Defining a Key Term

At The Guardian, Ha-Joon Chang—University of Cambridge economist and a contributor to Aftermath: A New Global Economic Order?—considers the nature of capitalism, what it means to be anti-capitalist, and whether such a label could reasonably be affixed to the Occupy movement:

The Occupy London movement is marking its first month this week. It is routinely described as anti-capitalist, but this label is highly misleading. As I found out when I gave a lecture at its Tent City University last weekend, many of its participants are not against capitalism. They just want it better regulated so that it benefits the greatest possible majority.

But even accepting that the label accurately describes some participants in the movement, what does being anti-capitalist actually mean?

Many Americans, for example, consider countries like France and Sweden to be socialist or anti-capitalist – yet, were their 19th-century ancestors able to time-travel to today, they would almost certainly have called today’s US socialist. They would have been shocked to find that their beloved country had decided to punish industry and enterprise with a progressive income tax. To their horror, they would also see that children had been deprived of the freedom to work and adults “the liberty of working as long as [they] wished”, as the US supreme court put it in 1905 when ruling unconstitutional a New York state act limiting the working hours of bakers to 10 hours a day. What is capitalist, and thus anti-capitalist, it seems, depends on who you are.

Read the full essay here.

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