The “Anarchist Collective” YouTube channel has produced a video entitled “Top Ten Arguments for Capitalism,” a video that is meant to disprove all of the major lies that are traditionally put forward by the system’s supporters. After watching the video, however, I am surprised at how poor a job the creator of the video did in achieving his goal of a thorough criticism of capitalism. There are quite powerful arguments that can be levied against the capitalist system and the alleged lies that defend it, but I see few of them being used here, and the arguments invoked that traditionally have a great deal of strength are used in a mostly ineffective manner. I have a generally high opinion of the Anarchist Collective, with their criticism of Austrian Price Theory being the strongest that I have ever seen. Unfortunately, however, this video that is key for their case for libertarian socialism over capitalism fails on all major fronts. I will briefly give an overview of what I see as the fundamental failures of the video, and of leftist libertarianism in general, before going on and overviewing the specific faults in the arguments made.
This article ended up being far longer than I wanted it to, so I have included a TL;DR summary towards the end of the article.
Thoughts on Libertarian Socialism
I believe the greatest failure of the libertarian socialist movement is the fundamental lack of any strong economic school. The most promising development in the libertarian movement in the past decade is the strong role that the Austrian school of economics has taken within the movement. Today, we see the oddity of Henry Hazlitt’s “Economics in One Lesson” being read by many who call themselves libertarian. Perhaps, as an economist, I am overemphasizing the fundamental importance of a strong understanding of economics, but fundamentally the political question is an economic one. As Mises argued ardently in Human Action, the masses will never support a movement that they believe will have significant negative impacts on their living standards. While they may support something they believe to be more morally righteous to a point, any choice between permanently decreasing or slowing the growth of living standards by a sizeable amount is unlikely to ever be seriously considered. Despite this, anyone with any noteable understanding of any economic school, regardless of the school, understands exactly how rare an understanding of economics is. This is what I find most depressing in the modern political discourse: the distinct lack of any understanding of economics. Yes, vague notions concerning economic relationships are present, but this is in no way a coherent economic worldview. Unfortunately, the left-libertarianism presented in the video does nothing to get around this, or to present a strong economic theory.
Please note that I am not criticizing the presenter for promoting an economic theory that is counter to my own, I am criticizing him for not having any strong economic theory at all. In order to show that libertarian socialism is superior to capitalism one must show both that capitalism is an undesirable system and that libertarian socialism is a desirable system. To be strong, both of these have to be integrated into an overall economic theory. Marxism was the strongest theoretical criticism of capitalism that has ever been constructed, but one of its major failures is that traditional Marxism never lays out socialism as being superior to capitalism, it only declares its inevitability. Due to this lack of any central economic vision, the Anarchist Collective merely succeeds in stringing together facts, ones that are very much favorable to their own worldview. While one might argue that this is simply the purpose of argumentation, applying this sort of scrutiny to capitalism, while not applying it to libertarian socialism, is truly disingenuous.
A second fundamental problem with the video, and a problem that plagues the left, is a failure to define capitalism. Even if we assume capitalism to consist merely of its dictionary definition: “Private control of the means of production,” this still homogenizes many very different economic systems, something that makes the presentation very less than rigorous, and which leaves it open to attack by supporters of true free markets and heavily regulated markets alike. We must assume here that “capitalism” is used to mean “middle-of-the-road” capitalism that sees a decent amount of government regulation while still maintaining a fair amount of room for private initiative. Unfortunately we will see that even this definition begins to break down quite quickly when we reach the point about Africa, however.
A final criticism I have about this video is simply that it is not a thorough investigation of the subject at hand. It is less than conclusive in all respects, and anyone who knows much about these subjects would barely consider it a starting point. This is particularly strong because of the profound lack of strong theoretical support.
