Economic Theory

Anti-capitalism: a booming industry

This article was first published by The Independent.

I have long been toying with a business idea, but never had the time, patience, know-how and, above all, the resolve to do anything with it: the Virtue-Signalling Investment Fund. This fund would invest exclusively in virtue-signalling products – that is, products which people use to signal a right-on, trendy-leftie view of the world.

It would hold shares in companies making products related to fashionable causes, such as feminism (think of the “This is what a feminist looks like” T-shirt), environmentalism, identity politics and above all, anti-capitalism.

Anti-capitalism provides the basis for a permanent bull market, which is massive in size and scope. It’s not just the obligatory Che Guevara shirt. There is more anti-capitalist literature on the market than anyone could read in a lifetime, and there are literally thousands of movies and songs with subtle or not-so-subtle anti-market messages. And, of course, there’s anti-capitalist merchandise.

Take the ‘Anonymous’ masks used on Guy Fawkes Night: You probably knew that Time Warner collects a royalty per mask sold – but they are not the only ones profiting handsomely from the anti-capitalist gravy train. At least one businessman buys those masks directly from China at a price of £0.22 a piece, and sells them here for £4.20. He says that he makes a profit of £2.60 per mask, which would amount to a staggering margin of 62 per cent.

For comparison: The profit (boo!) margin of a McDonald’s (boo!) branch is in the region of 6 per cent, and so was Tesco’s – in the good years.

There is nothing ironic about the fact that anti-capitalism opens up a myriad of profit opportunities, and that the resentment of markets creates a massive growth market. Capitalism is neither an ideology nor a value system. Capitalism is simply the voluntary and peaceful exchange of goods and services, under a legal system which recognises property rights and freedom of contract. In a capitalist economy, entrepreneurs make a living by trying to find out what consumers want, and providing them with precisely that. And if consumers want anti-capitalism, then anti-capitalism it is.

When charged with hypocrisy, anti-capitalists often claim that as long as they are forced to live in a market economy, they have no alternative but to buy products from the corporations they despise. This is nonsense. There are plenty of alternatives to the existing structures of production and distribution – and no, I don’t mean emigrating to North Korea.

What I mean is that nothing would stop anti-capitalists from setting up their own, alternatives models of economic activity. Think there should be more non-hierarchical, democratically organised, worker-owned and worker-run cooperatives? Set one up today – what stops you? Less globalised mass production, and more small-scale, local, hand-made products? Go for it. Given how in vogue those views are, finding like-minded people should be easy as pie.

The reason why this doesn’t fly is that most anti-market critiques are about status-signalling and virtue-signalling rather than genuine grievances. Much easier to stick an “I voted Corbyn” twibbon on your avatar, retweet the latest Owen Jones article, and buy the latest Naomi Klein book, placing it on the coffee table or wherever it is as visible as possible.

And since signalling anti-market credentials is so easy and effortless, selling the relevant signalling products will always be a boom market.

Dr Kristian Niemietz is the IEA’s Head of Health and Welfare.

Head of Political Economy

Dr Kristian Niemietz is the IEA's Head of Political Economy. Kristian studied Economics at the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin and the Universidad de Salamanca, graduating in 2007 as Diplom-Volkswirt (≈MSc in Economics). During his studies, he interned at the Central Bank of Bolivia (2004), the National Statistics Office of Paraguay (2005), and at the IEA (2006). He also studied Political Economy at King's College London, graduating in 2013 with a PhD. Kristian previously worked as a Research Fellow at the Berlin-based Institute for Free Enterprise (IUF), and taught Economics at King's College London. He is the author of the books "Socialism: The Failed Idea That Never Dies" (2019), "Universal Healthcare Without The NHS" (2016), "Redefining The Poverty Debate" (2012) and "A New Understanding of Poverty" (2011).

4 thoughts on “Anti-capitalism: a booming industry”

  1. Posted 13/11/2015 at 13:46 | Permalink

    @ Dr Niemietz. You are an Allodial Libertarian, which is just as damaging to the interests of Capitalism as Socialism. Socialism is the incorrect and counter-productive reaction to the inequities brought about your political ideology. The choice between Allodial Capitalism and Socialism is a rock and a hard place, Left vs Right where the one thing you do agree on is that taxing people on what they produce is preferable to sharing the value nature provides for free. Bad for equality, bad for efficiency. The big picture is that there’s really hardly any difference between Allodial Capitalism and a Socialism when it comes down to fundamentals. A few % points GDP State spending and a bit more private involvement in the NHS and education is about it.. How many politicians or economists advocate optimally efficient taxes and markets? None. Certainly not you or the IEA because you are anti-Capitalist too. You are just in denial about it. At least Socialists aren’t.

  2. Posted 13/11/2015 at 14:31 | Permalink

    “the one thing you do agree on is that taxing people on what they produce is preferable to sharing the value nature provides for free”
    -I suspect that this is about LVT, in which case you’re wrong. I’m pro LVT. No, I am. I just don’t think it’s important enough to bang on about it 24 hours a day.

  3. Posted 13/11/2015 at 15:01 | Permalink

    Owen Jones is making a very good capitalist living out of selling his wares to such people.

  4. Posted 13/11/2015 at 19:05 | Permalink

    @ Dr Niemietz. A revenue neutral shift to LVT and 20% flat tax on all income would leave a typical working UK family over ten thousand pounds better off in their pocket every year (you can verify this by downloading the YPPUK tax app at Google Play). Plus all the efficiency and simplification benefits that go with it. What possible better antidote to Socialism is there than that? What objections could Corbyn have when both absolute and relative inequality would be so greatly reduced? The truth is, like you he has heard of LVT, is lukewarm, but doesn’t really want to think about it just in case it is important. Then what would he do? What would you do? You might even become friends:) Tell you what, give yourself a break writing about planning, bashing socialism and privatising the NHS and instead write one on why some people might be obsessed with LVT and why they are barking up the wrong tree. I guarantee your comments will get well into double figures.

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