Joseph Schumpeter once observed “capitalism stands its trial before judges who have the sentence of death in their pockets.” Capitalism is to be condemned no matter what, even if the executioners have yet to settle on the specific reason for its condemnation.
The forces of anti-capitalism have long morphed into whatever form best suits them for taking advantage of the zeitgeist. Whatever the latest injustice may be — from a polluted environment to poverty to racism — the solution is always the destruction of markets, market freedom, and private property. Or, as some might call it: “capitalism.” This year, we have settled on racism as the reason to denounce the basic human right to make a living and eke out some measure of financial independence without being incessantly harassed by the state and its agents.
But this is just the current manifestation of the anti-capitalist drive. The indictment against capitalism is always changing. As Ralph Raico has noted:
In earlier times, they [i.e., the anti-capitalists] indicted capitalism for the immiseration of the proletariat, inevitable depressions, and the disappearance of the middle classes. Then, a little later, it was for imperialism and inevitable wars among the imperialist (capitalist) powers.
In more recent decades, the indictment again changed, as earlier accusations became too obviously untenable.
Capitalism was charged with being unable to compete with socialist societies in technological progress (Sputnik); with promoting automation, leading to catastrophic permanent unemployment; both with creating the consumer society and its piggish affluence and with proving incapable of extending such piggishness to the underclass; with “neo-colonialism”; with oppressing women and racial minorities; with spawning a meretricious popular culture; and with destroying the earth itself.
Not surprisingly, if we delve down into the ideological underpinnings of the current Black Lives Matter movement we find a sizable undercurrent of anti-capitalism. This isn’t to say anti-racism has nothing to do with the controversy. Clearly it is an element of the movement. Moreover, it may certainly be the case that many of the movement’s rank and file — those who demonstrate in the streets — are animated simply by a desire to end mistreatment by government police. But when it comes time to formulate policy responses to the current crises of police abuse, we’ll find the Left will demand the “solution” go far beyond merely holding abusive cops accountable, or limiting their power. We will soon find the Left’s goal will be the same it has been for more than a century: the destruction of the market economy.
“Neoliberalism” as White Supremacy
This will flow naturally form the fact that the Left has long attempted to connect racism to market economies. We find the evidence in countless leftist-authored books and articles which claim capitalism and racism are inseparable. The vocabulary used here employs the usual bogeyman term for capitalism employed by the Left: neoliberalism.
Although many free-market liberals (i.e., “classical” liberals) and conservatives have tried to reassure themselves that attacks on neoliberalism are merely harmless attacks on globalist elites, this is a naïve view. The Left has consistently used the term “neoliberal” to describe nearly any ideology or policy agenda that is even moderately pro-capitalist. In their minds, neoliberalism is simply market capitalism.
For example, in an article title “Black Politics and the Neoliberal Racial Order” authors Michael C. Dawson and Megan Ming Francis are quite clear an attack on neoliberalism is no mere limited attack on “globalist” central bankers:
We define neoliberalism as a set of policies and ideological tenets that include the privatization of public assets; the deregulation or elimination of state services; macroeconomic stabilization and the discouragement of Keynesian policies; trade liberalization and financial deregulation.
Neoliberalism is any movement in the direction of less government intervention in the everyday lives of business owners, entrepreneurs, and households. To be a “non-neoliberal” — and thus ideologically correct — is to be in favor of Keynesian policies, trade controls, and more government regulation.
Thus, BLM is being positioned as an anti-capitalist movement when researcher Felicia Rose Asbury concludes: “Black Lives Matter … operates as both a byproduct and site of resistance to the material and ideological manifestations of neoliberal projects.” This, of course, makes perfect sense if neoliberalism is inextrcably linked with racism, and thus Asbury goes on to describe neoliberalism as being characterized by “exclusion and erasure” of non-white groups which is perpetuated by neoliberalism’s “structural manifestations of violence.” Consequently, it becomes necessary to “create a black future beyond the neoliberal paradigm.”
