by Russ Roberts on June 5, 2009

in Complexity & Emergence

The left stole the term "liberalism." Maybe the fans  of emergent order  can steal "socialism."  Richard Sprague thinks it would be wrong and he's right. But I kind of like the idea of turnabout.

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Ike June 5, 2009 at 5:21 pm

While old-school socialism was an arm of the state, digital socialism is socialism without the state.

I guess "digital socialism" is anarchic emergent order?

Martin Brock June 5, 2009 at 5:44 pm

The statists also stole "the left" as well as "socialism".

SaulOhio June 5, 2009 at 6:07 pm

Socialism HAS always been destructive of society.

True_Liberal June 5, 2009 at 6:44 pm

There is NOTHING wrong with classical liberalism – in the Thomas Jefferson mold. Too bad the word has been equated with socialism. There is no reason one cannot be conservative and (truly) liberal at the same time.

But "liberal" education has become highly illiberal, intolerant, and closed-minded.

Jeremy P June 5, 2009 at 7:01 pm

Losing the claim of liberal has hurt the capitalists and it will continue to in the future. But I think it is important that Hayekian capitalists try to claim open source and make sure that people associate open source with freedom #2 and capitalism. Losing "credit" for open source to the left would cause more damage than losing the term "liberal" IMO.

Sam Grove June 5, 2009 at 7:11 pm

Open Markets

Jayson Virissimo June 5, 2009 at 7:41 pm

I like "Voluntary Order", rather than the alternatives.

vidyohs June 5, 2009 at 7:56 pm

Yeah, labeling it socialism made me cringe as well.

Applying the term socialism to what amounts to no more than sociability is a misnomer in my opinion.

Socialism is not about people freely sharing, it is about taking your production and sharing that. A far cry from what Mr. Kelly is describing.

TrUmPiT June 5, 2009 at 8:21 pm

I don't know if calling someone a liberal is a winning tactic anymore as it was when George Bush the 1st ran against Dukakis. But rest assured that the right-wing propaganda machines are working hard for the next smear campaign. Nixon was the epitomy of using labels to insinuate innuendos about someone to destroy them unfairly. The American people are a gullible bunch of gun-totting hoosiers. They love a good smear that sticks like glue on the hapless.

Mikeikon June 5, 2009 at 8:24 pm

So basically this article is praising the power of socialism without force…

…which is actually capitalism.

vidyohs June 5, 2009 at 10:25 pm

"So basically this article is praising the power of socialism without force…

…which is actually capitalism.

Posted by: Mikeikon | Jun 5, 2009 8:24:41 PM"

Do you actually see capitalism as social and not just a personal or individual tool? Strange.

Capitalism is not an ideology, it is not a religion, it is not a social philosophy, it is nothing more than a tool to increase the value of captital, or capital goods, no more, no less. It can be compatible with any religion, philosopy, or government system that does not deny the individual full value of the fruits of his labor to use or dispose of at his will.

It is undeniable that there are some that can become wrapped up in personal wealth creation and possession to the point of being actual social or even character cripples, but that reflects on them not on the tool that they use. Nor does it make the tool more than just a tool.

dano June 5, 2009 at 10:46 pm

A couple of years ago I heard an essay on a NPR show (of course)about how the left refers to themselves as progressive instead of liberal and why it should stick with liberal. Losing liberal is a shame. Another shame is allowing the statist to stake claim to progressive.

brotio June 5, 2009 at 11:33 pm

I'd love to see us reclaim the word, liberal, from the FDR, and LBJ-worshipers.

We can give them the (more accurate) word, muirdiocy, to replace it.

Mikeikon June 5, 2009 at 11:42 pm

vidyohs – That's what I meant to say.

…And I don't know why I wrote "power." I don't even remember writing that…

vidyohs June 6, 2009 at 12:08 am


Sorry if I am a tad testy tonight. My apologies.

Gil June 6, 2009 at 12:33 am

Who 'stole' what now? What difference would it make if 'Libertal' now meant 'Libertarian'? It is due to the fact that as soon as someone hears you're a Libertarian they then walk away?

So henceforth Socialism/Communism is seen as 'force'? The notion of a group of people voluntarily entering a communal living aren't 'Communist' but 'unorthodox Capitalists' because it's voluntary? Would they still be Capitalists if the group made no claim to private ownership?

brotio June 6, 2009 at 1:22 am


You socialists never make your socialism voluntary. You always turn to the guns of government to force our wallets open.

Perhaps that explains your desire for unilateral personal disarmament.

vikingvista June 6, 2009 at 1:41 am

"Capitalism" suffers the same misuse as "liberalism". Some people's idea of capitalism is having the federal government take a controlling share of a major auto company.

Gil June 6, 2009 at 2:14 am

"You 'socialists' . . ." – bio rot.

