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Samizdata quote of the day

“Capitalism” is a Marxist epithet for the condition that normal people call “liberty”.

– Commenter ‘Zero Sugar’ over on Guido Fawkes.

36 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Surellin

    “Capitalism” is a word coined by Marx to describe how the world really works.

  • pete

    Tell that to someone working long shifts in a poverty wage job and spending most of his income on rent.

  • Just Some Git in Lancaster

    Tell that to someone working long shifts in a poverty wage job and spending most of his income on rent.

    Yeah cos that’s never the case under socialism 😆

    Boo hoo, poor you. I spent half of my life doing shit jobs before getting a shit job that paid better & actually went somewhere. Then I made enough good decisions that I managed to buy & then took the right risks (by marrying someone even better at managing limited dosh than me & waiting until we could actually afford a child).

  • “Tell that to someone working long shifts in a poverty wage job and spending most of his income on rent.”

    All-righty then. Assuming you can tell us what a ‘poverty wage’ is and that this is an abled person with normal intelligence at least, please explain how regulation and far-left delusional hatred or mis-education on capitalism got this person–and their family–into such a far-left/self-created mess. I assume they’re in UK or Greater Britain–US, Canada, NZ. Specifics please.

    Then review Libertarianism and give us 10 libertarian tools people are using to make this problem a thing of the past in their lives and communities, including fighting rising high prices in regulated areas like housing.

  • Runcie Balspune

    Tell that to someone working long shifts in a poverty wage job and spending most of his income on rent.

    You mean like my grandfathers? My parents had it better, me and my siblings even more so, and my child’s future looks promising (doom-mongering notwithstanding).

    From what I can tell the non-capitalist countries seem to have this in reverse.

  • Itellyounothing

    What did socialists light their homes with before candles?


    Freedom is hard and scary and some bastard is always trying to justify snatching your stuff and your freedom.

    It’s still better than National / International Socialism…..

  • Julie near Chicago

    Cars, busses, and trucks are now available, which means money goes farther because transportation costs are less; especially for those who commute and live on a bus route, and for those who can afford a serviceable used car.

    Were it not for capitalism, fuel to warm your domicile (unless you’re semi-tropical) is, first, available, and second, not terribly expensive except where government rules make it so. The same goes for air-conditioning, where it’s available.

    Because of capitalism, great amounts of steel are produced, and used in many ways. In construction in general; in reinforced concrete; in bridges; in things such as knives and drill bits that require a sharp edge; and much, much more.

    Because of capitalism, most medicines and surgery techniques that help in keeping us fit to work are available. The development of many of them would not have happened without capitalism, which funded most of the research providing modern inventions. And these in turn required steel, transportation of people and goods, electronics (also widely available because of capitalism), and on and on.

    It’s true that most of these things *should* be cheaper than they are; but producing them costs a good deal more than it should, due to government interventions in the form of laws, permits, licenses, and welfare payed by taxpayers.

    (Anything to do with the health industry costs much much more than it should because of government interventions, from the British NHS to our own Obamacare; as well as the cost of developing medicines and bringing them to market.)

    And no doubt many of the inventions themselves would have been made eventually, but invention and development would be a much slower process without capitalism.

    By “capitalism” here, I mean the system which allows individuals and groups of individuals to produce things and to sell them to people who want them for whatever (non-nefarious) reason, and profit from what customers pay them. The system of capitalism also allows people to make their own choices as to what to buy, and at what price. If the producer is able to sell his product for more than it costs him to produce it, then he can pay himself — support himself financially — and if there is income* left over after all production costs, overhead, and salaries and wages are paid, then he may choose to use the excess (the profit) to improve his product and therefore his business, or to save his profit or part of it so that in financial hard times he won’t have to depend on other people to support him, or to invest the profit in other businesses, which helps those businesses and their customers. But in the capitalistic system, there are no rules about who can do what, about how low prices and how high wages must be. In other words, government does not have its nose in the trough siphoning off profits that would otherwise be put to productive use and to provide for people and their families in hard times.

    But keeping force and fraud out of the marketplace by prosecuting it there as much as anywhere else it’s found is a legitimate function of government. A free market doesn’t give anyone a licence to steal or defraud.

  • Fraser Orr

    Let me reiterate a point I have made here often — and one that the OP uses — I really dislike the word “capitalism”. It conjures up images of fat cat factory owners smoking $100 cigars while mama sends her baby up the chimney. It isn’t about capital. Capital is a mechanism, a means to an end. It is about freedom. It is about liberty. It is the idea that nobody has a right to interfere in a transaction between two people who both think they are better off for having conducted that transaction. I try my best never to use that ugly word. Much rather to use the term “free market’ or “liberty” or, better yet, “mind your own bloody business”.

  • David Norman

    Fraser; I entirely agree. One of the successes of the left has been to brand ‘capitalism’ as something nasty, a ploy that has been particularly successful with the young and naive. The expression ‘free enterprise’ is far preferable and is surely what Julie near Chicago is describing.