Dawson and Francis similarly lament the “the intertwined history of white supremacy and capitalist economic structures,” and this is especially alarming to them because in the anti-capitalist narrative, free-market capitalism is the dominat ideology in the world today. The story behind this is a familiar one for anyone well-versed in the left’s historical narrative around neoliberalism. Specifically, as Dawson and Francis describe it:
Neo-liberalism is a set of policies and an ideology that has led to the transformation of government, starting under President Ronald Reagan, from New Deal – type social policies to policies that not only would be dictated by market principles but also would seek to have market values dominate every sphere of human existence from entertainment to science, from education to the arts. Reagan and his contempo-raries Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Great Britain and Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of Germany were mostly successful in waging war on the Keynesian social contract by attacking the social safety net, labor and its organizations, and any argument or policy that favored, even if ever so slightly, those who were not members of “the 1 percent.” Neoliberals embrace market models as a solution for all policy problems and matters of institutional governance.
Moreover, in the mind of the typical anti-capitalist intellectual, the story of the 1980s and 1990s is one in which capitalists moved from victory to victory in overturning the old paradigm of the New Deal which valued egalitarianism and social justice. An almost laissez-faire economic order has ruled ever since.
Yet to anyone who has been paying attention, this narrative is clearly absurd. Whether we look at tax receipts, govenrment spending, government employment, or the regulatory burden, state control of the economy — at least in the United States — is far larger today than at any time in the past. The economy has not been “deregulated” and the Keynesian paradigm has not been scaled back. Yet, the narrative remains immensely powerful. Both leftists and conservatives believe it, which is why even conservatives will claim that “market fundamentalists” dominate the the entire government apparaturs, bending it to their will.
The centrality of racism to capitalism is further reinforced by the relatively recent term “racial capitalism.” The term is employed by Dawson and Francis who define racial capitalism as “the system that is produced by the mutually constitutive hierarchical structures of capitalism and race in the United States.” This sentence may be difficult to understand for those unfamiliar with the Left’s view of capitalism in which capitalism is inherently hierarchical, and characterized by top-down and bottom-up conflict between the social classes. In this view, capitalism is fundamentally inseparable from state coercion which must must be employed by capitalists to keep workers in their place. Capitalists then employ racial divisions to reinforce this hierarchy.
Numerous examples of this theory are fleshed out in Walter Johnson’s new book The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States. Although Johnson focuses on the city of Saint Louis, the book is really his history of how capitalists nationwide have used racism to exploit the middle and working classes over the past two centrues. It is a history of how “racial capitalism has been one in which white supremacy justified the terms of … capitalist exploitation.” Johnson makes it clear he views the promotion of racism as a necessary tactic in perpetuating capitalism at the expense of the workers. For Johnson, it is possible to control racial and ethnic minorities with shows of physical force. But the numerically superior white workers require a different strategy: specifically, “white supremacy is necessary to control the white people.”1
Consequently, in Johnson’s view, we find capitalism rests on a shaky foundation in which racism is not just part of the capitalist framework. Racism actually must be perpetuated by capitalists in order to maintain the capitalist status quo. The conclusion becomes obvious: destroy capitalism, and we destroy racism.
It’s easy to see, then, how a credulous and well-meaning opponent of bigotry might conclude that the cause of decency must necessary demand the destruction of capitalism. According to the Left’s intellectuals, not only is neoliberalism (i.e., capitalism) inextricably linked with racism, but the neoliberal order is the dominant one. We might then conclude the injustices we see around us — presumably a product of the status quo — can only be fixed by overturning that dominant ideology. Moreover, the current ruling class — the ascendant capitalists — employ racism to prop themselves up at the expense of everyone else.
Who wouldn’t want to strike at the capitalists after accepting this narrative?
The problem with all this, of course, is that capitalism is certainly not the dominant ideology of the status quo. If it were, Paul Krugman would not be a media darling, and the US would not be running trillion dollar deficits each year, funded with government-printed money. Moreover, capitalism has long been the enemy of race-based economic caste systems. It’s no coincidence, of course, that the slave drivers of old vehemently slandered capitalism at every opportunity.
This year, the popular anti-capitalist narrative is about race. Next year, it may be something else entirely. The evidence presented at capitalism’s trial will change. But the presumed death sentence will remain.
- 1. It should be noted that Johnson did not invent this theory, although he employs it extensively. Martin Luther King, Jr., hinted at a similar theory in 1965 when he claimed: “The segregation of the races was really a political stratagem employed by the emerging Bourbon interests in the South to keep the southern masses divided and southern labor the cheapest in the land.” The “Bourbon interests” were the Bourbon Democrats of the late nineteenth century who were notable for their support of hard money, decentralization, and market capitalism in general. The most famous Bourbon Democrat was Grover Cleveland of New York, probably the last truly liberal US president.