What lamo crap is that? It sounds as though you suffer from some sort of inferiority complex. I can't help if the 2nd Amendment didn't read "Congress nor government nor private individual shall make no law prohibiting the the individual's right to buy, sell, carry, bear, conceal, use any firearm or weapons". It's not as thought I wrote the darn thing. (Nor is it my fault that disgruntled Americans won't form a geurilla army to overthrow the federal government. That's something they have to do on their own and not give puppy-dog-eyes looks to the U.N. and hope for them to intervene.

Gil June 6, 2009 at 2:14 am


SaulOhio June 6, 2009 at 5:56 am

Inferiority complex? Are you projecting?

The UN??? Look to the UN for help?? ROFL!!!! Have you been reading this blog at all?

Martin Brock June 6, 2009 at 7:58 am

Our word is better than their word, so let's print our word on a banner, run it up a flagpole and start shooting them.

Daniel Kuehn June 6, 2009 at 9:10 am

I suppose the left has overtaken the "liberal" label, but I think this discussion has discounted the extent to which not especially leftist, reformist elements that called themselves liberal closer to mid century (and who I still think to represent a huge portion of both parties) actually are the descendents of classical liberals.

It's always jarring to hear libertarians claim men like Jefferson and Smith as if these strains of classical liberalism aren't the direct forefathers of mid-century reformist liberalism. As if the mid-century reformist liberals have their roots in Marx rather than Smith. I'm no expert on the subject and I'm sure a political theorist could define what I mean by "mid century reformist liberal" better than I can – but I think it's important to remember that what we think of now as "libertarian" is not the sole inheritor of the classical liberal tradition – it is one branch that substantially emphasized individualist and anti-government elements of the classical liberal tradition. Which is fine – but I think we oughta recognize that when we trace these geneologies.

Non-leftist, non-libertarian "liberals" don't really use the term "liberal" as much anymore because leftists in their coalition have latched on to it so successfully. But that doesn't mean that everyone in that coalition has leftist roots and sympathies.

Daniel Kuehn June 6, 2009 at 9:12 am

Actually – what's also very intersting is how "socialist" has come to mean "Marxist". My understanding is that it wasn't always that way at all – that Marxism was just an odd continental branch of socialism that only achieved identification with "socialism" after 1917.

Sam Grove June 6, 2009 at 9:59 am

I guess that's why labels degenerate.
As soon as a notioned label achieves significant popularity, various seekers of political power latch on to it to co-opt its success. It happened to "freedom".

Funny, there has never been a "capitalist" movement.

Jeremy June 6, 2009 at 10:03 am

"I see the emergence of social production and peer production as an alternative to both state-based and market-based closed, proprietary systems," he says, noting that these activities "can enhance creativity, productivity, and freedom."

There is a huge logical flaw in the jump from saying that technological sharing will give rise to "social production."
1) The use of technology is non-diminishing. My use of wikipedia in no way limits your use of wikipedia. But the last I checked, computers still cost money.
2) Open source programmers make a ton of money as consultants. That's why they do it. In no way is it altruistic. At the margin, they frequently make more (or comparable) money, while being allowed the latitude to set their own hours. At the same time, they are building their human capital(and their future earnings potential) by enhancing their virtual reputation a guru.

To say that market based production will be replaced by a social one without supporting it takes an extremely broad view of the modern use of technology.

vikingvista June 6, 2009 at 3:56 pm

"Funny, there has never been a "capitalist" movement."

No, but since the vast majority of rank & file voters have identified it as an overwhelming success in allowing people to satisfy their desires–as opposed the the relatively abysmal failure of central planning–that even central planners today are afraid NOT to call themselves and their anti-capitalist actions, "capitalist".

brotio June 6, 2009 at 5:39 pm

… "what's also very interesting is how "socialist" has come to mean "Marxist".

More in your lexicon than mine, Daniel. I acknowledge that there is Marxian socialism, fascist socialism, and democratic socialism, but when you get past the modifier, Uncle Joe Stalin, Hitler, St Franklin of Roosevelt, and Obama are still socialists.

vidyohs June 6, 2009 at 8:39 pm

Disingenious Kuehn,

"Karl Marx (1818-1883) was the most important of all socialist thinkers and the creator of a system of thought called Marxism. He helped organize the international socialist movement. His ideas motivated radical political activists who joined his call to overthrow capitalism. Marxism argued that all events in history are caused by economic forces, especially class conflict between owners and workers. Marx depicted the inevitable evolution from feudalism to capitalism (which happened, he argued, during the French Revolution), to socialism, which was about to happen as soon as the workers got organized…"

Marx also thought that socialism would give way to communism as the people took possession of the means of production and socialism itself would fade away.

When "Marxism itself is socialism" that seems to explain why people associate socialism and Marxism, eh?

It the people, like yourself, that are products of American socialism that haven't a clue. Or, perhaps you're just being disingenious again?