  • Fraser Orr (August 7, 2019 at 4:43 am), like David Norman above, I say free enterprise when I can, and free enterprise capitalism when needful to ensure I am understood. (The latter phrase has the advantage that crony capitalism, socialism’s half-way house, can be distinguished from it, should the subject arise.)

  • Niall. Ditto. I much prefer ‘free enterprise’ to ‘capitalism’ but also sometimes use ‘free enterprise capitalism’ when I must for the same reasons.

  • neonsnake

    Bonus points if you can steer the conversation towards “small businesses suffering from unfair competition from corporate monoliths”; doubleplus-bonus if you can slip in the word “entrepreneur”, with all its connotations of plucky non-conformist young’uns doing their own thing and defying the Man.

    And for the bottle of champagne and blankety-blank chequebook and pen, throw in an anecdote about how Candice’s Dairy-Free Cupcake Cafe was shut-down due to ridiculous and irrelevant regulations that McDonalds regularly flaunt due to their vast army of lawyers.

  • the last toryboy

    People are being people farmed by landlords thanks to the State. Landlordism is feudalism, access to land is tightly controlled and restricted by the government, or feudalism wouldn’t work.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Couple of observations.

    1. “Capitalism” was not coined by Marx.

    Strange to say, the Great Foot has pretty good articles (though I haven’t read either of them completely) on “capitalism” and “crony capitalism.”


    The initial usage of the term “capitalism” in its modern sense has been attributed to Louis Blanc in 1850 (“What I call ‘capitalism’ that is to say the appropriation of capital by some to the exclusion of others”) and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in 1861 (“Economic and social regime in which capital, the source of income, does not generally belong to those who make it work through their labour”).[24]:237 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels referred to the “capitalistic system”[31][32] and to the “capitalist mode of production” in Capital (1867).[33] The use of the word “capitalism” in reference to an economic system appears twice in Volume I of Capital, p. 124 (German edition) and in Theories of Surplus Value, tome II, p. 493 (German edition). Marx did not extensively use the form capitalism, but instead those of capitalist and capitalist mode of production, which appear more than 2,600 times in the trilogy The Capital. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the term “capitalism” first appeared in English in 1854 in the novel The Newcomes by novelist William Makepeace Thackeray, where he meant “having ownership of capital”.[34] Also according to the OED, Carl Adolph Douai, a German American socialist and abolitionist, used the phrase “private capitalism” in 1863.

    Also, said Wikipedia distinguishes “crony capitalism” from capitalism properly so called in its article on “crony capitalism,” which I would love to quote in full (!!!) but won’t 🙂 . (The final two-paragraph section, headed “Capitalist Critiques,” ends by citing Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, and J.J. Hunt as capitalists, vs. Edward Collins (steamships) and the Union Pacific RR as “cronyists.” Worth reading, IMO.



    2. I absolutely understand that various terms can carry negative connotations or associations to some persons, positive ones to others. (I have some pet, but idiosyncratic, hurl-inducers myself.) Some here are allergic, for instance, to “self-reliance.” Some come out in hives when various other terms are used — not because the term is misused (e.g., “I have implicit confidence in you,” — as we all know, my confidence is complete, total, ultimate, 100%, but I’m not sure anyone has ever had implicit confidence in anyone or anything), but because for them it has bad connotations.

    BUT. Don’t we gripe, complain, and sometimes go nuclear when people, not necessarily lefties even, misuse certain words — whether through honest ignorance or mistake or bad habit, or for less honest reasons?

    Haven’t we given way again and again and again to Leftist/Progressive/Communist takeover of important words, using them in ways absolutely opposite to their proper meaning? Didn’t Confucius, him correctly, and warn us about this? “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name.”

    Why do we keep doing this!

    Case in point: “Libertarian.”
    Case in point: “Liberal.” At least in the U.S., and it may be well on its way to reaching British shores. 😥
    Case in point: CAPITALISM.


    I hope I don’t sound too preachy, and I certainly don’t mean to insult or harangue anyone hereabouts. I just think it’s important to remember what words really mean, and to stave off their deliberate twisting by using them clearly and accurately, no matter what anybody hopes.

  • neonsnake

    I hope I don’t sound too preachy, and I certainly don’t mean to insult or harangue anyone hereabouts.

    Not at all.

    That’s a really good post, Julie, and food for thought.

    I confess, I twist and turn on this issue.

    I’ve described myself variously as “self-reliant” – and also, at times, as “woke” and indeed “sjw”. They mean things to me, important things, but they mean different things to others. Sometimes I care, sometimes I don’t 😉

    Tactically, I understand why “capitalism” can turn people off. Sometimes I feel we should point out the many, many times why “capitalism” works (see, for example, Rob Fisher’s latest couple of posts).

    Sometimes, I feel that if I describe as a capitalist (which I do), then I should stick a pillow up my shirt, put on a tux and a stovepipe hat, light a cigar, and refer to my staff as “shirking layabouts”.

