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The moment we call “capitalism” capitalism, I’ve come to believe, we’ve already conceded far too much ground to the other side, which of course portrays capitalism as a coherent system, imposed on economic life, just as socialism represents a system imposed on producers and consumers from the outside. If we’re simply choosing between two systems, the socialists contend, why choose the one imposed on the rest of us by rich cronies, interested only in their own wealth and power, instead of the system imposed by the government on behalf of ordinary people?
In truth, of course, capitalism represents the absence of any imposed economic system. Instead, it is simply what arises in conditions of freedom — the organic order that establishes itself as people come together in markets, pool their capital, respond to price signals, and so forth. Our choice isn’t between two systems, imposed on the rest of us, one by the rich, the other by the government. Not at all. Our choice is between freedom and coercion. The term “capitalism” obscures that absolutely basic point.
Which is why I found myself struck by one phrase in an email from a friend. He was writing about the pope’s visit, but the pontiff isn’t the issue here. Words — that is the issue here:
Go ask the world’s poor what they want. They want to learn how to achieve a better live for their families. Capitalism is an information and collaboration system.
Information and collaboration. Lovely, no? That’s what we’re talking about when we’re talking about capitalism.