When the Canadian government recently announced the plan to build a monument to victims of communism, Elizabeth May, the Green Party leader (and the party’s sole MP) tweeted: “no mention of monument to victims of capitalism.” While the government should not build any monuments—it is spending our money without our consent—Ms. May’s tweet warrants comment. It reflects widespread ignorance of capitalism, and not just among politicians. As the system consistent with requirements of human survival and flourishing, understanding capitalism is in our self-interest.
Many people confuse our current mixed economy with capitalism. However, there is no capitalist system anywhere in the world (the closest to it was 19th century America but even there capitalism was not pure but entailed government involvement in the economy), so there hardly could be any “victims” of capitalism. But more fundamentally, there cannot be victims of capitalism because the whole concept is a contradiction. To see why, we must be clear what ‘victim’ and ‘capitalism’ mean.
‘Victim’ is a “person destroyed, sacrificed, or injured by another, or by some condition or agency; one who is cheated or duped” (The Living Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language). In another words, a person is victimized by physical force—whether initiated by another or caused by a natural phenomenon (such as earthquake or flood)—or by fraud committed by another. ‘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). In other words, capitalism is a system in which the initiation of physical force and fraud is banned. Under capitalism, only the government can use force—but only in retaliation against its initiators, such as terrorists and other criminals.
Because initiation of physical force and fraud are banned in a capitalist system and the government’s only role is to protect the individual rights of its citizens, there are no victims. Quite the contrary: capitalism is the only victimless social system. People are free to pursue their interests but they cannot violate the rights of others by initiating—or threatening to initiate—physical force against them. The government—via independent courts and objective law—is there to deter and punish them in case they do. Under capitalism, violations against others’ life, liberty, and property are deterred and punished, including crimes such as polluting someone else’s property, or otherwise damaging or stealing it. Under capitalism, the government protects individual rights and cannot itself initiate force, for example by confiscating citizens’ property to build monuments.
In every statist system, including the mixed economies prevalent in most countries of the world, there are victims because the individual rights are not fully protected and governments themselves initiate physical force in varying degrees, from taxation and confiscation of property for the sake of alleged “public interest” to imprisoning and executing dissidents. If we want more freedom and recognition of individual rights—necessities for human survival and flourishing—the first step is to understand what capitalism means and then promote it, by educating all those willing to listen. Elizabeth May might not be among them but many others will be.