Blackadder’s Lair

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Is America a Capitalist Country?

Distributism is often said (particularly by its adherents) to be an alternative both to socialism and to capitalism. But as G.K. Chesterton notes in his masterly work on Distributism, The Outline of Sanity, capitalism is a term that can mean several quite different things:

When I say “Capitalism,” I commonly mean something that may be stated thus: “That economic condition in which there is a class of capitalists, roughly recognizable and relatively small,
in whose possession so much of the capital is concentrated as to necessitate a very large majority of the citizens serving those capitalists for a wage.” This particular state of things can and does exist, and we must have some word for it, and some way of discussing it. But this is undoubtedly a very bad word, because it is used by other people to mean quite other things. Some people seem to mean merely private property. Others suppose that capitalism must mean anything involving the use of capital. But if that use is too literal, it is also too loose and even too large. If the use of capital is capitalism, then everything is capitalism. Bolshevism is capitalism and anarchist communism is capitalism; and every revolutionary scheme, however wild, is still capitalism. Lenin and Trotsky believe as much as Lloyd George and Thomas that the economic operations of to-day must leave something over for the economic operations of to-morrow. And that is all that capital means in its economic sense. In that case, the word is useless. My use of it may be arbitrary, but it is not useless.

If capitalism means private property, I am capitalist.

If capitalism means capital, everybody is capitalist.

But if capitalism means this particular condition of capital, only paid out to the mass in the form of wages, then it does mean something, even if it ought to mean something else.

Is modern day America capitalist in Chesterton’s sense? I would argue no. Continue reading

April 19, 2008 Posted by | Capitalism, Distributism | 8 Comments