Control freaks vs. capitalism and freedom

Janet Daley:

Some of the demonstrators in this week's G20 protest jamboree are demanding the "overthrow" of capitalism. Well, there are lots of things than can be done to "capitalism" – it can be undermined, suppressed, sabotaged, even outlawed – but it cannot be "overthrown" because in itself, it has no power.

It is the very opposite, in fact, of a tyranny. It is simply the conglomeration of all the transactions made between individual and corporate players in an open market. Some people may gain power through those transactions but that power is transient and contingent on their own financial success: they are not installed in immutable positions from which they can be forcibly removed in a coup d'etat.

The question we are wrestling with now – and which the G20 will certainly fail to resolve – is how much the bodies which actually do have power should undermine, suppress, sabotage or even outlaw the practice of capitalist exchange.

Those who talk of "overthrowing" capitalism are determined to depict it as a system of government in a precise parallel with socialism, when in reality, capitalism is not a system in the ideological sense.

It is, if anything, an anti-system: the aggregation of human behaviour as it goes about fulfilling particular wants and needs. It can be described in anthropomorphic terms, such as "ruthless" or "benign" but of itself has no motives and no objectives. (Gordon Brown is more than usually fatuous when he insists that markets need to have "values": only people have values, methods of exchange do not.)

It is in the interests of the Left to talk as if capitalism and socialism were precisely analogous because then they can be seen as competitors and in bad times, the command economy as opposed to the market-based one can win the popularity contest. But this fallacious argument into which, I am sorry to say, a great many well-intentioned people are allowing themselves to be drawn is very dangerous: capitalism isn't really an "ism" which is why the term "free market economics" is so much more apt.

When we make the case for capitalism, we are defending the political principle of freedom, not arguing for one kind of rigid economic organisation over another. The debate is being hopelessly muddied by those late converts to free enterprise – politicians like Mr Brown who believe that markets should only survive if they can be made to serve Left-wing purposes.


What the Obama administration is proposing in some cases is worse than socialism. They want to take control of the business decisions without taking responsibility for the consequences of their decisions. They are destroying the travel and entertainment sector of the economy with their moral preening. They want to dictate what kind of cars we can buy by making the decision on what the manufacturers may build.

Obama may be the biggest left wing control freak in US history to have this much power and we will regret giving him that power very soon. No one is smart enough to make the decisions for us in what we want or need or when we want or need it. Only the market can meet that demand and no command from government can substitute for it.


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