"The 'Taming' of the Shrewd" or "Does Capitalism need Civilizing?"

By Wayne Dunn (posted July 12th, 2002)

This is a slightly edited version of my response to a question forwarded to me through a discussion list I belong to, AmericanIdeals.

QUESTION: "Do you think socialism was able to 'civilize' or 'tame' capitalism by 1914? Or do you think that capitalism did not need to be 'civilized' or 'tamed'."

First we must define our terms. Socialism is state ownership of the means of production. Capitalism is private ownership of the means of production.

To be civilized is to deal with others only through their consent, through persuasion rather than brute force. Civilized men understand that physical coercion is out of the question, that any relationship between individuals must be voluntary. An uncivilized man, by contrast, has no reservations whatsoever about applying a club to any perceived adversary's noggin. Force and intimidation characterize his actions; coercion is his modus operandi.

Our terms defined, let's first examine a purely capitalistic scenario. Imagine that you have an idea that you want to translate into an innovative new product. You secure a patent, successfully pitch a business plan to financiers, buy land, build a factory, hire and train employees, launch production, and put your finished goods on the market. Those who desire and can afford your product purchase it; those who don't or can't, don't.

At no step along the way did you force anyone to do anything against his will. Through persuasion only, you obtained the voluntary association and agreement of everyone with whom you transacted - bankers, suppliers, employees, customers, etc., each of whom exercised the freedom to accept or refuse any offer placed on the table.

Now for the alleged civilizing influence of an injection of socialism. It's a year later and your product has become a hit. One morning, into your office saunters a man who identifies himself as a representative of the government. He announces that it's been decided that your factory now belongs to the state, and he produces a document to that effect. Shocked, you insist that the property is yours, that you have a deed to the building as well as exclusive patent rights to your invention. He replies that none of that matters. Capitalism, he explains, has gotten too uncivilized and needs to be tamed. The state, not the individual, should own the means of production. You are nothing but a selfish exploiter who pays your workers no higher wages than they agreed to for the jobs you created and hired them to perform. Furthermore, many people who need your product can't afford it, because all you care about is making money, not "the common good." But the government, the bureaucrat grins, will change all that. No longer will such "profiteering" be tolerated. The patent to your invention and the factory you built has been nationalized for the benefit of "the people."

You tell him that you refuse to cooperate and do not agree to the government's demands. He retorts that your cooperation or agreement is not required ¾ and then instructs the policemen waiting outside to escort you off the premises. An officer, patting his sidearm, says that if you resist, he will arrest you.

Later you contact a lawyer, but he offers little hope. Lawsuits against the state, should it permit you to pursue one, typically prove too financially prohibitive for most plaintiffs, because of the virtually unlimited resources under the government's command (including those tax dollars you yourself have paid). You give up.

If a savage attempts to run amuck in a nation of civilized men, his range of destruction is limited and it is only a matter of time before the government, or some individual evoking his right to self-defense, stops him cold. Similarly, if a gang of savages pulls the same stunt, civilized men, properly calling upon their government to do its job, will eventually prevail. But if the government itself ¾ whose only legitimate purpose is retaliation against rights-violators ¾ assumes the savage role of Supreme Rights-Violator by becoming socialist, how then shall civilized men function? They shall "function" as slaves, acting only with the permission of other men appointed by the state.

If being civilized includes abstaining from the initiation of force and respecting the sovereignty of all individuals, then by what stretch of whose imagination could it be suggested that socialism could have a civilizing influence on anything?

Capitalism not only doesn't need to be civilized or tamed ¾ which erroneously concedes the possibility that capitalism might be uncivilized or wild but that that's okay ¾ capitalism is the politico-economic expression of civilized conduct. Socialism, on the other hand, is nothing more than legalized barbarism ¾ whether in 1914 or 2002. 


© COPYRIGHT 2002 by Wayne Dunn


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