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some linguistic subgroup might start using the term “zaxlebax” as though it just meant “metallic sphere,” or as though it just meant “something of the same kind as the Washington Monument.” And that’s fine. But my definition incorporates both, and thus conceals the false assumption that the Washington Monument is a metallic sphere; any attempt to use the term “zaxlebax,” meaning what I mean by it, involves the user in this false assumption.
Long sees capitalism in its common usage as similar.
By “capitalism” most people mean neither the free market simpliciter nor the prevailing neomercantilist system simpliciter. Rather, what most people mean by “capitalism” is this free-market system that currently prevails in the western world. In short, the term “capitalism” as generally used conceals an assumption that the prevailing system is a free market. And since the prevailing system is in fact one of government favoritism toward business, the ordinary use of the term carries with it the assumption that the free market is government favoritism toward business.
Similarly for socialism, Long writes. He thinks most people mean nothing more specific than “the opposite of capitalism.”
Then if “capitalism” is a package-deal term, so is “socialism” — it conveys opposition to the free market, and opposition to neomercantilism, as though these were one and the same.
And that, I suggest, is the function of these terms: to blur the distinction between the free market and neomercantilism. Such confusion prevails because it works to the advantage of the statist establishment: those who want to defend the free market can more easily be seduced into defending neomercantilism, and those who want to combat neomercantilism can more easily be seduced into combating the free market. Either way, the state remains secure.
In sum, the system that most immediately threatens individual liberty is corporatism (with its militarist component) and the word capitalism is too closely associated with corporatism in people’s minds to be useful to advocates of the freed market.
Sheldon Richman is editor of The Freeman, where this article originally appeared.