Essay:Reply to Vlad Draconis PenDragon's anti-capitalistic remarks

From Mises Wiki, the global repository of classical-liberal thought
Jump to: navigation, search
Essay.svg This essay contains the opinions of one or more authors and does not necessarily represent the views of Mises Wiki or the Mises Institute. Mises Wiki essays may sometimes contain opinions that are not widely accepted by Austrian school thinkers, but nonetheless reside on the site to help stimulate critical thinking, constructive dialog, and an open-minded process of creative problem-solving furthering the growth of the body of Austrian school thought.

Vlad Draconis "Drake" PenDragon, an anarchist philosopher-prisoner at FCC Petersburg Medium, writes in response to statements about much of the unpleasantness of incarceration being due to the socialistic nature of the prison system, the following:

I get your analogy of prison to North Korea because of its anti-capitalist system; but remember that capitalism is prison to people like me, and to people born and grown without the opportunities that most people have. Capitalism, and Mike Jackson's love of it, is exactly why the politics here (and governmentally) are what they are, and why I don't have my Grade One.[1] Capitalism is why harmless pedophiles who've otherwise committed no act in defiance or detriment to society are in prison. Capitalism is why weed is still a federal crime. Capitalism is why thousands of people (Americans and otherwise) have died in Iraq and Aghanistan since 2003. Capitalism is why Cuba isn't allowed to grow the same way most countries are, and why their people are the ones suffering, not their government. Capitalism is why in America, your entire life becomes indentured servitude to pay back debts because you, unavoidably, got sick. Capitalism is why our economy is cannibalizing itself by sending jobs overseas when there are no jobs here. Capitalism is why most people are in debt for a decade just so they can get an education good enough to take them away from living paycheck to paycheck... eventually. Capitalism is why when so many people in so many states want to secede from the union and be free to govern themselves how they feel is right, the U.S. will not let them go without warring to keep those material and human resources. Capitalism makes America and the whole world a prison.

Reply to Drake's response (feel free to improve)

Capitalist society as a prison

Socialism and pseudo-socialist systems like syndicalism are prisons to any person who would like to initiate his own plans without being shackled by veto-wielding rulers and peers who second-guess him. Ludwig von Mises writes, "Only a few men, endowed with exceptional and rare abilities, have the gift of planning new things and of recognizing their blessings. Under capitalism the innovator is free to embark upon an attempt to realize his plans in spite of the unwillingness of the majority to acknowledge their merits. It is enough if he succeeds in persuading some reasonable men to lend him funds to start with."[2] Or as Steve Jobs said, "A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them."[3] The average person lacks the vision and drive needed to actively participate in entrepreneurship. What happens under syndicalism, if the majority of your co-workers say "We don't like your idea" or "We're not interested in funding that"?

You say that capitalism is a prison to you, but which would you rather be in — the capitalistic society that let you work whatever job you could beat out the competition for, buy whatever you could afford, etc. or the literal prison in which the government has placed you, that puts you at the mercy of the warden for your job assignment, which pays minimally; provides you substandard medical care; and only lets you shop once a week, making you stand in line for overpriced goods? If it weren't for what capitalism this country has, prison would be even worse; the communist countries' prisons and work camps (such as the Soviet gulag and Chinese laogai) make U.S. federal prison look like a country club.

If we had even more capitalism, you might have some choice of prisons, or maybe your offense would not have been deemed a crime at all, because it would have been viewed as unprofitable to arrest victimless offenders. You may think, "What about private prisons and other rent-seeking companies that have a reason to want to encourage more incarceration?" As Bruce L. Benson's The Economic Anatomy of a Drug War: Criminal Justice in the Commons points out, the problem is that the government lacks owners who have an interest in seeking the long-term financial health of the organization; it is instead run by looters who want to enact criminal laws that will work to their own personal gain at others' expense.

One might argue that this is a false dichotomy because there are other systems besides capitalism and socialism. If someone wants to describe (preferably in detail) what that better system would be, I am willing to listen. Thus far, no one seems to have come up with anything other than capitalism, socialism, or a mixture of the two.

The truth is, no matter what economic system you live under, there will always be someone you have to serve in order to get your needs met in return. TANSTAAFL. If there was any lesson to be taken away from the pilot episode of Girls, it was that eventually there will come a point at which your sponsors say, "We can't keep bankrolling your groovy lifestyle" unless you're giving back something that they want. If you force them to bankroll you, then you become the slavemaster who is imprisoning people.

There is plenty of upward mobility under capitalism for those who have the necessary ability and motivation to meet consumer desires. It's one of the reasons there is so much immigration to this country. People like Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg, and Marshall Field have proven that it's not necessary that a person be born in America or have a college degree or rich parents in order to become wealthy. Many capitalists have donated large sums to helping the underprivileged (sometimes pursuant to promises such as the Giving Pledge, which call for giving the majority of one's wealth to charity); after all, what else can one do with several billion dollars?

