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Free Minds & Free Markets

3 Cheers for Capitalism: #MeToo Swimsuits, Girl Scout Cookies at Pot Shops, and Jimmy Buffett Not Begging For Food

If you ever wondered why free enterprise and capitalism triumphed over command economies and communism, I've got some answers right here.

Sports Illustrated, Vanity FairSports Illustrated, Vanity FairLast fall, Katherine Mangu-Ward and I participated in a widely attended and watched debate about "capitalism" with the socialist editors of Jacobin magazine (you can watch it right here and you can listen as a podcast). Actually, to be fully accurate, I should say the Jacobin folks thought we were debating late capitalism.

That's the preferred term to describe what the hard left believes are the final days of private property, free enterprise, wage labor, and all the epiphenomena related to what Marx called capitalism. I first encountered late capitalism (the phrase, not the supposed objective reality) when I started graduate school for literary studies in 1988. Almost everyone assumed that the Cold War would be resolved in favor of the Soviets and communism. When that turned out to be way off, many academics switched to using advanced capitalism, which got most of the opprobrium across without betraying too much teleological optimism.

When the Great Recession hit, late capitalism came back into vogue. Finally, markets and economies were collapsing all around the globe, comrades! And yet...here we are, a decade or so later and capitalism is still doing pretty well. To be sure, it's nowhere near perfect, but what economic historian (and Reason contributing editor) Deirdre McCloskey calls "the Great Enrichment" proceeds apace, with fewer and fewer people living in what the U.N. calls "extreme poverty." As everyone except Pope Francis will tell you, that's because of free-er trade and more (not fewer) markets. As Ronald Bailey has documented, higher levels of economic freedom correlate strongly with longer lives, less disease, better environmental indicators, and even higher rates of life satisfaction.

Communists, socialists, progressives, and critics ranging from Fredric Jameson to Bernie Sanders to Thomas Frank to Naomi Klein to Hans Magnus Enzenberger continue to marvel at and grouse about the ways in which capitalism "absorbs" economic and philosophical challenges, "commodifies" them, and then keeps on truckin'. Capitalism's genius, it turns out, is a form of repressive tolerance that, as economist Joseph Schumpeter observed, brought more and more stuff to more and more people. "The capitalist achievement," he wrote, "does not typically consist in providing more silk stockings for queens but in bringing them within reach of factory girls."

Or, to put it in slightly different terms, capitalism allows more people to express themselves through work and live relatively high on the hog. Which brings to me three examples torn from today's headlines that show why capitalism persists—and why that's not a bad thing at all.

1. Sports Illustrated's #MeToo Swimsuit issue. What do you do with a classically sexist excresence of capitalism such as Sports Illustrated's annual "swimsuit issue" in an era of heightened sensitivity? You commodify your dissent ("SI swimsuit models celebrate more than just their bodies"), even if that means devoting pages to women wearing no bathing suits at all:

2. "Girl Scout sells 300 boxes of cookies outside pot dispensary." Well, of course she did! The nine-year-old entrepreneur, who isn't being named, sold about 50 boxes an hour by showing up outside a San Diego pot store, according to her father. And to its credit, the Girl Scouts organization is cool with it all.

urbanleafca, Instagramurbanleafca, Instagram

FFS, even communists are getting with the program: Young Pioneer Tours, a company that takes its name from (mandatory) youth groups in Russia, China, Cuba, and elsewhere, markets its trips to the former Soviet Union, North Korea, and elsewhere as "group tours for people who hate groups."

WikipediaWikipedia3. Awful musician Jimmy Buffett is not only not living hand-to-mouth, but is insanely wealthy. If you're lucky, you only know one song by the bard of "parrotheads," 1977's ode to alcoholism, "Margaritaville." Better yet, you know no songs by Buffett, whom, as Eric Cartman observes in a South Park episode, "nobody likes...except frat boys and alcoholic chicks from the South." As The New York Times reports, though, Buffett is worth around $550 million and presides over a growing empire of bars and casinos, has a Broadway show based on his music, and owns more houses than he can keep track of (though it goes unmentioned, Buffett is also a prolific author). Under what other economic system could something like this happen without pillage and plunder? Although I call him an "awful musician" (hey, I've listened to Last Mango in Paris) one of the things that is great about capitalism is that my tastes (or yours, for that matter) don't get to dictate anything other than what I consume. Capitalism is the application of classical liberal principles to economics, so pluralism and diversity are the rule, not the exception. People who like Jimmy Buffett can dine at Margaritaville restaurants, catch his show on Broadway, and read his books. And the rest of can avoid him like the plague. That's an outcome all of us should be able and willing to live with.