    (Sometimes, I’m tempted…*smirk*)

    But, I’m not overly interested in acquiring capital. I’m concerned with providing three meals a day to me and mine, the dogs included, and no more. I have no use or desire for the “ability to acquire the means to acquire”, so maybe I’m not a true “capitalist”, but a mere “free marketeer”.

    You’ve tweaked me with Confucius (in a good way, as in it’s made me think)

    I think you’re referring to the “Rectification of Names”?

    In some ways, it’s a good thing. Clarity is good.

    In other ways, by reducing the meanings of words…well, may I say that it’s “un-good” and feel confident that you take my meaning?


    (Recent discussion has led me to realise that I ‘virtue-signal’ on Confucius. The man himself was somewhat wise, and I disparage him unfairly. I don’t agree with his conclusions or the movement named after him, but he himself said some sensible stuff)

  • Gavin Longmuir

    neonsnake: so maybe I’m not a true “capitalist”, but a mere “free marketeer”.

    One could argue that the ‘free marketeer’ term is what is important — because socialists of necessity are themselves capitalists. Capital itself is merely ‘savings’, deferred consumption or some suitable term, which is invested in some project that will pay back over an extended period of time. The Soviet Union invested massive amounts of capital building entire cities around one product, such as Magnitogorsk. Think of the huge amounts of capital invested by the West in China, building factories which ultimately displaced the workers of Europe and North America. Personally, I had to invest years of effort into my handful of humble apple trees before they deigned to start repayment by producing a crop.

    The investment of capital (savings) is one of the major drivers of economic advance. Who provides the capital (individuals, companies, states) is probably less important than whether competitive producers are allowed and whether customers are free to choose between those producers. ‘Capitalism’ is a poor descriptive term for a competitive free market — which is probably why the socialists chose it.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Sometimes, I feel that if I describe as a capitalist (which I do), then I should stick a pillow up my shirt, put on a tux and a stovepipe hat, light a cigar, and refer to my staff as “shirking layabouts”.”

    I think the bit that annoys the socialists about capitalism is what they call “unearned income” – you lend money and earn interest, or buy a factory, get thousands of skilled labourers to work in it, and live a life of luxury off the profits without ever having to sweat while the labourers barely survive. (Abschaffung des arbeits und muhelosen Einkommens. Brechung der Zinsknechtschaft.)

    Bastiat, as so often, summarised the opposition case very clearly:

    “Productiveness of capital — perpetuity of interest. These are difficult questions. I must endeavor to make myself clear. And for that purpose I shall have recourse to example rather than to demonstration; or rather, I shall place the demonstration in the example. I begin by acknowledging, that, at first sight, it may appear strange that capital should pretend to a remuneration; and, above all, to a perpetual remuneration. You will say, “Here are two men. One of them works from morning till night, from one year’s end to another; and if he consumes all which he has gained, even by superior energy, he remains poor. When Christmas comes, he is no forwarder than he was at the beginning of the year, and has no other prospect but to begin again. The other man does nothing, either with his hands or his head; or, at least, if he makes use of them at all, it is only for his own pleasure; it is allowable for him to do nothing, for he has an income. He does not work, yet he lives well; he has everything in abundance, delicate dishes, sumptuous furniture, elegant equipages; nay, he even consumes, daily, things which the workers have been obliged to produce by the sweat of their brow; for these things do not make themselves; and, as far as he is concerned, he has had no hand in their production. It is the workmen who have caused this corn to grow, polished this furniture, woven these carpets; it is our wives and daughters who have spun, cut out, sewed, and embroidered these stuffs. We work, then, for him and ourselves; for him first, and then for ourselves, if there is anything left. But here is something more striking still. If the former of these two men, the worker, consumes within the year any profit which may have been left him in that year, he is always at the point from which he started, and his destiny condemns him to move incessantly in a perpetual circle, and a monotony of exertion. Labor, then, is rewarded only once. But if the other, the ‘gentleman,’ consumes his yearly income in the year, he has, the year after, in those which follow, and through all eternity, an income always equal, inexhaustible, perpetual. Capital, then is remunerated, not only once or twice, but an indefinite number of times! So that, at the end of a hundred years, a family, which has placed 20,000 francs, at five percent, will have had 100,000 francs, and this will not prevent it from having 100,000 more, in the following century. In other words, for 20,000 francs, which represent its labor, it will have levied, in two centuries, a tenfold value on the labor of others. In this social arrangement, is there not a monstrous evil to be reformed? And this is not all. If it should please this family to curtail its enjoyments a little — to spend, for example, only 900 francs, instead of 1,000 — it may, without any labor, without any other trouble beyond that of investing 100 francs a year, increase its capital and soon be in a position to consume as much as a hundred families of industrious workmen. Does not all this go to prove, that society itself has in its bosom a hideous cancer, which ought to be eradicated at the risk of some temporary suffering?””

    He then goes on to explain why the reasoning is wrong in the rest of the essay (especially in ‘The Plane’). It’s a mystery to me why they teach Shakespeare in schools and not Bastiat…

    “Capital is dead labour, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks. The time during which the labourer works, is the time during which the capitalist consumes the labour-power he has purchased of him.”