Of course, not everyone has what it takes to become a wildly successful investor or entrepreneur. But capitalism serves the interests of the masses too, by giving them access to a reliable supply of transportation, information, safe food, clean water, etc. It elevates the proletariat to a standard of living that in past times would have been considered bourgeois.

Philosophers, artists, and other creative geniuses have a tendency to get the shaft under any system, whether capitalistic or socialistic. The reason is that what they feel compelled by their ethical, artistic, or other principles to produce is not tailored to meet the demands of either the consumers or the rulers. Geniuses create according to their own standards, whatever the consequences may be.

At least under capitalism, sometimes there is a rich patron of the arts. If you can find one wealthy person, out of all the wealthy people out there, who likes your ideas enough to fund them, that's all you need. At any rate, the technological innovations that have occurred under capitalism have made it possible for even poverty-stricken artists to disseminate their work to a vast audience.

Under socialism or syndicalism, you have to please the rulers or your peers if you want any resources to be allocated to you for the furtherance of your writing, philosophizing, etc. If you look at the leaders of any country, or around you at the kind of peers by whom you're mostly surrounded, how confident are you that you would get their approval for your ideas? Would they even give your ideas a fair hearing? Probably not.

Capitalism as a source of harmful politics in prison

The experience of prisoner-owned companies such as Con-Puter Systems Programming and the Inmate Novelty Program firms shows that prisoner entrepreneurship can greatly enrich prisoners, to the point that they can afford to send money home. If you had the freedom to start a data-processing or manufacturing firm, it wouldn't matter that you were denied grade one. You could appeal to sovereign consumers to give you money-making opportunities that the state denied you.

Capitalism as a source of injustice

As someone who has dealt with the criminal justice system, you know that your peers are not to be trusted. Why did you plead guilty, rather than taking your case to a jury trial? You had a right to have your case decided by twelve of your peers, who would have had to unanimously agree that you deserved a criminal conviction for your actions.

Obviously you didn't believe there was much of a chance that they would refrain from punishing you, even though they would have faced no adverse consequences for acquitting you or failing to reach a verdict. They would have faced no reprisals from the government or the private sector bosses. No; their engaging in persecution would have been purely because they lacked the ability or willingness to think for themselves and reach a conclusion that the law is unfair and should not be enforced. Peers are a source of never-ending persecution for anyone who holds different values, which means that they tend to oppose new ideas, which means that they tend to oppose progress.

Your peers are the ones who voted for the politicians who enacted the laws that put you in prison. Your peers could, if they wanted, vote that government out and a new government in that would change the laws and granted amnesty to those already convicted. They could vote in a President who would pardon you. But they don't, despite the fact that I have helped you put your arguments on the Internet, and given everyone an opportunity to read them, if they wanted to. These are the same people who, in a socialist or syndicalist system, would be in charge of voting on what resources, if any, to allocate to you, your family, and every endeavor that is important to you.

Capitalism as a source of low pay, indentured servitude, etc.

It is the same way in the work world. If you have an idea for a new product or production method, but can't get your boss (or, under syndicalism, your co-workers) to agree to it, then capitalism gives you the option to quit and start your own business. Individuals taking action on their own initiative, without getting the permission of a boss or peers, is how things get done.

Have you ever tried making a suggestion for improvements at your prison job? It goes nowhere, because the decision-makers in that organization know that there is no way for you to quit and start your own competing enterprise. The prison canteen, the cleanup crew, and so on, are state monopolies.

If you have to consult with your peers, the conversation spirals into never-ending "what-ifs". My managers and co-workers typically expressed little interest in my innovative ideas until I went off on my own and implemented them, and then came back and said "Look at this." I told them about an idea for automating data entry; they said there was no way to do it, so I proved them wrong and shared those macro generators with everyone. Then they gave me high marks for corporate citizenship; but it would've never happened if I'd had to get permission first. (Fortunately, there are fewer rules against, and more rewards for, showing initiative in the private sector.) It's been the same way in other venues, such as the wikisphere.

When communal consent is required prior to taking action, people tend to favor the status quo. When they are presented with the change and asked to ratify or acquiesce to it, then they are much more likely to accept it. In other words, individual initiative is key; and no other system but capitalism provides such opportunity for it, because no other system allows for private citizens to accumulate the resources needed to act unilaterally, show the consumers the merit of what they have to offer, and drive the less efficient firms out of business.

Capitalism as a source of laws against victimless crimes

It is true that business has influenced government, but government has also influenced business. For example, the contractors who build prisons and sell supplies to the prison system would not do so if the government did not hire them. Why do you blame capitalism for leading government astray, rather than government for paying private industry to help with its evil deeds?

