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01/28/2021

Liberty Pulse

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“Capitalism” Forever

2 min read

“Capitalism” Forever

Previously, I, Walter Block, published an article on the use of the word “capitalism.” I defended the employment of this nomenclature in the promotion of libertarianism, criticizing the formation of a group, lead by my old and good friend, Sheldon Richman, called Libertarians Against Capitalism. I am now coauthoring this reply to Sheldon with Jackson, who wrote me a letter very supportive of my side of this debate; I have edited this letter of his and included it in this response.

In due course, Sheldon published a rejoinder to my article. As is his wont, it was thoughtful and knowledgeable. So much so, that it almost convinced me. But, not quite. However, he might well have made one good point, about which I was, I confess, ignorant. I had stated that the bad guys were trying to steal the word “libertarian” from us; but Sheldon, perhaps a better historian than me, has pointed out that we free enterprisers were the initial “thieves.” (I place scare quotes around “thieves” to indicate that poaching of language is not akin to stealing real property. As Stephan Kinsella has so masterfully shown,Download PDF there can be no such thing as intellectual property in the libertarian law code; thus, there can be no theft of it, either.) It was my supposition that Spooner and Tucker were the first to use this word in the modern (political economic) manner, but, alas, I may well have been mistaken in this.

I did some (belated) research on this question; see here, here, and here. The first two links still seem ambiguous to me; the latter clearly supports Sheldon’s position. As well, I have been told that a forthcoming book of Murray Rothbard’s letters, edited by David Gordon, buttresses Sheldon’s interpretation. On the other hand, this essay would tend in the other direction, and I am not historian enough to come to a definitive conclusion. So, let me stipulate, arguendo, that I was wrong in my contention, and Sheldon correct. I nevertheless persist in thinking that this error of mine, and thus Sheldon’s correction of me, if that is what it indeed is, is really irrelevant to the point I was initially making: that it would be a grievous mistake to jettison the word “capitalism” from our libertarian lexicon. I think Sheldon agrees with me as to the relative unimportance of the (well nigh possible) error of mine, as he says, “But let that pass.”

Now we come to the crux of his rejection of “capitalism.” Sheldon says, in response to my request that he disband this initiative of his:

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