    Or shorter:

    “Bourgeois society continuously brings forth the Jew from its own entrails.”

  • Oh, for the happy world of Bastiat (Nullius in Verba, August 9, 2019 at 12:53 am), when 20,000 francs remained worth 20,000 francs forever, paying 5% forever, and was never currency-inflated to the point where France declared every old franc a centime and issued new francs, and after decades more inflation was eventually exchanged for a derisory number of euros. 🙂

    To be fair, socialists might say that without their ceaseless efforts, that deplorable future might indeed have been. Also to be fair, the national socialists had something to do with the fate of the French currency too.

    I think, if I had come across the essay without a name attached, I would have known the writer was French before meeting the francs. Something about how the French philosophe expresses himself, though I’d find it hard to say what exactly.

    On a point of similarity rather than difference, the distant thought of The Cain Mutiny came into my mind. To condemn intellectuals’ arrogance and defend the value of the military, Wouk gives himself the fault-laden figure of Captain Queeg, almost a caricature of the leftie view of the military (and a coward to boot) to make his point. There is a minor similarity in how Bastiat, in his small way, does attempt to give the socialist view a vivid description before refuting it.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “To be fair, socialists might say that without their ceaseless efforts, that deplorable future might indeed have been.”

    If we were being fair, we might expect the socialists to say that Bastiat’s wealthy turned 20,000 francs to 100,000 francs by charging interest on their investment and then expected there to be 5 times more goods and services to be extracted from the same workers. The job of the Devil’s Advocate is to generate the strongest possible case in opposition, not to erect strawman arguments to be trivially knocked down or waved away.

    “To condemn intellectuals’ arrogance and defend the value of the military, Wouk gives himself the fault-laden figure of Captain Queeg, almost a caricature of the leftie view of the military (and a coward to boot) to make his point.”

    Quite so. Real life isn’t like a John Wayne movie, where the good guys are faultless and heroic, and the bad guys are pantomime caricatures of evil and stupidity. Socialism is one of the most persistently appealing belief systems of modern times, that millions still follow despite its bloody history. To understand why, you have to understand its appeal. You can erect a strawman caricature of socialism, of power-greedy intellectuals plotting the take-over of the world – a sort of Protocols of the Elders of Marxism – and the sermon to the choir sure rouses the troops’ morale. But it doesn’t help in the war for hearts and minds, because socialists don’t recognise themselves in the caricature. They don’t see themselves as doing it out of greed for power. They see the world as unjust, and themselves as the good people trying to make it a bit less unjust. Religious zealots were only trying to clean up sin. Health prohibitionists were only trying to save lives. Protectionists are only trying to protect their own trade, their own jobs, their own families, their own nation, the brotherhood of workers uniting against a world determined to beat them down. Authoritarians only seek the power to enforce their social norms on other people for their own good and for the good of the community. Everyone thinks of themselves as the good guys.

    And it’s dangerous, because it means people can sleepwalk into making the same mistakes, because they’re looking for the wrong warning signs. Like the thing about the Jews. People think Socialists turned against the Jews because of racism – that they were considered an inferior foreign race, not like the white aryan master race. But throughout history the animus against the Jews has always been about the economics. The Jews were moneylenders, employers, intellectuals, a shadowy ruling elite, who profited without working while everyone else worked without profit. They were the same wealthy that Bastiat was talking about. They’re the same wealthy that today’s youth condemns in the person of bankers and CEOs, that they see in the history of slave-ownership at the root of the race war. It’s all about the deep, deep resentment and burning anger of people who spend their entire miserable lives working hard and scrimping and struggling financially and end up with nothing, when they can see those they find themselves working for apparently swanning around having a great time and doing nothing for it, living off the profits from other people’s sweat, and acting like they don’t care. It’s not about the politics of race, or even of the race for raw power, but the politics of envy and protectionism. Race and nationality were just two of the many different lines people draw to separate ‘us’ from ‘them’.

    You have to truly understand why it’s so appealing and persuasive to be able to recognise it in yourself, and defend yourself and others against the economic fallacy in the abstract. Caricatures don’t help with that. A Devil’s Advocate just might.

  • Julie near Chicago

    “Real life isn’t like a John Wayne movie, where the good guys are faultless and heroic, and the bad guys are pantomime caricatures of evil and stupidity. Socialism is one of the most persistently appealing belief systems of modern times, that millions still follow despite its bloody history. To understand why, you have to understand its appeal.”

    To fight that, you have to understand the value of and the human need for heroes to look up to. Almost all the “entertainment” that we see around us (and hear as well) if not simply silly (most sitcoms and some really good comedic movies, like “Red” and “Red2”– no one should miss those!), embraces nihilism, says that there are no heroes, not really, because we are all “flawed” (there’s one that gives me hives!) — deeply flawed — and the job of historians and dramatists and writers is to drag out whatever sewers of the soul they can find or make up in real-life heroes, let alone fictional ones. We are encouraged to spit on these people by the many examples that entertainment and histories and biographies give us, that drown us in the flaws of the protagonist or subject. See the TV series “Homeland,” for instance.

