We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

Far from robbing anybody of surplus value, Capitalism is like a benevolent ancestor who, instead of consuming all the port that he could get – as some ancestors did – laid down an enormous cellar of it for the use of future generations. And every one who is now alive in this country, and millions abroad likewise, are now able to help themselves to bottles of the grand old vintage then laid down and now ready for us, crusted, fruity, full of ripe flavour and rich bouquet. For none of us could have been so well off, and many of us could not have been born at all, if Capitalism had not done this deed, and done it judiciously and well.

Hartley Withers, The Case for Capitalism, 1920 p239. Withers was editor of the Economist between 1916 and 1921. It’s a good analogy, or ought to be. It ought to make you think of science, shipping, railways, hospitals, educational institutions. Unfortunately, in my case it – especially the “rich bouquet” bit – makes me think of sewers.

16 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Ferox

    Given that everyone who reads this site is already likely to be a hard convert to the cause of capitalism, it would probably be a more productive use of the time and space here to try and give the highest quality arguments we could muster against capitalism … and then to answer them with reasoned argument.

    Not that this would ever work against Progressives or wokies in general, but as an intellectual exercise it could prove fruitful.

    Here, I’ll start. Proposition: capitalism leaves those who are incapable of productive labor to die, unless (against the grain of their capitalist impulse) their fellow citizens take up the task of their care. But the weak and disabled have no guarantees of such care, and are as likely to starve to death as to be cared for by others. Collectivism, on the other hand, insures that everyone has access to the basic needs of survival, at a minimum.

  • NickM

    Well, sewers are proabably at least as important as all the rest. None of which are worth a damn if you’re dead from dysentary.

    Good point. I dunno if you want a reasoned argument. Because I can’t be arsed right now. Would a list suffice? Soviet famines, Maoist famines, Pol Pot’s killing fields, the Kim dynasty…

  • TomJ

    @Ferox: My counter would be – on a purely economic level, free markets as the organising principle of an economy generate wealth which allows those able to work the chance of a very comfortable existence while also providing a safety net (if so desired) for those who can’t, whether that’s provided by a state or private charity. Collectivism as an organising principle of an economy has proved barely able to sustain everyone at that safety net level. And that’s leaving aside the intolerable assaults on liberty every attempt at collectivism wrought.

  • phwest

    @Ferox – Collectivism does no such thing in and of itself. It all depends on the will of the collective – the Nazis were as collectivist as anyone, and they believed that those who were incapable of productive labor should be killed, as they were a drag on the collective (useless bread eaters). None of the revolutionary collectivist movements of the 19th and 20th century had any place for those who could never be expected to contribute to the whole, they only differed in the means they were prepared to use to deal with them.

    You see the same thing, albeit in a less severe form, with modern leftists who are perfectly happy to pass minimum wage laws that deny the disabled an opportunity to make some productive contribution to their own lives (and the self-respect that comes from that). Do note that the American left is in the process of repealing exceptions built into minimum wage laws for such citizens, against the furious opposition of them and their families.

    Why anyone believes that a movement that is philosophically based solely on the will to power would give a damn about the truly marginally capable is beyond me. The whole argument is just the usual Marxist trick of comparing an idealized form of socialism with a caricature of free association.

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    That is an excellent quote and there is something of Edmund Burke and the Whig tradition here in how one should have more gratitude than is fashionable for the capital accumulation (including human, non-physical capital) down the centuries.

    I mean, would it really hurt if young people were taught that history is not just one long list of oppression and war, but also the heroic and painstaking advances due to the propagation and exploitation of ideas. The great men (and sorry, feminists, it was mostly men) who developed scientific theories, built machines, figured out cures of disease, constructed ships, railways, roads, telegraphs, hospitals, shops, cars, aircraft, electronic devices – the lot.

    We are surrounded by the fruit of ideas. And yet how many schoolchildren are reminded of that regularly by their parents and teachers? I get the impression that a lot of the school curriculum is not so focused on this. The environmentalist movement is saturated with the notion that Man’s impact on the world has been largely negative. The quotation from the book that Patrick provides is a jolt, not because what it says is odd or wrong, but because saying and writing things like this are so out of fashion today.

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    Given that everyone who reads this site is already likely to be a hard convert to the cause of capitalism, it would probably be a more productive use of the time and space here to try and give the highest quality arguments we could muster against capitalism … and then to answer them with reasoned argument.

