Bonus Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on March 21, 2019

in History, Myths and Fallacies

… is from page 236 of Jason Kuznicki’s review of What Is Classical Liberal History? (a 2017 volume edited by Michael J. Douma and Phillip W. Magness) (original emphases):

[H]istorians should approach capitalism not as a system of exploitation, which it clearly is not, but as a system of access. In the bad old days, only a tiny few had any access at all to large accumulations of capital or to the benefits that such accumulations could produce. Under capitalism, a revolutionary thing has occurred: anyone at all can get access to a share of the returns on capital. From the perspective of world and comparative history, this is an utterly momentous development, one whose implications have not yet been adequately explored owing to the discipline’s wasteful intellectual diversions, first to Marxism, and second to critical theory.

DBx: The fact is that it’s easy, at least in modern-day America, to become a capitalist – that is, to own shares of capital, including shares of non-human capital. Simply purchase some. Of course, for any particular person to do so requires that he or she forego some current consumption. But because there are very few people in America today living near subsistence, there are very few people in America today who cannot afford to become owners of shares of capital.

While spelling out this reality is politically incorrect, it is also factually correct. And so if Thomas Piketty and others are accurate when they claim that the rate of return on capital generally exceeds the rate of economic growth, even relatively poor Americans would have powerful incentives to accumulate shares of capital.

It is astonishing how much both the public discussion, and even the academic discussion, proceeds as if there is a distinct class of people who are “capitalists” and another class who are not. It’s as if participants in these discussions presume that being a capitalist is rather like being born with XY chromosomes, or being born on March 21st: facts over which the person had no control and which cannot be changed. You either do or don’t have XY chromosomes; you either were or weren’t born on March 21st. You either do or don’t own capital; you either are or aren’t a capitalist.

It’s nonsense.


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