    The upshot is that we* all believe that if we’re not living in the Worst of Times, it’s only because we have the positive results of amazing modern technology to show that, after all, the human race has done some wonderful things. –And how much do we hear to the effect that all this technology is Bad, very Bad, and we should reject it and become happy peasants who work from well before dawn until way after dark, if they’re lucky enough to have candles for light to work by.

    (I wonder how they’d like knowing that the Christmas Feast would consist of biscuits and flour grave, with maybe a small bit, literally, of ham or salt pork mixed in as a special treat.)

    *Hyperbole, and that “we” is fictional at best. But this seems to be an extremely widespread view among the chatterati … and those who are misEddificated by News Media and (so I hear) David Attenborough. And it seeps into the general general culture, and the truly good-hearted who are distressed by the real pain that life brings to most people, even in the “developed” world absorb this view.

    It’s a truism that in fiction, the hero must have an Achilles’ heel, and lots of them have an actually fatal flaw.

    I speak as one who is a great fan of “24,” until the series developed dreadful necrotic tissue in S.5 and died an unseemly death in S.6. At that point I was done with it. But I never for an instant thought it had anything to do with real life in Oughties America. In some respects, perhaps LoTR was truer-to-life. And LoTR did have real heroes, worth living up to however far we can.

    20th and 21st Century America had and has them too. Yet My Lai is taken as the symbol of the very essence of the American military, and the UN with the exception of the U.S.’s and Canada’s NO votes and abstentions from a few countries including the U.K., voted ISRAEL as the world’s worst violator of the rights of women!

    “UN Singles Out Israel as World’s Only Violator of Women’s Rights; Iran, Saudi Arabia & Yemen Among the Voters”:


    Miss R. also once pointed out that the crime movies of her day were morality plays, involving the conflict of Good and Evil. But the “message” of those movies was generally that Good was more likely to prevail.


    We need to reintroduce into the general culture the idea that good can and often does overcome evil, and that not all heroes are also bustards.


    There’s more to it than just that, of course. I think most people, to the extent that their culture and rulers allow it, do have fellow-feeling, and that perhaps the majority of us are moved to help other people who need it, here and there, at least once in awhile. Often, quite a bit more than once-in-awhile.

    And there’s also the fact that people like drama in their entertainment, and for drama you need conflict of some sort, and of course conflicted characters composed by a good writer make for great drama.

    Here endeth rant and paean.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Thanks, neon. And yes, I did mean the “R of N” Wikip article:


    which I thought I had included; but as usual I seem to have slipped up on the editing:

    “… Confucius, him correctly, and warn us….” surely reads as if I’d been drunkblogging (so there, Stephen Green! *g*), but no, it’s just that a body of ectoplasm appeared, and guided my fingers as it would.)


    You make a good point. When I think of a “capitalist,” I always think of the guy who has enough of the good stuff to invest it in production of one sort or another; more narrowly, as one who has invested enough of it to continue to profit from the investment and who intends to continue doing so, while supporting himself (if he feels like it) solely on profits from his investments.

    But occasionally I picture your cartoon image, which you describe very well. He’s the fat-cat type of whom you speak. He is inclined to portliness (but is of course very well-groomed and -tailored, and not a doughy mess like, forgive me, one Michael Moore). He’s not at all my mental image a real capitalist — actually, I don’t have one. (I don’t take Uncle Scrooge McDuck seriously either. *g*)

    Yet, as you point out, the word also describes one who “believes in” capitalism as the best, or the moral, solution to economic problems; and, sometimes, to other social problems too. This capitalist really believes in the freest possible market, with the only tolerable governmental intervention being that of applying criminal law against theft and fraud, and possibly in times of the truest national emergency, such as when the Zeroes and the Messerschmitts are bombing Hollywood, or even Sacramento! (Maybe the Messerschmitts concentrate more on Hyannis Port, Mass., former home to the Kennedy clan, as it is closer than L.A. to their home base.)

    Presumably, John Allison, former head of BB&T and avowed Objectivist, hence some flavor of strong libertarian, whether Miss R. likes it or not, is a real live capitalist in both senses. So is Peter Thiel.


    It would be interesting to know if Mr. Gates is a Convinced Capitalist….

  • Julie near Chicago

    Of course the word “capital” has somewhat different meanings to different people, even today. Some people argue that practically any property is capital, including a stick picked up by a caveman in the forest. At the other extreme, a lot of people consider that “capital” means money, but that only raises the question of just what is money? But I think we all have the basic idea. :>))

    There’s a bit of food for thought in a posting by a Joseph Pearce* entitled, “What Is Capitalism and Where Did It Start?” at

    https://theimaginativeconservative.org/2017/08/capitalism-start-joseph-pearce.html .