I should note, however, that this type of capitalism criticized by the Anarchist Collective does in fact promote some kind of a service. This video does a good job of attacking the common conception of capitalism held by groups such as modern democrats and republicans. Such views oftentimes get dogmatic, and although the video would mainly appeal to the left side of this more modern view while putting pressure on the right side of the dynamic, I am certainly a supporter of shaking up the common worldview to consider a wider array of ideological possibilities.
Now I will go through and critique the various points that the Anarchist Collective makes while following the order that it makes them. I will try to be as fair as possible in all of my assessments, and fortunately we agree on a few points. Before I begin, I would like to note the impressive quality of the presentation given within the video.
A Critique of the Arguments
10. The most immediate flaw in this argument is that it conflates capitalism with what capitalism is not and can not be. Capitalism is not a form of government unless you are defining capitalism in a very bizarre way, and one which very few would support. The video implicitly assumes that it is global economic poverty caused by capitalism that prevents universal public education. This cannot be true unless you define capitalism as a system of government that is synonymous with nationalism. This is because in all modern well-developed capitalist countries have universal public education. What is depriving poorer nations of education, therefore, is the nationalist system that splits the world into nations that do or do not have money. Private ownership of the means of production is certainly conceivable under a state of anarchy, or a state in which borders were perfectly open to movement. Moreover, state socialism, fascism and even libertarian socialism, are conceivable within systems where resources are split between the areas that are very wealthy and those that are very poor, such that only the wealthy can grant universal education. Indeed, if we wish to speak of what evidence suggests, and evidence that is reaffirmed all the time, it would definitely seem as if libertarian socialism would be just as bad or worse than the modern economic and political system with respect to prohibiting poorer areas from receiving education.
What perpetuates modern nationalism? One can certainly argue that it is partially because of the machinations of the capitalists, although one must ask why perfectly free orders would not be supported for those looking for cheap workers; but in the end, not even the capitalists can suppress popular movements in democratic countries. Radically opening up nations to foreign immigration or melding with other nations is rarely, if ever, talked about in perfectly open democratic discourse. There is no evidence this would ever be the case since countries, states, counties and cities all tend to develop a strong sense of identity and independence. As an American, I have been surprised at the extent to which people from different cities can hold animosity towards each other because of stereotypes that pervade between these places. Telling people that their resources should be allocated to those in distant lands with very different cultures, or that large immigration should be allowed from these places, is quite implausible. If we wish to speak of evidence for this, then we need only ask why this is so rare now? If we achieve the libertarian socialist vision, if we communalize nearly all aspects of human life, any allocation of these resources elsewhere will be open to all the pigheadedness we see in modern politics, and will have to conflict with what is likely to be a very strong sense of community. Indeed, I believe that I remember the YouTuber “leftlibertarian” of the anarchist collective promoting the joining into communities of about 150, and branching off from there into larger federations. Yet acknowledgement of Dunbar’s number is an acknowledgement of how we tend to see those further removed from us as being inhuman, and so it is most unlikely that we will see a great amount of international and intercultural unity.
Therefore it is incoherent to either blame the present lack of universal education throughout the world upon capitalism, and it is incoherent to implicitly contend that libertarian socialism would solve this problem. Even if one claims that capitalism, in its present state, prevents economic development so that poorer nations cannot afford to provide education, this assumes that such areas have strong capitalist leanings, something that we shall show is incorrect below.
As to the claim made at the beginning of the video, that few people feel connected with their jobs, this takes the incredibly holistic view that all societies are identical and that it matters whether or not most people feel connected with their jobs. Innovation rarely if ever comes from the lower echelons of the workforce. Being a scientist is a specialized position for a reason: most people are incapable of thinking at a level high enough to innovate. I take this as being self-evident from meeting most people, and because we need people who perform more menial roles. Regardless of what many leftists seem to like to believe, nearly all roles within an advanced economy are smaller cogs in a much greater machine. There is no system that does not sizably harm output levels that can change this. People are allocated in specific fields because they can produce valuable outputs there, and they are often sectioned off into specialized fields because they are more efficient that way. Not everyone can be a doctor; the overwhelming brunt of our economy must consist of those who make shirts, computers, cars, and so on, and the best way to do this is through specialization. If libertarian socialism truly conflicts with this, it does everyone a disservice.
