Sunday, September 24, 2017

Building a Better Anti-Capitalism

In my first political awakening, I became an ardent pro-capitalist libertarian. There were some anti-capitalists to debate around my university and on the internet, but the average quality of their arguments were so poor that engaging with these folks deepened my convictions instead of challenging them.

But over the years I have seen first hand some of the failures of capitalism. Burning Man and its ethos of public contribution was a major turning point in my attitude towards capitalism, illustrating the great good that can be created outside of formal exchange relationships. Now I see that there are plenty of circumstances where free markets fail to create an optimal outcome, either by failing to properly incentivize things that we value, or by failing to disincentivize bad behavior. Market capitalism alone is not a complete recipe for growing a good society.

Today the world still suffers from low quality anti-capitalists. To protest capitalism, they break shop windows, burn cars, block streets, and fight with the police. This makes little sense. Plentiful shops and safe, convenient vehicles are some of the good parts of capitalism. And the streets and police are non-capitalist institutions that may be imperfect, but also provide vital services for society. I bet that neutral observers are turned off.

It's because I take the failings of capitalism seriously that I'd like to offer a better playbook for protesting capitalism. Each of the following opportunities for direct action addresses a failing of capitalism while making the world a better place

  1. Love thy neighbors. Invite them over for dinner and don't charge
  2. Volunteer to pick up trash in your neighborhood for half an hour
  3. Volunteer at a Boys and Girls club or old folks home
  4. Learn how to make something that you would normally buy. Knit a sweater, grow some vegetables
  5. Produce a piece of public art that will delight people, amaze them, or make them think. Put it in your front yard or window
  6. Host an adult sleep-over. Talk, play games, and read stories 
  7. Perform a piece of music in a public space. Go caroling at Christmas time, or if you're not Christian, offer songs for the holy days of your tradition
  8. If it's your thing, become part of a church
  9. Sit at a table in a public place with a sign inviting people to play chess with you or converse with you
  10. Share knowledge. Offer a free class in yoga, art, juggling, or something else you know how to do at your home for your friends and neighbors. For bonus points, make it a regular event

In a market-driven society, life can be cold. It seems like every option to enjoy oneself costs money. Every smile is a customer service. These practices take back a portion of life's activities and relationships from the marketplace. 

In many American cities, there is little public space where a person can simply be without paying money. For a certain sum, you can buy a temporary right to exist in a theatre, restaurant or yoga class, but when your time is up you gotta get going, buddy. For every hour you spend away from home there is an invisible meter following you, running up a tab. In some small towns, I hear people repurpose Walmart as their public square, sitting and chatting with friends in the furniture aisle, or strolling through the store on a late-night date. Walmart is the closest approximation to the missing commons. 

I suggest we protest capitalism by providing what the market doesn't. Create social connections that are based on mutual enjoyment instead of formalized exchange. And create space and time for people to simply exist without a running meter.

Do you have any ideas for how to better protest capitalism? Leave a comment.


  1. Hi, I just recently became very supportive of cooperativism and there are several nice initiatives to improve quality of life from a market socialism/libertarian socialism point of view.

    Hope you like them as a libertarian market socialism thing.

  2. Two critiques of your proposals here:

    1. Your ideas aren't so much a protest of capitalism as ways of compensating for what capitalism doesn't do well. A real protest of capitalism should address its serious malfunctions and externalities. E.g., read Chapter 4 of "Everything for Sale: The Virtues and Limits of Markets" by Robert Kuttner for a good explanation of how capitalism fails as a system for providing health care.

    2. Capitalism actively interferes with people's ability to do many of the 10 things you propose. E.g., your neighbor would be much more likely to (a) have time to come over for dinner and (b) actually like the food you cooked, if capitalism hadn't supplied an abundance of restaurants serving intricately prepared, highly appealing dishes, staffed by people like your neighbor.

    A good exposition of this problem is in Chapters 5 and 22 of Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein:

    I'd be interested if you have any critiques of these arguments.

    Also, regarding the claim in Chapter 5 above that life was easier before civilization, see: