The Problem with the Critique of Capitalism

Critiquing capitalism is a very popular sport since, say, Marx, roughly. But a common problem I see in many of the criticism I’ve read (and I must say, I’m not really the most avid reader of the genre, but I’ve seen my fair share) is that they usually focus on a very particular form of market/government/cultural behaviour.

Most all have some form of the following caveat « of course, capitalism here does not mean the free exchange of goods and services, but rather a particular form of commerce that started on a somewhat precise epoch. »

This is all very good, but then people are just talking past each other, because everybody who talks about economy take capitalism to mean one thing or the other.

The only discernible — to me, at least — common characteristic of all definitions of capitalism is precisely the free (or quasi free) exchange of goods and services — a most rudimentary form of commerce, one that existed since the dawn of man.

And this creates a very amorphous beast, that changes, sometimes radically, on every scale. On the most local scale, say, inside a family, it functions almost as a free giving, as opposed to an exchange for profit. On a slightly larger scale it functions as a mutually beneficial exchange for profit — say, I exchange my services for your money and we both benefit. And so on. Globally, it has taken the form of the financial markets (which I take to have more benefits than most realistic alternatives).

Of course, this is not set on stone. Capitalism can take other forms on each scale. It would depend on how people tend to interact.

That’s why every critique of capitalism brings about a « yes, but it ~could~ be different, » if, say, a people’s culture were slightly different.

Calling it all capitalism might be unjust to the critics of capitalism. But then again, they were the ones who chose the rough path of dialectical materialism (some form of it, anyway).