    Ferox, there is a time and need for “steelmanning” the case for socialism, and so on, and we have a variety of contributors with approaches to doing this. Sometimes, however, there is plenty of value in giving new and interesting ways of explaining the value of open market systems, of liberty, etc, not just to try and reach out to those seduced by bad ideas, but to motivate and sharpen the minds of those who are neutral or sympathetic to capitalism.

  • bobby b

    There’s a new movement – the anti-boomer philosophy – that really is based on the idea that us boomers went ahead and emptied that basement of port and called ourselves brave and productive in doing so.

    Hard to take on a personal level, but I can somewhat see the basis for it. “I’m spending my kids’ inheritance” is a common bumper sticker amongst many of the well-off retired people I see.

  • Over and over, I hear people moan that “The rich get all the good stuff”. This is frequently true, but sometimes the good stuff isn’t so good. Being rich can get you sent into space. Will you come down in one piece? There’s a good probability, but it doesn’t always happen.

    Capitalism gives us rich people. They do interesting things. Sometimes they’re good, and sometimes they aren’t. The wealthy, in short, are volunteer laboratory mice for the rest of us. But if the interesting things work out we’ll still have the things, even if it ain’t so good for the mice.

  • J.G.Harston

    “I’m spending my kids’ inheritance”

    Well, they didn’t inherit anything themselves, why the hell should their kids expect to inherit from them? They were brought up in an environment of “work hard to provide for yourself, don’t expect anybody to provide for you, for instance by me popping my clogs and giving you my stuff”, so their kids should damn well live their lives the same.

  • Paul Marks

    “Surplus Value” comes from the Labour Theory of Value – a theory suggested in, a vague (and rather confused) way, by Adam Smith (in his old age) and, more strongly, by David Ricardo and James Mill.

    The Labour Theory of Value, even in the English speaking world, was largely discredited by such economists as Richard Whately and Samuel Bailey – but it was brought back by John Stuart Mill (the son of James Mill – David Ricardo was a family friend). J.S. Mill did not counter the refutations of the Labour Theory of Value (even by English speaking economists), he just ignored the refutations and pretended (in his “Principles of Political Economy” 1848 – which was very popular among students) that everyone agreed with the theory and that “the theory of value is settled.

    So Dr Karl Marx, living in London in this period, had some excuse for following the Labour Theory of Value (the excuse being Mr Mill – his terrible influence on intellectual life) and building his Surplus Value theory upon it.

    This collapsed in economics around 1870 – when Carl Menger and others destroyed the Labour Theory of Value and everything built upon it (including Surplus Value).

    “But Paul – the scientific basis of socialism is based on the Labour Theory of Value” – yes it is, and as the Labour Theory of Value is false (utterly false) socialism has no scientific (science as in the sense of “body of knowledge”) foundation in economics.

    That is why I call the followers of Clause Four (1918 Labour Party Conference Constitution – control of “the means of production, distribution and exchange” – every farm, factory, shop….. was on every Labour Party membership conference till the mid 1990s) “cultists” – socialism was always wrong, but before the 1870s it could at least claim that the Labour Theory of Value had some support in economics, since then it can not do that. Socialism is a cult (an evil cult) and nothing more – it has no foundation in economics.

    It is true that Ludwig Von Mises did not formally refute socialism till the start of the 1920s (see his book “Socialism”) – but even before that (from at least the 1870s) there was no foundation for socialism in economics, what Mises did was show that it was impossible (yes impossible) for collective control of the means of production, distribution and exchange to equal (let alone improve upon) capitalism.

    This is what Ludwig Von Mises meant by “impossible” – not that it was impossible for collective control to produce any goods at all, but that it was impossible for socialism to rationally allocate resources (especially Capital Goods) to equal (let alone improve upon) capitalism – that it would always produce INFERIOR (radically inferior) results.

    This was shown (logically shown) more than a century ago. Again those who persist in pushing socialism can only be considered cultists – nothing more.

  • bobby b

    “Well, they didn’t inherit anything themselves, why the hell should their kids expect to inherit from them?”

    The ideal has long been to collect generational wealth – wealth sufficient to help kids and grandkids and whoever – and this has only been cast off recently. “Nobody helped me” is usually not true for most Americans. (Certainly for many, but . . . ) We mostly all got something somewhere.

  • Paul Marks

    How much state intervention can capitalism take before the economy (and society) collapses?

    How much wild government spending and insane regulations?

    This Ludwig Von Mises considers in such writings as the last section of the second edition of his work “Socialism” – the section on state interventionism titled “Destructionism”.

    Look around you – we are living in “Destructionism”, the last stage of Interventionism that leads to economic and cultural (societal) collapse.