One could just as easily blame politicians, churches, and various rent-seeking groups (such as psychologists) for the laws against victimless crimes. They provide intellectual cover for labeling certain behaviors immoral and sick. A lot of anti-freedom organizations are nonprofits run by people with closer ties to government than to private business.

For example, in 2004, the campaign against legalizing cannabis in Nevada was mostly organized by police officers. The pro-legalization effort, on the other hand, was conducted by a group funded by billionaire Peter Lewis. How is capitalism the villain in that situation? Also, the Soviet Union signed on to the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs that banned cannabis internationally (although admittedly, in the treaty negotiations the USSR led the group that pushed for weak international drug controls).

Capitalism as the cause of war in Iraq and Afghanistan

I don't see how the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan resulted from capitalism. The war in Iraq is often chalked up to a desire for oil, but that doesn't make sense, since Saddam Hussein was already selling oil to the U.S., and our oil prices don't seem to have diminished in the wake of the conquest. The war in Afghanistan resulted from the 9/11 attack, which in turn resulted from our intervention in the middle east, the reasons for which I can't figure out, to be honest with you. Supposedly there were concerns among politicians about humanitarian considerations and weapons of mass destruction; those are not capitalistic motives.[4]

Capitalism as the cause of the Cuban embargo

It's lame that we still have an embargo against Cuba, but again, that's politics. The Cuban-Americans in Florida, one of the influential states in Presidential elections, don't want the embargo lifted. I'm sure many private businesses in America would love to trade freely with Cubans.

Capitalism as the cause of expensive health care

The blame for this falls largely on the government, for over-regulating health care (e.g. through lengthy, burdensome Food and Drug Administration approval processes), enforcing drug patents, and encouraging insurance of health care rather than out-of-pocket payment. Insurance generates a lot of paperwork, not to mention moral hazards. The trial lawyers and their lobbyists have made malpractice insurance pretty expensive, too.

Capitalism as the cause of jobs going overseas

What is so bad about jobs going overseas? Don't the people in other countries need jobs too? Selfishness is often considered a vice of capitalism, but isn't it selfish for protectionists and others to want to keep the jobs in America?

But it's a moot point, because it's not a zero-sum game; there is no limited pool of jobs that has to be hoarded. Different countries specialize, just as individuals specialize, and the fact that China takes America's manufacturing jobs doesn't hurt America any more than the fact that I, personally, do not manufacture all my own goods hurts me as a person. I find some other way to earn a living, and trade for manufactured goods.

If that free trade did not exist, there would be other opportunities that would be closed off; for one thing, to the extent that we keep jobs in America that should be outsourced, it distracts Americans from doing what they're better at. If I had to manufacture all my own stuff, it would give me less time to program computers. Likewise, if America had to produce all its own cars, we would spend time working in car factories (not to mention broken down on the side of the road) that could have been better spent writing code in Silicon Valley.

Capitalism as the cause of expensive higher education

The rising cost of higher education is closely linked to rising amounts of money being made available by the federal government for student aid. There is little reason for universities to economize if the government will cover tuition increases. But one does not need a college degree anyway in order to get a high-paying job; many of the vocational trades are highly lucrative. Many wealthy entrepreneurs, too, were college dropouts or never entered college at all.

Capitalism as reason for secession not being allowed

The socialist states don't allow secession either, as Soviet Socialist Republics such as Poland and Chinese provinces such as Taiwan and Tibet found out. The reluctance to let regions break away and become independent is a statist problem in general, not unique to either socialism or crony capitalism. The classical liberal principle of self-determination, as elucidated by Mises, holds "whenever the inhabitants of a particular territory, whether it be a single village, a whole district, or a series of adjacent districts, make it known, by a freely conducted plebiscite, that they no longer wish to remain united to the state to which they belong at the time, but wish either to form an independent state or to attach themselves to some other state, their wishes are to be respected and complied with."[5]


  1. "Grade One" is a pay grade involving work that is "highly skilled" by prison work detail standards.
  2. Mises also wrote, "In the market economy the realization of technological innovations does not require anything more than the cognizance of their reasonableness by one or a few enlightened spirits. No dullness and clumsiness on the part of the masses can stop the pioneers of improvement. There is no need for them to win the approval of inert people beforehand. They are free to embark upon their projects even if everyone else laughs at them. Later, when the new, better and cheaper products appear on the market, these scoffers will scramble for them. However dull a man may be, he knows how to tell the difference between a cheaper shoe and a more expensive one, and to appreciate the usefulness of new products. But it is different in the field of social organization and economic policies. Here the best theories are useless if not supported by public opinion. They cannot work if not accepted by a majority of the people."
  3. Mui, Chunka (17 October 2011). "Five Dangerous Lessons to Learn From Steve Jobs". Forbes. 
  4. Higgs, Robert (2005). "A State of Ignorance". Mises Review 11 (4). 
  5. Mises, Ludwig von and Hermann-Hoppe, Hans (19 October 2012). "Mises on Secession". 

External links