Its hard to say what capitalism is or is not, but relatively easy to point out when you are reading a book which is driven by ideology driven rather than by wanting to discover the truth about how capitalism works.
If the authors are, or were, funded by corporate sponsored think tanks or just plain sponsorship, then they are likely bought. They were chosen for their ability to please their corporate customers and their desires, and it becomes part of their job. Accuracy is almost certainly less important than maintaining their income. Hence by capitalist logic, we should be suspicious of these people. This covers a fair number of ‘Austrian’ and ‘free market’ writers.
If the author presents capitalism as purely natural, and conflates capitalism with other forms of economic activity such as trade, exchange, production or so on, then its ideological. Communist societies engaged in trade and so on. We would expect communism and capitalism to be economically different. The term ‘Capitalism’ has to be limited to specific set of economic and political organisations or the term is meaningless.
3) Capitalist hierarchy is good
If the author presents the wealth hierarchy in capitalism as a matter of hard work, genius or customer satisfaction alone, then the work is ideological. Capitalism involves a form of political organisation which allows and reinforces the concentration of wealth amongst certain people, and hence the building of fixed hierarchy and power differences are essential parts of capitalism, which need to be part of our analysis, not counted as accidents or benefits.
4) Without a past
An ideological person may present capitalism as being without a history, to bury the violence, dispossession and theft (or colonialism) that has been a dynamic part of capitalist history, and can still be seen today. They are suppressing the roots and routes of capitalist development to make it look better. They may even argue that capitalism is always peaceful, ignoring the enclosure of the commons, the conditions of the working class in 19th Century England, the East India Company or the Opium Wars and many other acts of violence which have benefitted and helped originate capitalism – we could even argue World War I was entirely about defending and establishing colonial and capitalist empires.
Capitalism does not have a peaceful past, and that is part of the way it works.
5) Uniquely generates moral goods like ‘liberty’
If the person says that something valuable, like liberty, is a fundamental part of capitalism, then they are likely being driven by ideology. Capitalists like liberty for themselves, most dominating classes do. The question is ‘was liberty for the people something that had to be fought for, against capitalists or not’. The historical answer seems to be that it had to be fought for. Furthermore most pro-capitalist ideologies act to remove that liberty, by putting the liberty of corporations first, or attempting to restrict the power of organised labor. Pro-capitalists also tend to oppose social movements for the liberty of those still suffering from oppressive histories (calling them SJW etc). Liberty is not a natural result of capitalism, although, as said previously, capitalists like liberty for themselves, or for their liberty to be immune from considerations of public health, functioning ecologies, good working conditions, wealth sharing. etc.
Sometimes ideological authors engage in argument by punning saying that free markets lead to freedom, or that free markets are freedom. In practice the ‘free market’ devolves into whatever is best for the wealth elite, and gives them the freedoms they need and can obtain.
- [This does not mean that there can be no liberty in any form of Capitalism. This had happened to some degree and needs investigation – what causes it?
- A real ideologue will respond to the idea that capitalism is not about liberty, by creating a false dichotomy. Either you support whatever their version of capitalism is, or you supposedly support tyranny. No, you can support a kind of democratic capitalism, of the type that they have in Scandinavia, or had in the 50s, 60s and 70s in the US, UK and Australia. that is easy.]
Capitalism generates what is ‘profitable,’ or extractive, to the system, and this may, or may not be, what people think is morally good. It may not even be self-sustaining, but destructive in the long term.
6) Removes power inequalities
The fundamental social relationship in capitalism is between employer and employee, master and servant, boss and worker. This is rarely a relationship of liberty, and more usually a relationship of punitive obedience – to survive most people will ‘need’ a boss.
There is no necessary harmony between the working class and the capitalist class. Even capitalist theory should realise that, in general, workers want good wages, freedoms and good working conditions, and that capitalists want high profits and low costs. Labour is purely a cost to capitalists and the freer it is to disobey, or live independently of capitalism, the more costly it is. Capitalists also want cheap pollution, and cheap extraction, those affected by pollution and extraction do not.
7) Opposed to the State
Ideologues frequently claim that capitalism is opposed to the State. However, no form of capitalism has ever existed without a State, to protect wealth inequalities, labour inequalities, contract and obligation, the social forms required by capitalism, and to satisfy the wealth elites desire for power and control. Laws in capitalism are often about defending the rights of particular sections of the capitalist class. Even if this wasn’t the case with some laws, then there is nothing to prevent it from happening if enough capitalists desire it.
Some corporations are large enough and wealthy enough to count as mobile States in their own right
The idea that capitalism is opposed to the State functions as a method of explaining away the problems in capitalism – “it was the State what done it!” not the dynamics of capitalism. Where capitalism exists, then the State is largely controlled by the capitalist class, who buy politicians, regulations laws, and subsidies to help themselves survive. Where capitalism exists the State is the Capitalist State. Capitalism and the State are not separable, and hence the State is part of the system, not opposed to it.
The function of being opposed to the State, is to destroy, or ‘roll back’, any part of the State which might constrain capitalists, or benefit workers and other people, and to make the State purely plutocratic. Paradoxically those who opposed the State never seem to make it smaller, perhaps because that is not their aim. Controlling and punishing non-wealth-elites can take a lot of effort and State mechanics, as can subsidising businesses which supply the military.
8) People are simple
If an author states that people are primarily competitive, then they are driven by ideology. People are both competitive and co-operative. Indeed without co-operation you could not have most forms of competition like wars, or even like corporations. Usually the reason for ignoring co-operation is to pretend that the wealth elites will not co-operate together to take over the State or to found a State, for their group advantage. It also obscures the idea that crony capitalism, and state capture, are normal forms of capitalism.
Co-operation amongst the wealth elites leads to plutocracy, suppression of liberty for others, and the end of open markets.
9) Economic Man
Any book which reduces people to rational profit driven machines, is ideological. People are irrational and complicated. Any view which reduces people to competitive rational profit seeking machines is almost certainly going to destroy the conditions for human contentment or satisfying human life.
John Stuart Mill made this assumption to make economics simple for himself, without pretending that this was true, but it became taken as true, as it helps justify and naturalize capitalism
10) Markets are perfect information processors
Ideologists insist that markets are the best form of information processors. However, the information available in capitalism, tends towards information that encourages purchase, profit, extraction and more capitalist power. It is not geared towards capitalists recognising the signals that they are doing something pathological, before the destruction happens. Hence business cycles, corporate crashes, stock market crashes, market bubbles, ecological failures such as over-fishing and so on.
The market is, however, part of the ecology, and the ecology can be thought of as an information processor, but the way that information is processed is through disruption of ecological equilibrium, leading to disruption or destruction, as a new equilibrium is found. These new equilibriums do not have to be beneficial to previously existing life forms. The drive for immediate profit in the market may not signal this information in ways which can be recognised until too late.
That appears to be what is happening now with ecological destruction and climate change. Despite the dangers being reasonably obvious to many people (especially scientists), most capitalists keep on profiteering and making the dangers worse.
Taking the market ‘out’ of the bigger ecology, or making the market more important than the bigger ecology, or into the main information processor, makes the market a completely useless information processor, filled with falsity and avoidance, and headed towards destruction on a grand scale.
If a book only considers an ideal capitalism, or an imagined capitalism, it is ideological. Any true consideration of capitalism must consider real forms of capitalism, their history and mess. We cannot do economics, or any other social science, in the abstract.