(From Edward Fesser blog...)
When people use or hear the word “capitalism,” some of the things they might bring to mind are:
1. The institution of private property, including private ownership of the basic means of production
2. Market competition
3. The existence of corporations as legal persons
4. Inequalities in wealth and income
5. An economic order primarily oriented to the private sector, with government acting at the margins and only where necessary
Now, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with any of those things. Indeed, some of them (such as private property and a government that respects subsidiarity) are required as a matter of natural law. Eliminating all economic inequalities (as opposed to remedying poverty, which is a very different matter) is neither possible nor desirable. The concept of the corporate person has long been recognized by, and regarded as salutary within, the natural law tradition (whatever one thinks about its instantiation in modern business corporations). Socialism in the strict sense, which would centralize the most fundamental economic decision-making, is intrinsically evil.
On the other hand, other people using or hearing the term “capitalism” might have in mind things like:
6. A doctrinaire laissez-faire mentality that is reflexively hostile to all governmental economic intervention
7. The market as the dominant social institution, with an ethos of consumerism and commodification of everything as its sequel
8. Corporations so powerful that they are effectively unanswerable to government or public opinion
9. Doctrinaire minimalization or even elimination of social welfare institutions, even when there is no feasible private sector alternative
10. Globalization of a kind that entails dissolution of corporate and individual loyalties to the nation-state and local communities.
Now, all of these things are bad and should be opposed on natural law grounds.
This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but merely illustrative. And what it illustrates is that it is unhelpful to talk about either embracing or rejecting capitalism full stop. The term has too many connotations for that, and needs to be disambiguated. Hence the sweeping claims often made by both sides in the debate over capitalism inevitably generate excessive heat while reducing light. When people say “I support capitalism,” they often mean “I support 1-5” but their opponents hear them as saying “I support 6-10.” And when people say “I oppose capitalism,” they often mean “I oppose 6-10,” but their opponents hear them as saying “I oppose 1-5.” To a large extent, they talk past each other.
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