    *Joseph Pearce is a recovered former English neo-Nazi hellraiser, per the very interesting profile at

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Pearce .

    He is now a Catholic, thanks in part to Chesterton, Lewis, Belloc, and (natch) the Professor … and a lot of thought.


    In mediæval times, lots of people thought “capital” was the same as usury, because “usury” itself meant charging interest, a distinct no-no. As for usury, the Foot of All Knowledge has a bit to say about banking during the Principate period of Rome, as well as much more. I find italics hard to read in this stewpid [sic — or sick *giggle*] sans-serif typeface, so what follows is all quoted from the article at


    Roman Empire

    Banking during the Roman Empire was different from modern banking. During the Principate, most banking activities were conducted by private individuals who operated as large banking firms do today. Anybody that had any available liquid assets and wished to lend it out could easily do so.[5]

    The annual rates of interest on loans varied in the range of 4–12 percent, but when the interest rate was higher, it typically was not 15–16 percent but either 24 percent or 48 percent. They quoted them on a monthly basis, and the most common rates were multiples of twelve. Monthly rates tended to range from simple fractions to 3–4 percent, perhaps because lenders used Roman numerals.[6]

    Moneylending during this period was largely a matter of private loans advanced to persons persistently in debt or temporarily so until harvest time. Mostly, it was undertaken by exceedingly rich men prepared to take on a high risk if the profit looked good; interest rates were fixed privately and were almost entirely unrestricted by law. Investment was always regarded as a matter of seeking personal profit, often on a large scale. Banking was of the small, back-street variety, run by the urban lower-middle class of petty shopkeepers. By the 3rd century, acute currency problems in the Empire drove such banking into decline.[7] The rich who were in a position to take advantage of the situation became the moneylenders when the increasing tax demands in the last declining days of the Empire crippled and eventually destroyed the peasant class by reducing tenant-farmers to serfs. It was evident that usury meant exploitation of the poor.[8]

  • Nullius in Verba

    “We are encouraged to spit on these people by the many examples that entertainment and histories and biographies give us, that drown us in the flaws of the protagonist or subject.”

    Well, I can see how if you’re used to films that make a very clear separation between ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ and that encourage you to spit on the ‘bad guys’, then it would be very easy to interpret a film showing the ‘good guys’ with flaws that way. On the other hand, the message might be to stop spitting on people just because they are imperfect, as they can still do good despite all their flaws.

    It depends whether it’s supposed to be a fantasy or something people can connect to themselves. For fantasy the point is often the reinforcement of “us” and “them” stereotypes; the reassuring adherence to social norms. Complexity and ambiguity ruin the effect. But in films depicting ‘perfect’ heroes those figures are distant and unattainable. The heroine, a supposedly ‘ordinary housewife’ who looks like a supermodel filmstar, somehow crawls through the jungle and across the desert for days with her make-up and hair utterly perfect, her clothes clean and neat, and without even sweating. It looks wonderful, but when you have to go back to your own life where you can’t even go shopping with a pair of young kids on a rainy day without ending up a mess, it looks unreal and false. If you’re trying to sell the heroes of the story as being ‘ordinary’ modest people, it breaks the illusion. Sure, we can believe in Galactic Heroes and Elite Warrior Martial Arts Gymnasts with the ability to get bounced off walls without breaking bones or getting concussed, but they’re not bored office workers like us. And sometimes, people like the idea that ‘people like us’ could be heroes, too.

    “In some respects, perhaps LoTR was truer-to-life. And LoTR did have real heroes, worth living up to however far we can.”

    Yes, LoTR has plenty of heroes, but they too had flaws. In The Hobbit, Bilbo hides the ring and lies to the others, Thorin goes right off the rails when he gets to the Lonely Mountain. In LoTR Boromir betrays them, and later Denethor. Theoden is fooled by Wormtongue and tries to throw them out. Pippin steals the Palantir. Bombadil refuses to get too deeply involved. The major powers of the elves mostly fortify themselves in their own lands and won’t come out to fight. Most of the nations start off trying to avoid getting dragged into the war, and there is a persistent theme of initially refusing to join the fight and having to be persuaded. None of the stronger and wiser characters dares touch the ring. And Gollum, with all his flaws, turns out to be a bit of a hero too. Yes, it’s mostly morally-unambiguous fantasy, but it has its complexities, too.

    “Yet My Lai is taken as the symbol of the very essence of the American military, and the UN with the exception of the U.S.’s and Canada’s NO votes and abstentions from a few countries including the U.K., voted ISRAEL as the world’s worst violator of the rights of women!”

    Things like My Lai are good example of the problem. America sells itself as Captain Flawless. So when people notice flaws, they use that to prove that America isn’t the hero. It can’t be if it’s got flaws, right? It can’t be when you’re used to seeing an impossible Hollywood all-or-nothing standard being set: you’re not ‘all’, so you must be ‘nothing’. But that’s wrong. America is in many ways a hero despite the flaws – it’s not perfect, but it’s still far, far better than the alternatives!

