Economist Richard Salsman presents liberty advocates with a striking rhetorical question in the title of his most recent book. Are there really fewer capitalists than ever before?
Pundits and theorists have been lamenting the threats to free enterprise and the paucity of its defenders almost as long as American capitalism has existed, of course, but that doesn’t mean that recent warnings are any less urgent. Upon diving into the corpus of Salsman’s collected essays from the past decade, however, the bigger question may be why capitalism ever had enough defenders to come into existence in the first place.
Salsman, a professor of political economy at Duke University, starts with an important semantic distinction: people who are in favor of socialism are called socialists, so why don’t we call everyone who is in favor of capitalism a capitalist? Instead, we tend to reserve that word for someone who is a CEO, a start-up founder, or a finance professional: in other words, people who are assumed to be wealthy already.
This makes being a capitalist sound more glamorous, but reinforces the prejudices of the socialist view, which asserts that socialism is preferred by the great majority of people, because it benefits the masses, while capitalism is preferred only by the elite few who build fortunes by its operation.
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