    “There is an awful lot of ruin in a great nation” – that is true and I have been astonished (utterly astonished) in how long it has taken wildly insane policies (policy has been wildly insane for decades) to destroy such nations as the United States and the United Kingdom.

    Will we turn away from Destructionism and save ourselves at this late hour?

    I doubt it.

  • Paul Marks

    I would argue that Roman Civilisation went over the edge, government spending, taxes and regulations, being too much for society to progress with, under the Emperor Diocletian.

    However, Roman civilisation continued to exist (declining yes – but continuing to exist) for a very long time indeed after Diocletian. “There is a great deal of ruin in a great nation” (or civilisation), it can take a very long time indeed for even wildly insane policies to actually destroy a civilisation – something I did not fully grasp when I was younger.

  • Kirk

    The use of the term “capitalism” is suspect, in and of itself. Marx coined the term as a pure straw man; there really is no such thing as “capitalism”. We should not cede the argument by using his terms.

    The real thing we are talking about when discussing this thing Marx named “capitalism” is actually better described as “traditional economics”, a system where people are free to do that which they’ve always done: Exchange labor or goods for other labor or goods, without someone else sticking their nose into things.

    The success that the Marxists have enjoyed via convincing everyone to discuss things using their terms, under their framework? A large part of why they’ve been so damn successful in brainwashing people down the years. He set up a straw man that few have bothered to address, because his fantasy of how an economy works has become the default because everyone adopted his terminology.

    Don’t use it.

  • Paul Marks

    Kirk – good point Sir.

    As for the modern system – it is truly odd to call it “capitalism” as there is little “capital” little Real Savings (the actual sacrifice of consumption).

    “Credit Bubble ism” would be the best name for the present system – and Karl Marx did not really consider it, as (in his day) Credit Money banker bubbles were froth (poisonous froth – but still froth) on top of a basically sound economic system – these days the Credit Bubble is-the-system.

  • Kirk


    I think that the whole of every economic system is basically legerdemain, a willing suspension of disbelief. How else might it be that some paper with pictures on it might be accepted in change for some cereal crop that was laboriously raised and harvested?

    How is it that great stone circles that you can’t even move, let alone pocket, are money on some South Seas islands, happily exchanged between people?

    The essential and irreplaceable necessity for any system of economics is a medium of exchange that everyone participating in it agrees is worth exchanging. Doesn’t matter what it is, either… It’s merely the physical representation of the article of faith required. In the end, all gold and diamonds are would be some shiny rocks, of no particular industrial value. All of the “value” we invest in those things exists in one place, and one place only: The minds of the beholders. Say that someone shows up in our solar system, one day: They look at us as though we were quite mad, because of our fascination with the shiny; they have gold and diamonds, too, but use them only for their physical properties. To them, the really valuable things in our solar system would be the minds and efforts of our admittedly loony species. There’s really not much else they’d bother with; all the other resources are available elsewhere, so the things they’d likely be interested in would be our art, our entertainments, and that’s about it. Maybe some of our agricultural products, if they were compatible with them, because “flavor”.

    Any economy exists only in the minds of the participants. The fallacies of socialism and all the other like -isms is that they very rapidly lose their luster under the corrosive impact of human nature. You could, were you working with ants, happily manage a truly socialist economy. So long as you are dealing with what Terry Pratchett referred to as “the rising ape and falling angel” of our sadly flawed species? Fuhgeddaboudit. Ain’t happening. They’ll corrupt your ideal socialist paradise, jack it up on blocks, and steal the tires before you realize what is happening. That’s precisely what happened in the Soviet Union, and every other attempt at the egalitarian ideal we’ve tried. Marx should have brought his ass to the US and tried establishing his ideas in some utopian community like Oneida; he’d have shortly lost his delusions about people and their virtues.

    Sorta the same way I did, managing soldiers and their living spaces. Trust me on this: You want a microcosmic view of why socialism doesn’t work with real humans? Try running a floor in a barracks with gang-style latrines. You’ll lose all your illusions about the nobility of man, in very short order. People only do that which is in their interest, and rarely do they do “what is right” without severe prompting. You only have to observe the average shopping-cart situation in your average grocery store, in a “disadvantaged” community. The disadvantage actually exists only in the minds of the feral inhabitants, but… Still. If the carts aren’t returned? You can do the math from there. I learned to use that rule of thumb whenever I was moved to a new assignment in the military, and it never failed me. If the local arseholes aren’t bothering to put their carts up, after taking the results of their foraging in the local markets to their cars? Do not, I pray you, move to any neighborhood near that locale.