    Showing heroes with flaws gets people used to the idea that having flaws doesn’t automatically mean you can’t be the hero of the story. Which is good, because in reality heroes are always flawed. (American ones too!) It means that when our enemies point out our flaws we’re somewhat innoculated to the idea, and don’t have to fall to pieces in an orgy of self-loathing and self-doubt. We can say to our accusers: “We’re not perfect. So what?”

    “We need to reintroduce into the general culture the idea that good can and often does overcome evil, and that not all heroes are also bustards.”

    But we also need to remember that evil often thinks of itself as good, that even good people easily can be tempted or fooled into doing evil, and that good is in genuine peril if it isn’t very careful – especially near the start of the film! And we need to be aware that being a bustard doesn’t mean you can’t be a hero, so that the bustards among us don’t totally give up on the idea and not even try.

    The fantasy type of heroic story sells an image of “us” and “them” in which we’re invincible and infallible. We think any action we do is automatically ‘good’ because it’s us doing it, and we’re the good guys. We think we’ll always win, that we can never be defeated or forced to surrender, because by the end of the film the good guys always do. That there is no real risk, that nothing real is really at stake. And that we can never do wrong by smashing up the bad guys, because they’re iredeemably wrong and evil and callous and selfish and immoral, and they deserve everything they get.

    I can certainly understand and accept that we as humans *like* to be told we’re wonderful. But this is like the modern trend in schooling where all children must have prizes and be told they’re special and in all ways admirable, and never, ever criticised, so they won’t suffer from lack of self-confidence or self-esteem. Ultimately it’s emotionally and morally crippling, because it’s a lie, and inevitably we eventually find it out. I think the truth is always better, even if it’s a more ‘complex’ picture than is comfortable.

  • Julie near Chicago

    “Gubbinal” — by Wallace Stevens

    That strange flower, the sun,
    Is just what you say.
    Have it your way.

    The world is ugly,
    And the people are sad.

    That tuft of jungle feathers,
    That animal eye,
    Is just what you say.

    That savage of fire,
    That seed,
    Have it your way.

    The world is ugly,
    And the people are sad.


    In the sidebar, this:

    What’s a “gubbinal”?

    According to critic Mervyn Nicholson: “In somewhat arcane slang ‘gubbin’ means what it sounds like, a dull person – the ‘you’ who insists on the sad ugliness of the world.” So a “gubbinal” is Stevens’ invented adjective meaning “gubbin-like” (or noun meaning “a work created by a gubbin”).

  • bobby b

    “The world is ugly,
    And the people are sad.”

    I bet he was a lot of fun at parties.

  • Julie near Chicago

    bobby — forgive me, but I’m not sure whether you’re just adding your own bit of spice to the joke, or that was just how it struck you at the instant you read it, or whether you really don’t get it.

    Anyway, I’ll just repeat part of the remark above by Mervyn Nicholson:

    In somewhat arcane slang ‘gubbin’ means what it sounds like, a dull person – the ‘you’ who insists on the sad ugliness of the world.

    So, Wallace Stevens is saying that there are wondrous and maybe even beautiful things in the world, and if all you can see is the dark side of everything, well, he’s not gonna argue…”Have it your way.”

    Poking fun at the Professionally Sad, and in particular at the P.S.Poets, like the Beat poets, for instance Allen Ginsberg (viz. “Howl,” at https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/49303/howl ). Let me quote Archie (my favorite comic books were the Archie comics — Archie having been a brash, jaunty, sort of average teenager) as I remember his poetic masterwork:


    Oh how sad
    it is to be sad
    with sad.

    See, if you’d been a teenager in the fifties you could have have written swell downbeat sorta-poetry too!


  • bobby b

    No, Julie, I really did get it, but I was laughing too hard after reading the poem. Stevens could have been Finnish, he was so brilliantly descriptive of despair!

  • Julie near Chicago

    Oh, I’m so glad, bobby! I thought most probably you did, and your own remark gave me a giggle, but then I realized I could take it two ways, and I hate being confused (try being confused for as long as I have and you’ll be bored too!), so the only cure I could think of was to ask. Probably less tactfully than could be wished. :>(

    You, of course, being of hardy Norwegian stock, would never give way to despair. Besides, you can build a pergola.

    Sleep well, and try not to cry in your sleep. It would wake the dogs. –You do have dogs, I hope?

    (Speaking of dogs, who’s your favorite legal-thriller writer, or do you give all of them a miss?)

  • bobby b

    Grisham (not so much for the quality of his writing as for how accurately he conveys lawyerdom.)

  • Julie near Chicago

    Grisham. Very good, bobby. I think I liked The Pelican Brief best, and The Client (in the movie. Don’t remember if I read the book *frown*.)

    Thanks. :<)

  • Julie near Chicago

    And The Rainmaker (movie).

  • Nullius in Verba

    “The world is ugly,
    And the people are sad.”

    The trick is to see the world as it is to be beautiful, without having to airbrush bits of it out. People are sad because they’ve been told there’s going to be a happy ending, and they’re waiting for it instead of enjoying life in the here and now for what it is.