Finally, the claim assumes that it is impossible that people will feel engaged with their work. If we are to take a society that values hard work and integration with the market economy, there is no reason why individuals would not feel more engaged in their work. This is to say that different societal values lead to different reactions to different kinds of work. If we acknowledge our greater role in a harmonious market system, and if workers demand more engaging conditions, then workers will find their role more engaging, and businesses will have to find a way to make jobs more engaging. Since workers would be far more willing to work in engaging firms, firms that provided more engaging employment opportunities at similar or lower wages would gain a competitive edge in finding talent. Such competition over labor would soon fill the market with more engaging jobs, wherever this is possible. I see such a shift in values and expectations at least as likely as a shift from our modern system to libertarian socialism. It should be noted that the fundamental point here is that if workers demanded jobs that they felt more engaged in as a whole then the problem would be solved by employers competing over employees. It is, as is often the case, the fault of the masses for the plight of the masses.
9. I won’t spend nearly as much time on this section simply because the argument is far more simple and far weaker. First of all, saying that the IMF and World Bank simply shove down neoliberal reforms to developing countries, that therefore you can aggregate massive areas with various types of nations and various levels of influence by “neoliberalism”, take the average of their growth over decades, and then pass judgement on free trade, is just absurd. I invite anyone who is interested to look at the Fraser Institute’s “Economic Freedom of the World” index, for a far more rigorous look at this issue. While there are certainly flaws in the index, (I think that China’s score rated as being far smaller than it really is, particularly considering the fact that you can consider much of its growth to market reforms), it is certainly a far better analysis than you have here. I find it unsurprising that they find a relatively strong correlation between growth and economic freedom. Perhaps of most interest is the fact that many Sub-Saharan African countries are towards the bottom of the list, and that many developed countries are near the top. Of course one might dispute these results, but nevertheless the issue is certainly far less conclusive than the collective has painted it out to be. If we are to look at the recurring tariff example, which finds its primary basis within empirical work, since its standing in economic theory has almost always disputed, then we should consistently accept the policies of the 1800’s as an outline for growth. This would imply petite and reasonably laissez-faire states promote growth, although such solutions are apparently rejected within this video as vulgar neoliberalism.
As for the claim made by the end of the video, the internet is one of the worst examples that one could give for a case where state-funded innovation lead to growth. The basis for the internet is an incredibly simple idea, one that is barely a great innovation. Making the internet into something people actually want to use and that is worthwhile, however, is most certainly something that occurred thanks to private initiative on all fronts.This occured both from the spontaneous innovation by individuals and communities that the libertarian-socialists adore so much, and which capitalist acts are merely one type of, and by firms seeking a profit. I’ll end with two comments. First of all, the publication, “The Economist,” had a long series of articles a few years back on the matter of state-owned firms. In these articles, they concluded that state-owned firms are probably best left to large and relatively “static” industries, while innovative new industries are probably best left to market startups. Secondly, any innovation we do see out of the public sector, as opposed to the private sector, is not necessarily an argument for the public sector. Indeed, with the government pouring billions of dollars into R&D for war spending and other research that is oftentimes unrelated to market demand, it is unsurprising that they may well occasionally produce something of value, but also crowd out private innovation in the process.
