EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


August 25, 2013

Column: Lemonade stand offers lesson in basics of capitalism

“Capitalism, that economic system based on the private ownership of the means of production and distribution, as land, factories, mines, railroads etc., and their operation for profit, under more or less competitive conditions.”

My childhood dictionary

“Capitalism is a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned.”

Ayn Rand, “Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal”

“Capitalism has always been a failure for the lower class. It is now beginning to fail for the middle classes.”

Howard Zinn, “A People’s History of the United States”

I didn’t study economics in school. It was required in college but I didn’t get to it before I ran out of money in my sophomore year. Some formal training in this science would have come in handy when I became a taxpayer activist, since I had to learn a lot on the run.

The first time I recall hearing the word “capitalism” was when I lived in Mexico as an exchange student. One of the family cousins was a communist student; he tried to tell me that the U.S. system is wrong, that Marxism is right.

I sensed a flaw in his theories but at age 18 I didn’t know enough to argue; went home with the resolution to learn more about the subject. Fortunately, I found Ayn Rand before I found Howard Zinn. I think that one of the problems in our country today is that many college students over the years weren’t so lucky.

I’d argue with Rand’s overly broad definition, but where to start with Zinn’s critique, which was written long before things really did start to fall apart, mostly because of the socialism he advocates.

Follow the above quotes. The first is a fairly standard definition that I found in my dictionary. Then, the title of Rand’s book tells us that the dictionary definition hadn’t actually ever been practiced. The capitalism that Zinn hates isn’t either a narrowly defined capitalism, or the broad version advocated by Rand, though he’d hate that even more: so when we talk about capitalism in today’s economic systems, it’s not what it’s either supposed to be or accused of being.

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