“Inclusive Capitalism”: A Contradiction in Terms

Business Week columnist Diane Brady wonders whether business leaders might be able to “promote inclusive capitalism.” The premise underlying the question is that if faith in the capitalist system “were to falter, the result could be policies that truly sabotage growth.”

Brady considers the problem of “eroded trust” in terms of restoring the possibility of upward mobility — thereby making capitalism “truly inclusive.” Ultimately, though, she concludes that business “can lobby all it wants, what happens on the policy front is largely out of business leaders’ hands.”

I have to say, that’s news to me. The political-economic reality in this country, confirmed by recent studies as well as well-nigh everything we can observe about the political process, is that big capital keeps American policymakers comfortably and securely in its pockets. And, sad to say, an “inclusive” kind of capitalism — oxymoron that it is — is not and never has been the order of the day.

We should not, however, confuse free markets with capitalism, as Brady does. In his 1825 tract “Labor Defended Against the Claims of Capital,” free market radical and political economist Thomas Hodgskin knew better, and attempted to vindicate the worker on the grounds of economic freedom. In this way, Hodgskin was a precursor to market anarchists (such as myself) who see a stateless free market as the means of liberating and empowering labor.

A libertarian and free marketer, Hodgskin, building from the ideas of classical economists like Adam Smith and David Ricardo, contended that the state’s interventions into the economic realm were harmful to labor and advantageous to capital. Today, many of the so-called libertarians advocating for complete economic freedom (particularly in the United States) have forgotten or consciously disavowed this part of the libertarian tradition.

In its stead, they have taken free market ideas to be the basis of an apology for Big Business, indeed of an ever-growing corporate domination of the world, its natural resources, and of ordinary, working people. And this is a shame, especially so because the older libertarian tradition of people like Hodgskin and market anarchists like Lysander Spooner is more durable in terms of theory, the historical record and economic data.

Contemporary political candidates shy away from talking a whole lot (or at all) about an actual contest between labor and capital. But why should they talk about it? After all, virtually all of our “statesmen” are enthralled to the interests of Big Business, and the few who would ever dare to speak up about the plight of the poor and working class are accused straightaway of “class warfare.”

Well, here’s to the introduction of a bit of well-reasoned, thoughtful class warfare into the public discourse then, something in the vein of Hodgskin’s Defense of Labor. By feeding the mythologies of the God known as Capital, many American libertarians have (probably mostly) unwittingly retarded or decelerated the movement for genuine, consistent liberty, serving rather the opposite by making cases for capitalism.

In conditions of economic freedom — meaning circumstances in which land and opportunities are no coercively monopolized — labor would simply enjoy far more bargaining power, able to maintain self-sufficiency apart from the Big Business economy.

Indeed, the way to fabricate a system wherein the vast majority of individuals are inclined to work for a pittance of a wage at huge, faceless organization is to use the power of legal and regulatory authority to foreclose other options. Calling that a genuine free market is akin to calling Mao’s China or Stalin’s Soviet Union a genuine workers’ paradise. If I were Joe Biden, I might call it “malarkey.”

Politics is a losing game for people who want freedom, and “inclusion” is a chimera when it comes to capitalism. Market anarchists ask for equal freedom and opportunity, and for voluntary trade free from legal privilege, a truly inclusive system that is at once for free markets and against capitalism.

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