would most people be happy to commit some of the earnings they would make in the future with that tool to have that tool today. People do this every day and are happy to have that capital, that tool, that makes their life and job easier.
I bet a large percentage of the members of Occupy Wall Street, Antifa and BLM, and Bernie Sanders and AOC for that matter have smart phones which are necessary for their “jobs.” I bet many members got these cell phones “free” for committing to a contract for some number of years with their cell phone company. The free phone has to be paid for and so the monthly price of the cell service must cover the price of the phone. The price of the cell service must also cover the time value of money to the company, i.e. interest, for the cell phone company to “give” the “free” phone today and be paid for it over time.
Josef Stalin was one of the biggest capitalists ever, as shown by the way he tried to grow the Soviet Union economy. His first Five-year Plan adopted in 1928 was all about investing in factories and heavy industry -- about capital. The Soviet plans for 70 years were focused on getting more capital.
So, if it were not capital and not even borrowing to get capital that Marx and his current followers objected to, perhaps it was private ownership. All those factories Stalin built were not privately owned in his day.
So, would the members of Occupy Wall Street, Antifa, BLM accept a publicly i.e. government-owned cell phone? Maybe they, or at least some, would in 2023. But what if the government issued them a Samsung phone rather than an iPhone or vice-versa? Would they have similarly accepted government ownership of the cell phone they used in 2019 under a Trump administration? Would they accept the government owning the cell phone they used under any Republican administration. I wonder.
Though beavers build dams, birds build nests and some other animals use rudimentary tools to break open food, the use of tools and the variety and complexity of the capital we use is one thing that sets human being apart from the rest of life on earth. So, humans have all been capitalists since we first started using tools.
Clearly the members of Occupy Wall Street, Antifa, and BLM are capitalists like the rest of humanity. So what are they up in arms about? They don’t like how we live our lives. Like Marx and Stalin, they are authoritarians. If one strips away all the chatter about capital from the self-proclaimed anti-capitalists of today, we are left with authoritarians.
James L. Swofford is a Professor of Economics in the Department of Economics, Finance and Real Estate at the University of South Alabama.
Image: Wallpaper Flare