8. Once again, this claim is not a very strong one. Indeed, I was anticipating a better argument upon reading the point. If we return to my argument above about what exactly capitalism means, we have to assume here that this is referring entirely to the modern system. It cannot, of course, be referring to a system of integrated free markets throughout the world, since we don’t have anything approaching that. Instead, the remarkable poverty of many countries can primarily be attributed to the governments that they have, which prevent any sort of economic freedom and growth from flourishing. It would take a full rejection of economic theory to argue that free markets would sustain long-run wage imbalances to the absurd extent that exist in the world today. Historically then this is also a portion of the problem, since overpopulation in underdeveloped countries which are sectioned off from the world economy will decrease wages, and there is an incredibly strong historical link between rising incomes and falling fertility rates. This is to say that the poverty of underdeveloped nations is in large part due to internal overpopulation, which is in turn due to poor economic development caused by statism, chaos, and a general lack of free markets, at least internally.
The most we can conclude from this is that nationalism/sectionalism, and an absence of free markets is bad and leads to a misallocation of goods internationally compared to what should be there. Not only is this something that any consistent (by my measure) capitalist would say, but we also have no evidence that this misallocation internationally would be abolished if the libertarian socialists seized power, since much of the problem is the sort of sectionalism and nationalism that libertarian socialism has the potential to increase drastically.
As for the problem of people buying things that they don’t want, I don’t find this to be a very compelling argument since these are the same people that left-anarchists wish to turn over direct control of the entire economic structure to. I agree that many people are rather unintelligent and will buy things that they do not particularly want or need. The logical consequence of this, however, is in no way that these people need more control over the structure of production. If people make bad decisions for themselves, then it is madness to believe that they will make better decisions for people far removed from them concerning processes they don’t understand.
7. This argument fails for very simple reason. The brunt of the video’s point revolves around the assumption that the media has an incentive to sell products through advertising, yet in the event that “ethical consumerism” became a popular mass movement, then quite simply there would be no better way to undercut a competitor than to use ethical business practices and advertise this. One could argue that consumers, in their ignorance, would not know which are lying and which are not, but once more if this became an important mass movement then it would not be difficult simply for a consumer’s organization to come together and begin appraising products. This also solves the problem of consumers not knowing how products were made. What I consider the best part of socialist anarchism is their admiration and emphasis of the spontaneous and beneficial interactions of individuals. Yet, for some reason, this entire propensity is removed or castrated under any sort of capitalist system.
6. Fortunately, we actually agree on the brunt of this point in that the manipulation of the government by corporations will always make the regulations of companies by the government unreliable and inefficient. I should point out, again, that if democracy were generally an efficient system of providing control, that we would generally expect generally democratic control to mitigate any such problems.
5. I generally agree with this point.
4. This point is correct if one accepts that owning private property, and hiring others to work with this property, is somehow negative in the same way as Nazism or slavery. This point, however, is far deeper than the point presented. I do believe that it is disingenuous to address this point first, the refutation of which is entirely based upon the point described above that is never proven or really even touched upon. This is also present in other arguments such as in number 5, where it is stated as a matter of course that if you work for someone else that you are being exploited.
3. This is probably the worst point made in the entire video. The argument of all socialist ideologies, insofar as they have ever been able to mass any sort of popular support, is that people would be better under socialism than capitalism, and that capitalism ultimately inhibits living standards. The only possible caveat are the Marxists who argue to various degrees that capitalism is useful in achieving the final state of socialism. Therefore, whether or not capitalism is the best system at increasing living standards is a matter of great importance to socialists and capitalists alike. As for the continued unproven conflation of capitalism to fascism and slavery, fascism ultimately reduced living standards for all Europeans as a result of World War II, killing many in the process, and beyond the war element which is responsible for this, it is difficult to discern such a system from many modern states. At any rate, only capitalism, even in the diluted form that has existed over the last 250 years, has given the astounding long-term gains to productivity and living standards that have been seen over this period. The human population was about a tenth of what it is presently; and while purely population cannot be used in claiming that one system is superior to another, the growth in productive power is clear. Moreover, the vast increase in living standards over this period, usually for the most capitalistic countries, is a testament to how amazingly productive the system actually is. To marginalize this system and compare it to slavery, an institution that existed for thousands of years over which time the vast majority lived at the level of subsistence, is laughable. Therefore we might say that, as his condition requires, only capitalism has provided long run massive increases in living standards. This is, therefore, a very strong argument in favor of its perpetuation.
