I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the economic concepts that we identify with, the ideas behind them, and the arguments that we make in favor of them.
First, a bit of backstory: I used to call myself, explicitly and in no uncertain terms, an anarcho-capitalist. This means that my primary guiding principles were statelessness, property ownership, and competition in the market.
My primary guiding principles are, for the most part, still statelessness, property ownership, and competition, but I’ve fallen out of love with calling myself a “capitalist.” There are a number of very good reasons for this, but let me first assuage the concerns of those who know me: No, I’m not a communist, or a socialist, or anything at all, really. Allow me to walk you down this path of thinking and, if you think I’m crazy afterward, well... you’re probably right.
Capitalism is defined by, in fairly strict terms, characteristics that include private ownership of the means of production, the profit motive, price equilibrium, free markets, and competitive markets. All of this is fine. I will not call it good, for reasons that will become apparent, but it is certainly fine. There is nothing wrong with it.
In being a strict capitalist, I found myself mentally railing against businesses and organizations that incorporated decidedly socialist ideals. The flat management structure of Valve Corporation, worker-owned cooperatives found in the engineering and manufacturing fields, agricultural production cooperatives where production and even, God forbid, machinery is pooled among the members. This drove me insane.
I seem to have been thinking, “Don’t they know that private ownership and a firm hierarchy are necessary for innovation and for the market to provide services to the customer at low prices?!”
But I wasn’t thinking. Not really. Because, if I were, I would have realized that I’ve spent years of my life being served electricity by an electric co-op, phone service by a communications co-op, and video games by Valve Corporation, all with good service and fair prices.
I lived the first five years of my life in rural Oklahoma, where my parents were served almost exclusively by cooperatives. We later moved to a semi-suburban area on the outskirts of a small city (or big town, depending on your perspective) in Texas, where my parents were still served, in part, by cooperatives. I now live in a suburban area of that same town, and I am still served by an electric cooperative. I’ve spent my whole life benefiting from decidedly socialist structures at fair-to-middling prices and I still, somehow, railed against them.
I’ve decided this is nonsense.
Many capitalists argue for capitalism on the basis that the profit motive alone is enough to bring services to customers, but I have lived in places where this is simply not true. There wasn’t enough money to be made in bringing electricity or phone service to my first childhood home, or to the homes of our closest neighbors (one mile down a dirt road, at the least), to justify the cost of building out the infrastructure of those services. But those people needed electricity, and they needed phone service. Hell, you can argue that they didn’t need those things at all, they wanted them. So they developed a customer-owned, not-for-profit structure that served it to them. Indeed, it had to serve it to them, because they owned it.
And here is where I make a subtle, but very important, distinction. The structure of capitalism did not, and would not, serve electricity to my first childhood home. The market, however, did. I make this distinction for two reasons. The first reason is a somewhat personal one, but I believe it to be representative. If you asked my parents if they were socialists, they’d have told you no. Outright. Still would. They have owned, and do own, businesses, after all. But they were socialists. In fact, they are still served by a cooperative. I would submit that they are neither socialists nor capitalists, but traders. Traders in a market where they can choose between socialism and capitalism depending upon their whims and aims.
The second reason I make this distinction is because capitalism is not the market, and the two should not be confused. Capitalism is a structure, an economic one, with definitions. The market is only one part of the structure of capitalism, and of socialism, and of communism, and of many observable facets of human behavior. The competitive part. Regardless of how states and structures attempt to stamp it out, competition remains. Humans make decisions based on competition between risks and rewards, wants and needs, desire and prudence, and markets behave in the same way. I want to spend less on an item because it is prudent for me to have money to pay my bills, though I may desire the most expensive version of a thing I can get. Thus, in order for competing companies that make that thing to get my business, they must lower the price or introduce a cheaper version of the thing I want. If capitalism fails me and refuses to provide what I want, then fuck capitalism. I’ll be a socialist for my electricity.
That, my friends, is a market.
That, my friends, is freedom.
I stopped calling myself an anarcho-capitalist a while back, and I wasn’t sure why at the time. It just felt... wrong. I think this is why: because capitalism and socialism are just tools. These are things we can utilize, for ourselves, in a market that consists of nigh-infinite competitive possibilities. Why strap ourselves to one ideology or structure, be it socialism or capitalism, which ultimately serves only to limit our own freedom, our own power to choose?
I call myself a Market Anarchist now (market being the economic axis and anarchist being the state axis), but I’m considering giving that up, too. Must markets be the only way of serving people? They are certainly the easiest, and they certainly have advantages, but can we rightly call charities and churches proper players, proper traders, in an economic market? Or is everything we do, all of it, just a market? If everything we do is a market, is it still useful to identify myself with the word? I’m not sure about any of this, but I’m coming to a place where I can see myself being comfortable just... being an anarchist. A straight-ahead, do-no-harm, take-no-shit anarchist.
Maybe I’ll call myself something new. Maybe I’ll be the world’s first Roguearchist. Fuck structures and identifying ourselves by and with them. Let’s. Just. Be. Free.
Or maybe I’m crazy. Ultimately, it's up to you. You are, after all, free to choose.