So three cheers for capitalism, which enables free expression, social and commercial innovation, and generally rising standards of living. It's not perfect, but it beats the alternatives.

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  • John C. Randolph||

    Jimmy Buffet is a great songwriter, and fuck you if you're too pretentious to appreciate him.

    -jcr

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Gillespie's the people our parents warned us about

  • Conchfritters||

    Mama tried

  • Texasmotiv||

    I'm actually a really big buffet fan (though I don't self-identify as a parrothead).

    It's hard to find music in his genre of tropical-themed-folk-country. You have to appreciate someone who found a niche and made a successful brand out of it.

    Living and dying in 3/4 time is a really good album. Check it out with an open mind, If you've only ever heard his big hits.

  • Red Tony||

    I'll do that, thanks Texas. I've only heard Changes in Attitude, but I thought it was really good.

  • Mickey Rat||

    Gillespie has a revulsion to any expression of joy.

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    Well said John C. Snarks always have to find fault with anyone who has reached any level of popular success. As if only the mostly unknown performer who suffered greatly for his art is worthy.

  • SRVolunteer||

    Jimmy's genius is that his music is so simple that everyone in the bar can sing along just fine, no matter how drunk they are or how little musical ability they have.

  • Árboles de la Barranca||

    Sorry, even though I have acquaintances who idolize Jimmy, the only song I can name by him is "Margaritaville", which is a great song, worthy of the Rock Hall of Fame. Personally, I'd rather listen to Javier Solis - but that makes me pretentious.

    -adlb

  • PaulTheBeav||

    True fact.

  • SimonD||

    I don't know if he's a great songwriter, but he has a gift for writing a catchy tune that makes good background music for doing other things. He's a genius in his own way.

  • Bill||

    I enjoy him at festivals. Sing-along songs.

  • Alan Vanneman||

    Nice nudes, Nick! Have you seen the piece on Ed Crane over at Politico? Ayn Rand, move over, eh? Guess it's sooooo lucky that the Koch putsch happened when it did!

  • K.M. Smith||

    Less words, more swimsuit issue! :)

  • DesigNate||

    Nick is secretly a parrothead who also likes Kenny Chesney. You heard it here first.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    The Jacket would never let its host listen to Kenny Chesney.

  • SIV||

    a classically sexist excresence of capitalism such as Sports Illustrated's annual "swimsuit issue"

    Sexist or not, back in the dead-tree days nearly all the single-issue sales of the swimsuit Sports Illustrated were to women. It took over rack space in grocery store checkout aisles and crossed over to the "ladies magazine" side of the newsstands.

  • CE||

    Somehow I doubt it. But capitalism gives people what they want. Feature, not bug.

  • lap83||

    That SI #metoo issue is either the dumbest or most brilliant marketing ever, I can't decide

  • JuanQPublic||

    And many men looking at the "me too" edition probably can't tell if they're just enjoying it or they have a pathological condition.

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    That's some irony in the raw there.

  • drugwarisevil||

    Nick it was a post from Reason (I think it was yours) that lead me to Portishead and the song Glory Box. I would hope that libertarians would appreciate Jimmy Buffets music more, particularly those referencing the drug war like Havana Daydreamin and A Pirate Looks At Forty. But I also intuit in Buffet's music a respect for the freedom to immigrate in search of a better life. Seems a natural for libertarians.

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    Nobody Speaks To The Captain No More is a decent antiwar song. Yeah, even though I think Buffett is at least somewhat liberal, his music does speak to libertarians.

  • BlueStarDragon||

    Enjoy Every Sandwich|2.9.18 @ 7:54AM|#

    Nobody Speaks To The Captain No More is a decent antiwar song. Yeah, even though I think Buffett is at least somewhat liberal, his music does speak to libertarians.