Perhaps the worst part of this argument is that the premise of the entire video was undermined at the very end of this point. This whole video, and indeed the whole of the left-libertarian thesis as it presently exists, is contingent upon the idea that capitalism and libertarian socialism are at odds. While this might be true in the strictest definition of those terms, it is most certainly untrue if we consider communes and syndicates within the context of free markets. No one could prevent, and few would have any reason to prevent, people coming together to cooperate in a direct democratic manner, either in the workplace or on a community level. Syndicates could compete freely against traditional firms, and if they were better at attracting workers and producing output, then traditional firms would easily be run into the ground and the socialists would achieve their goal. The irony here is simply that if the socialists “win” then they have been right all along and the world will quickly organize in a socialistic manner. If the socialists “lose” then they are wrong and in the end we just resume with traditional capitalism. I wasn’t planning on hitting this point so hard, although it very important, except that the video implicitly accepts this itself. It concedes that in Argentina, which I assume is a capitalist nation by the standards of the video, the workers sector is improving living standards and expanding. If this is possible in Argentina, then why not everywhere, so long as markets are free? Surely it will be infinitely easier to lead by example and get people to join friendly high-paying workers syndicates and the like as they spread, rather than trying to first convert the whole world ideologically.
2. I won’t spend too much time on this argument simply because I don’t really care what the “conclusion” is either way. Human nature in this context matters little to the overall issue. First, I will simply point that this is quintessential example of what Hayek criticized so brilliantly in “The Fatal Conceit.” Presently, humans exist in many different types of spheres, each of which has its own logic and customs. Saying that because we function well in the communal sphere, that the capitalist sphere cannot exist is like saying that because you routinely have sex with your boyfriend or girlfriend, that you should have sex with anyone who catches your eye. We deal with people differently in different spheres. Hayek deals with this in an in-depth manner and destroys the entire argument. Trust and community break down in very large social units, and we can no longer treat people like family because we no longer know their specific needs and traits. To say that we can treat the whole world as we do our family is to run into impossibility and demean the concept of friends and family. I invite all readers to look over Hayek’s short but brilliant book, which is available in PDF format. It should lay to rest most of the importance that this point pretends to have.
Secondly, I am less than convinced that humans don’t have a significant competitive streak within their very nature. This is simply a matter of biology. The way that one attracted mates historically was by being the best, most attractive, and most security-providing person one could be. If you want to see this in nature, then any number of mammalian species, including all the ape families, will show you that this is the case. Even some of the most “communistic” of all mammals who rely upon cooperation for any hope of survival, wolves, have a huge amount of competition over dominance within the pack, with every wolf always aspiring to ascend to a greater height in the hierarchy. Finally, for whatever my anecdotal evidence is worth, I certainly cannot recall any behavior in my school life that made me more competitive. The only legitimate exception to this would be sports, which is a pastime that the common person has always loved, and that was very popular even before mass education really took off.
1. I agree that other systems are possible, libertarian socialism being one of them. I am less than convinced that these are effective and viable alternatives to free-market capitalism, something that we do not have now, and the absence of which has always lead to the terrible consequences that the video speaks of. The strong economic arguments for capitalism remain untouched by this video, as do the strongest criticisms of libertarian socialism.
At any rate, as the video reaches its triumphal conclusion, we see that it has unfortunately failed in every one of its major goals. Capitalism has only been shown to be “less than perfect”, something that it should always have been presented as. We may or may not gain a great deal from defending capitalism, this depends upon the true economic grounding which it has, something which has barely even been scratched by this video. Alternatives have not come close to being shown as superior to capitalism. The ethical attack made on capitalism is frankly laughable, with nothing more than equivocations to Nazism and slavery being made. Not a single legitimate point was made on this front. If such an argument is valid, then I could simply equate libertarian socialism to Stalinism for confiscating what properly belongs to the capitalists, and be done with it.
