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Does "capitalism" have Marxist roots? Should we use "free market economy" instead?

Does "capitalism" have Marxist roots? Should we use "free market economy" instead?

January 31, 2024

Question: Does "capitalism" have Marxist roots? Should we use "free market economy" instead?

Answer: Interesting question, but I would say, ‘poisoned genealogy’ is not a good argument. Where the word came from is not as important as whether it is a good concept, a useful concept. Now, and there’s a good principle here: Don’t let your enemies take your stuff.

In this case, Capitalism is a very good word. Economically, capital, it means resources that are deployed for productive purposes; land, machinery and the most important resource, the individual human being taking charge of their life and becoming productive. I think that is a wonderful use, that concept of human capital. To say that individuals are responsible for themselves and that’s precisely what capitalism, the head, puts front and center.

I’d also say that free market capitalism is of course very good, but markets are slightly secondary. Markets are a social institution. People coming together to trade with each other, but it presupposes that you’ve got individuals who are taking charge of their own productivity. The individual capitalist is fundamental. Markets are secondary. So, I like capitalism a little more as a broader label.

Stephen Hicks Ph.D.
About the author:
Stephen Hicks Ph.D.

Stephen R. C. Hicks is a Senior Scholar for The Atlas Society and Professor of Philosophy at Rockford University. He is also the Director of the Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship at Rockford University.

He is author of The Art of Reasoning: Readings for Logical Analysis (W. W. Norton & Co., 1998), Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault (Scholargy, 2004), Nietzsche and the Nazis (Ockham’s Razor, 2010),  Entrepreneurial Living (CEEF, 2016), Liberalism Pro and Con (Connor Court, 2020), Art: Modern, Postmodern, and Beyond (with Michael Newberry, 2021) and Eight Philosophies of Education (2022). He has published in Business Ethics Quarterly, Review of Metaphysics, and The Wall Street Journal. His writings have been translated into 20 languages.

He has been Visiting Professor of Business Ethics at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., Visiting Fellow at the Social Philosophy & Policy Center in Bowling Green, Ohio, Visiting Professor at the University of Kasimir the Great, Poland, Visiting Fellow at Harris Manchester College of Oxford University, England, and Visiting Professor at Jagiellonian University, Poland.

His B.A. and M.A. degrees are from the University of Guelph, Canada. His Ph.D. in Philosophy is from Indiana University, Bloomington, USA.

In 2010, he won his university’s Excellence in Teaching Award.

His Open College podcast series is published by Possibly Correct Productions, Toronto. His video lectures and interviews are online at CEE Video Channel, and his website is StephenHicks.org.  

Instagram Takeover Questions:

Every week we solicit questions from our 100K followers on Instagram (a social media platform popular with young people. Once a month we feature Stephen Hicks' answers to select questions, transcripts below:

Also several articles, selected for likely interest to Objectivist audiences:

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