Coomunism is socialism carried to its natural excess, and Marx believed that by this time in human history, communism would dominate the world.

vidyohs June 6, 2009 at 10:24 pm

"Coomunism …………is socialism carried to its natural excess, and Marx believed that by this time in human history, communism would dominate the world."

Wow, did I create dovish collectivism?

K Ackermann June 7, 2009 at 3:13 am

… Obama are still socialists.

brotio, if Obama announced tomorrow that he was sick of being a degenerate socialist and said he was now a Libertarian, and his new staff included you (or anyone else who wants to play), what are the first 3 things you would advise him to do?

John Galt June 7, 2009 at 9:06 am

Communism — from "community." Sounds friendly.

Socialism — from "society." Sounds popular and inclusive.

Liberalism — from "liberty." Sounds voluntary, liberating.

Progressive — from "progress." Sounds like we're going somewhere. And we are — on an express elevator.

The problem is not the words, it's the ideas. And that is why you will never see the same stigma attached to conservatism.

You useful idiots on the left ought to take some time to ponder what it is about your philosophy that embarrasses you to be recognized.

I dare you to wear your sugary-sweet names with pride.

Ronson June 7, 2009 at 9:43 am


CAPITALISM — from Latin 'capitalis' {of the head}.
Term first recorded 1854; originally "the condition of having capital;" as a political/economic system, 1877.
"Capitalist" is from 1791 French Revolution "capitaliste", a term of reproach.

Sounds authoritarian.

Seems to denote a top-down economic system with the rich guys (who own stuff) in control… at the 'head' of things.

No wonder the Left luvs to use that term — it has strong negative connotations to average people.

If you want to market 'Free-Markets' — never use that term with potential customers.

John Galt June 7, 2009 at 10:40 am

It's not about authority, it's about freedom — specifically, property rights:

The origin of "capitalism" is not in economics or trade, it's in property. Capital has recognizable latin roots as a word for "head," and came to represent wealth in one of its earliest forms: the accumulation of livestock commonly measured in "heads" of cattle.

Capitalism Does Not Exist.

brotio June 7, 2009 at 6:27 pm

"… what are the first 3 things you would advise him to do?" – K Ackermann

He'd only need to abide by one rule to eliminate 90% of the bullshit in government:

1) Never take money from one citizen and give it to another.

BTW; that capital "L" you put in libertarian doesn't apply to me.

brotio June 7, 2009 at 6:41 pm

I should have worded that rule:

1) Never take property from citizen and give it to another.

K Ackermann June 7, 2009 at 10:11 pm

I dare you to wear your sugary-sweet names with pride.

John Gault, I am a liberal progressive, and I could kick your lilly ass.

I am against unions, I love money, I own guns, I pass out food boxes 4 hours a week to the people you like to kick, I loath the government and I am willing to do jail time if that is what is required to change it.

I rail against govenment, but I've never whined about helping the country and its people. If I need more money, I hustle harder.

Turn off your TV. You are starting to sound like one of those pitchmen… Ron Pompiel, and Larry Kudlow and them. The picture you have of a progressive in your head doesn't even exist. We look exactly like you, except we work hard and don't whine all the time.

vidyohs June 8, 2009 at 6:09 am


You left them a loop hole.

Better yet:

Never take anything, from anyone, at any time, for any purpose.

John Galt June 8, 2009 at 9:28 am

"John Gault, I am a liberal progressive, and I could kick your lilly ass."

Yeah, I'm sure, as long as it's not a spelling contest with sophisticated words like "Galt" or "lily," huh?

A "liberal progressive"? I hadn't even considered combinations. Tell me: name something that's exclusively "liberal" but not "progressive," or exclusively "progressive" but not "liberal."

And what's the difference between a liberal progressive and a progressive socialist, etc.? Yes, I feel I am up against intellectual enormity.

Tell me, why do you accept that you should "hustle harder" when necessary, but that "the people I like to kick" need food boxes?

"We look exactly like you, except we work hard and don't whine all the time."

I've been thinking of blogging on that — why do you yourself work hard, while others who don't work so hard would be entitled to something you intend to take from me? You seem to be extending different realities to others than you perceive for yourself. Are you sure that's entirely rational?

Daniel Kuehn June 8, 2009 at 9:45 am

brotio -
RE: "More in your lexicon than mine, Daniel. I acknowledge that there is Marxian socialism, fascist socialism, and democratic socialism, but when you get past the modifier, Uncle Joe Stalin, Hitler, St Franklin of Roosevelt, and Obama are still socialists."

I'm quite aware of the differences too – I'm just interested why for most people socialism became equated with Marxism.

In the 19th century there were a huge variety of other "utopianisms" that called themselves socialist. I just think it's interesting from an intellectual history perspective – I know there are differences.

Seng June 9, 2009 at 9:47 am

How about stealing the catch-phrases "socially responsible" and "sustainable"? They're pretty popular and not fully defined in a social context yet.

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