Why I Refuse to Use the Word “Capitalism”

Why I Refuse to Use the Word “Capitalism”

“The word has other meanings that cannot be endorsed.”

When speaking of imbalance in our economy, many are quick to lay the blame upon capitalism as a system since we have long gloried in being the capitalist nation par excellence. One must reject such an evaluation. In its purely popular sense understood by most Americans, capitalism is a market system of production and consumption that protects the right of private property and free enterprise under the rule of law. In this sense, it is a useful system that has produced general prosperity for our nation. Hence, it cannot be the target of our criticism.

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Yet capitalism also cannot be the battle line in our defense. The word has other meanings that cannot be endorsed. The left, for example, has long used this term to describe the system’s shortcomings or excesses, while some libertarians have used it to promote a radical anarchical agenda.

That is why one must carefully avoid the trap of using the word indiscriminately. Because Subscription8.11of the misuses of the word, it is wiser to follow the advice of Jesuit economist Fr. Bernard Dempsey, who claims that capitalism is a word incapable of scientific definition, and one that should only be used with great reluctance and care, commenting: “Only a very foolish general accepts battle on terrain of his adversary’s choice.”[1] It is best to use this vague term sparingly.

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The above is an excerpt from the book, Return to Order: From a Frenzied Economy to an Organic Christian Society—Where We’ve Been, How We Got Here, and Where We Need to Go.

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[1] Bernard W. Dempsey, The Functional Economy: The Bases of Economic Organization (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1958), 162.