    You should note that one of Jimmy's favorite songs and one that he sing is about Doing a job right and getting paid well for it. Damn I forgot the name but in the song it question why a person does their job and each replied is about doing your best at your job.

  • Flagrown||

    You're probably think of his song "It's My Job:"

    In the middle of late last night I was sittin' on a curb
    I didn't know what about but I was feeling quite disturbed
    A street sweeper came whistlin' by
    He was bouncin' every step
    It seemed strange how good he felt
    So I asked him while he swept

    He said "It's my job to be cleaning up this mess
    And that's enough reason to go for me
    It's my job to be better than the rest
    And that makes the day for me"

  • CE||

    If you're really lucky, you have Jimmy Buffett's Greatest Hits album.

    I made enough money to buy Miami but I pissed it away so fast....

  • Finrod||

    Back when I was an impoverished grad student looking to expand my music collection, I bought two cassettes on the same day: Boston's first album, and Jimmy Buffet's Greatest Hits.

    I listened to the Boston album more times in that one day than I listened to the Jimmy Buffet album in total.

  • Bubba Jones||

    Only alcoholic chicks in the south?

    So... 20 million or so fans?

    I married one of them.

  • Rockabilly||

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    Wood.

  • IceTrey||

    What's not perfect about capitalism?

  • The Last American Hero||

    People that majored in Engineering make more money than I do, and don't even get me started on the guys that went to business school.

    /humanities or grievance studies professor

  • mad_kalak||

    Lots of things, it is just the best economic system there is, compared to all the others.

  • Banake||

    Anything involving the #metoo movement is an against, not a pro. Seriously Gillespie, stop writting shit.

  • Banake||

    Of course, this was written by the same clown who made this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wweYgq048s

  • silver.||

    Who quotes Southpark?

    ...graduate school for literary studies in 1988...

    Ah.

  • some guy||

    Capitalism is the application of classical liberal principles to economics, so pluralism and diversity are the rule, not the exception

    All things that every good statist (conservative, socialist, progressive, whatever) hates. How dare people own their own bodies, own the products of their labor and enjoy free association with other individuals!

  • mad_kalak||

    I wonder if the woman in the picture is aware of the dissonance of the message on her shirt and the actions she is taking, or if more likely, she believes it to be true. And no, to be treated with respect, which every human being deserves, it not the same as being respected.

  • vek||

    LOL Yup. I treat sluts with respect in public... But I don't respect them. And beyond a certain point, nobody really does. Even man whores lose peoples respect at a certain point, although it is a higher (lower?) bar than for women.

  • Longtobefree||

    There was a message?

  • ||

    Jimmy Buffett. Don't forget he's got a lot of restaurants in the US using his style of self-service.

  • Robert||

    Oh, Jimmy Buffet. I was wondering who'd start a rumor that Warren Buffet was living hand-to-mouth.

  • Verbum Vincet||

    I hope his damned boat sinks!

  • Peter Verkooijen||

    Free market "capitalism" has been distorted beyond recognition by ever expanding government and central bank money printing.

    Libertarians cheering the Obama/Trump economy are digging our own graves.

    The bankrupt welfare state is starting to collapse. Socialists will blame "capitalism". Stop giving them that option. Stop taking credit for this "economic boom".

  • HenryC||

    Jimmy Buffet is a great song writer and a mediocre musician. He is also an exceptional entertainer. His concerts are just plain fun. Gillespie is simply a curmudgeon. I agree with much of what he says, but he would be horrible to work with or live with. Anyone that does not like Buffet has no joie de vivra in their life. The points he makes in the editorial, other than his dislike of being happy, are excellent.

  • Longtobefree||

    About #1.
    Sorry. A modest lady gets more respect than a tramp.
    OK, not sorry. Still true, though.
    As they say in the courtroom, "with all DUE respect - - ".

  • ||

    Thirty-eight years ago, long before Buffett's fans were legion - but no less fanatical - I got backstage, with the help of my beautiful wife and a rock of pure Peruvian the size of a small walnut, after his concert in Columbus, Ohio.

    We all snuck off to the men's room, snorted half that rock while we talked about our new babies: His a daughter, mine a son. He was very nice, down to earth, and it was a great experience.

    Nick would bang that hag Hillary if he could be just half as cool as Jimmy Buffett.

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