A. Global wealth inequality is first and foremost the result of nationalist statism. There is no reason to believe that this would continue in a libertarian society
B. Capitalism is not a system of governance, it is an economic system
C. Nationalistic tendencies may well remain, or even strengthen, under libertarian socialism
D. Many people are simply not naturally intelligent
E. Many jobs really are menial and not very important. Many people, therefore, are unlikely to feel engaged with their work under any system unless such jobs, important en masse, are abolished.
A. Conflating areas, growth rates, and policies, is generally not very helpful
B. This is especially true when many nations in South America and in Africa are right at the bottom of the EFW Index
C. If we are treating how many modern industrialized nations developed as the main recipe for growth, then many of them did this with petite governments
D. It is no wonder that when the state-sector takes up such a large amount of R&D that some level of innovation would result since we would see crowding out from the private sector
A. Free markets cannot be blamed for the phenomenon that wage rates have not equalized internationally, and therefore for global inequality. Once again, it is also less than clear that this situation would be helped with libertarian socialism.
B. Arguing that most people are so ignorant that they buy useless things, and arguing that most people should have an integral role in the productive process, is highly inconsistent.
A. If “Ethical consumerism” becomes a popular movement then companies can profit from promoting how ethical they are. The video concedes this by emphasizing mass marketing of products.
B. In order for libertarian socialism to be possible, individuals must have a strong propensity to spontaneously organize into groups. If this is the case then surely consumers can group together to create an organization that investigates business behaviors and credit those who behave “ethically”.
A. We generally agree on this point. But, once again, if democracy is not efficient enough to stop this then it is less than obvious that it is an effective system governance, and it is inconsistent to advocate for it.
A. We generally agree on this point.
A. This point treats it as a matter of course that capitalism is the ethical equivalent of Nazism or Slavery. This is never proven throughout within the video.
B. It is disingenuous to even make this argument before the above moral claim is established.
A. The video undermines the importance of this matter when almost the entire socialism vs. capitalism debate ultimately relies on whether or not capitalism or socialism is more beneficial for raising living standards.
B. Capitalism, even in the inhibited form in which it exists, is has caused amazing leaps and bounds in living standards in the past 250 or so years. No other system has come close. Any economic theory that doesn’t try to deal with the most important economic leap to have ever occurred can be taken seriously.
C. Fascism did not ultimately succeed in raising living standards, nor has the ancient institution of slavery. This point is still based on a false analogy.
D. The entire premise of the video is undermined with this argument, since it shows that free market capitalism and libertarian socialism are not actually at odds. If libertarian socialism truly is the superior system it can undercut capitalism from the inside.
A. This point assumes that just because human nature favors one system or another that we can conflate all social spheres. Hayek refutes this notion in “The Fatal Conciet”. In short, we cannot treat people we do not even know like family, so we have markets to deal with the needs of those we do not know
B. Competitive behavior is likely a part of human nature because this is how our ancestors attracted mates. Even extremely communal mammals display very competitive attitudes towards one another.
C. I don’t believe that schools promote competition, the only possible exception being sports whose popularity precedes mass schooling. This point, at any rate, is never really developed.
A. While other systems are certainly “possible” in the strictest sense, it has not been proven within this video that any other system is viable, or superior to capitalism within a moral or utilitarian framework.
B. Many of the conclusions reached at the end of the video have been shown to have insufficient backing, false, or entirely unproven.
If the producers of this video care at all about avoiding rehashed phrases that are meaningless, and principles that are inconsistent with reality, then in future I invite them to provide stronger evidence, deal with the true arguments for capitalism, the strong criticisms of libertarian socialism, and above all to please define the term “capitalism” before making an entire video criticizing it, when so much of the legitimacy of these criticisms depend upon the definition being used.