    “The Vinegar Tasters (三酸圖; ‘three sours’; 嘗醋翁; ‘vinegar tasting old-men’; 嘗醋圖, 尝醋图) is a traditional subject in Chinese religious painting. The allegorical composition depicts the three founders of China’s major religious and philosophical traditions: Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. The theme in the painting has been interpreted as favoring Taoism and critical of the others.

    The three men are dipping their fingers in a vat of vinegar and tasting it; one man reacts with a sour expression, one reacts with a bitter expression, and one reacts with a sweet expression. The three men are Confucius, Buddha, and Laozi, respectively. Each man’s expression represents the predominant attitude of his philosophy: Confucianism saw life as sour, in need of rules to correct the degeneration of people; Buddhism saw life as bitter, dominated by pain and suffering; and Taoism saw life as fundamentally good in its natural state.”

    From the Taoist point of view, sourness and bitterness come from the interfering and unappreciative mind. Life itself, when understood and utilized for what it is, is sweet. That is the message of “The Vinegar Tasters”.

    Or to put it another way, people who hate their lives and their flaws prefer to retreat to a fantasy world where everything is rainbows and unicorns, nothing bad ever happens, where the good always win and the bad always face justice, and there’s always a happy ending. It’s a nice place to live, if you’re a child, but it isn’t real and the world can’t actually work that way. A lot of the problems of society are caused when people try to implement their fantasy world of ‘social justice for all’ in reality.

    The reason we were cast out of Eden, the natural state, is that we are constantly judging things to be either ‘good’ or ‘evil’, and then cause turbulence and conflict trying to manipulate things by force to make sure ‘good’ as we see it comes out on top. We think the world is imperfect, broken, because of the existence of evil; because it doesn’t look like our fantasy. We keep trying to fix it.

    But the world isn’t broken. What we think of as ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are both a natural part of its structure, two sides of the same coin, different perspectives on the same thing, inseparable. You can’t rip one out of the world and leave the other – it would be like trying to change economics to eliminate the sadness of anyone having to pay for things, but still keep the joy of getting paid. They are always in balance – like yin and yang.

    I don’t have a problem with flawed heroes, because I didn’t expect them to be perfect in the first place. I don’t need perfection. It doesn’t detract at all from the heroism. People have elements of both good and bad, beauty and ugliness, and we can still admire their beauty and goodness in them without having to deny the reality of the whole picture. Like the way relationships last longer when we can love our partner for their flaws as much as their virtues, and don’t demand perfection. We have the freedom to choose which bits we want to look at – whether we are happy or sad with our lives and our world is a matter of choice.

  • neonsnake

    and Taoism saw life as fundamentally good in its natural state.”


    Good man.

    I’m currently at a rave/festival (of a quasi-legal nature) in a field deep in southeast England. It’s raining, it’s windy. I’m appreciating nature.

    Life is good.

    On yin and yang – look to the s-shape and the two dots; it’s the cyclical nature of it that’s representative, the idea that the opposites can contain each other.

  • neonsnake

    Life, and people, are fundamentally good in their natural state. Life is tough and hard and brutal, but increasingly less so over the centuries and millennia.

    But people are good – where we broke them was with societal institutions where we made rules and behaviors to be followed that are hard to live up to – be it religion, social expectations, or socialism with the ever-present feeling of not doing enough for fellow man.

    Leave them to themselves, let them live their own lives, free of plans imposed from above, or of ways of living imposed by a moral majority, let them be free to deal with each other on their own terms – and the goodness of human nature shines through, eventually.

    The message of the “Vinegar Tasters”, to my mind, wasn’t so much that “it tasted sweet, depending on your state of mind”, as much as it tasted like vinegar, which should not invoke unpleasant facial expressions, since it’s, y’know, vinegar. It tasted appropriately sour.

    And if you’re making a salad dressing, well, honey isn’t always appropriate. You want vinegar and oil.

    All things in their appropriate time.

    Or, I guess, for everything there is a season.

  • neonsnake

    Poking fun at the Professionally Sad, and in particular at the P.S.Poets, like the Beat poets

    Ginsberg always strikes me as a poseur, as opposed to Kerouac or even Cassidy, who walked the walk as well as talked the talk.

    …from my enlightened mid-90s perspective when I first read them, of course 😀

  • Julie near Chicago

    Sure, neon. Professionally Sad poets; and professionally Angry Young Man poets and novelists. (Seems to me they often combine in the same writer’s pen.)

    I can’t say I’ve read all that much PS/PA poetry. I did read “Howl” once, and snippets here & there since. Doesn’t interest me.

    Top Favorites: Keats, Yeats, Stevens, Eliot, Donne. Lots more that I like, but in no case does the entire poet’s œvre appeal to me. Milton might be in there, but *blush of shame* I’ve never read any of his poetry.

    Lots of other poets I enjoy reading.

    I know you were desperate for this information. ;>)