Your brain on capitalism…

Someone pointed me to an article called “Capitalism is the Institution of Ethics,” by François-René Rideau. This article really shows the insanity that the mind can plumb once it is dead-set on upholding a contradictory ideal. But apart from pointing out the insanity, I also want to give a more serious rebuttal of some of the points, since they asked me to do so.

Sections 1, 2 and 3 are an introduction to the moral and ethical principles used: what is ethics, what is a choice, what is responsibility. This is basic stuff and doesn’t really need to be discussed.

Section 4 is where he starts talking about capitalism. Here is how he defines capitalism:

Capitalism is a Theory of Law. It is a Theory of Law that consists in the definition of individual property rights.

That’s a rather unusual definition, but as long as we define “property” in the commonly understood way (which is the way Rideau seems to use it as well), I can’t disagree with it. He then follows up his discussion of property with what seems like a rather important point:

But under Capitalism, the way that ownership of resources is distributed is not arbitrary.

Now, since the opponents of capitalism do argue that in fact capitalism is an unfair or vastly arbitrary distribution of resources, you’d think that Rideau would at least provide some justification for this assertion. But nowhere in his entire article does he provide such justification!

Instead, he goes on to address the means by which someone acquired property in the capitalist system (self-ownership, homesteading, voluntary exchange). That’s fine, but does nothing to justify the idea that the distribution of resources is not arbitrary. It doesn’t even justify the idea that these means are not arbitrary. Simply describing something doesn’t prove it has a basis in reality.

Nowhere in his article does he address any of the obvious and major problems with capitalism as he expounds it. For instance, nowhere does he address the fact that pre-existing conditions may make any distribution of resources arbitrary regardless of how arbitrary the means are. And yet this would seem like a major objection to his premise. But since he didn’t justify capitalism, I suppose he doesn’t have to address objections to the non-existing justification either.

Keep in mind that this is actually a speech: there are no other materials to refer to. This is the whole dang thing.

In section 5, he says that he will prove that capitalism is related to reality. But nowhere in the section does he address the relation of anything to reality. Instead, he discusses people’s motivations in following laws. This is fine but has no relevance to anything else in the article.

Section 6 is very short and mainly concerns the individual responsibility to defend one’s property, and has an interesting conclusion:

A monopoly on the use of force, taking some resources by force from people to organize defense, and forbidding them to use other resources to defend themselves, is thus in itself a violation of property rights. A monopolist Government, a State, is thus a negation of Capitalism, and actually the biggest negation there is of Capitalism.

Actually, the Spoonerite argument that each person is responsible for defending his own property is meant to be anti-capitalist. In fact, it is the government’s subsidy of capital and property defense which makes the accumulation of large fortunes and unused land possible.

Furthermore, it is unclear how the State necessarily contradicts capitalism as he defined it: “Capitalism is a Theory of Law… that consists in the definition of individual property rights.” Any given “theory of law” can co-exist with any form of organization. His definition in no way implies that the “theory of law” is being enforced in any way. Even if it was, it is hard to see how the State must contradict property rights, especially since the State’s existence is predicated on property rights over land and people. Rideau’s deduction that capitalism implies personal defense of one’s property is unjustified and remains as the missing link in his reasoning.

Section 7 and 8 are where Rideau straight goes off the rails and into the depths of insanity:

If we are to understand capital as productive material machinery, then the first capitalist man was the first tool owner, the first person to foresee the future utility of a tool and keep that solid stick or hard stone for a future use. The first capitalist was the first human, the first homo abilis. What distinguishes man from animal is precisely this ability to use, keep and develop tools. And capitalism is humanity. Everyone is a capitalist in as much as one owns anything that is for use at a latter date. But those who distinguish as are more capitalist than others, are those who see further than other people, and keeps things for future use that other people fail to prepare or neglect to keep.

If capital is to be understood in a broader sense, as any material thing that one may possess, that will enable future production, then first capitalist was the first animal to keep food for next year, or even for next day. And if these possessions are to include absorbed chemicals as well as chemicals stored outside one’s body, then the first capitalist was the first living cell, that kept chemicals inside a membrane. Capitalism, as a phenomenon, is life itself.

Those who fight Capitalism, the phenomenon, are actually seeking to destroy mankind, they are seeking to destroy life itself. They want to put an end to civilization and return to brutish animality. They want to put an end to animality and return to vegetation. They want to put an end to vegetation, to change, to life itself, and return to the purity and stability of death.

Every consumer who buys goods ahead of consumption time, is a capitalist. Every worker who has a savings plan, an insurance, a retirement plan, is a capitalist. Every student who studies now for his future career, every lover who courts a mate now for his future family, every parent who raises children for the future of his kin, is a capitalist.

I really have nothing further to add to this, except to say that this has no relation to his personal definition of capitalism, but rather his wild interpretation of the common definition of capitalism. I hope I don’t have to say this, but no one actually believes that a cell can be capitalist. Although there are a few paleos who do want to return to a pre-civilization stage, very few anti-capitalists hold such a position, and no anti-capitalist I know wants to “return to the purity and stability of death.” This is melodrama worthy of Rand herself.

His main error in this rant seems to be the reasoning that, since “capital” equals “savings” (in his mind, anyway), a “capitalist” is therefore anyone who saves anything for later or plans for the future. But obviously everyone believes in capital: its existence is not denied by any ideology. The disagreement is in how it should be distributed and controlled. In this, capitalists do not differ from socialists, communists, or even paleos. The fact that someone saves money for the future merely shows that he has good judgment, and has nothing to do with whether he believes in property rights or not.

The end of the article, sections 10 and 11, is actually insightful and interesting, because Rideau confines himself to arguing against statism. He proposes a “Law of Eristic Escalation” (hail Eris!) which states that “Imposition of order equates escalation of chaos.” His application of the law is also very good. All in all, I do recommend these last two sections, because they show some real insight. Sadly, it seems like Rideau’s fanatical adherence to capitalism is getting in the way of his intelligence.

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