Tomorrow, Friday 18th June 1999, there is due to be held a protest against Capitalism. This article seeks to demonstrate the deeper meaning of such a protest and to defend the City as an institution for making money.
The protestors’ explicit purpose tomorrow is to disrupt your life. What right have they to do this? Under the guise of a peaceful demonstration they aim to stop the flow of business so as to draw attention to themselves, and their cause which is to destroy capitalism. Why should the City put up with this? The protestors claim they will use peaceful methods yet the City would undoubtedly be more peaceful without them. Peace is freedom from civil disorder yet their aim is to create disorder. Their method of passive resistance is in fact not peaceful at all, but a form of physical force. If it was not, then the sheer number of physical bodies would not be important to the protest, but it is: only with sufficient bodies can they hope to make roads so impassable that normal peace-abiding, productive people cannot go about their business. The anti-capitalists will forcefully put their bodies in the way and forcefully resist any polite requests that they move. Like a herd of sheep they will trust the nearest flock member for directions and courage. If one man alone placed a barrier in a road, he would be arrested for dangerously obstructing the highway. If hundreds of people do it, they think they can escape the law by attempting to overwhelm its capacity. Challenging the law by force rather than debate is an attack on our system of government.
Yet they need the stable society provided by our government and police force just as much as we do. Nevertheless they pretend to be against it. Just as they pretend that the bikes they ride, the shoes they wear and the web pages they read are not in fact products of the capitalist society they are trying to undermine. Such hypocrisy beggars belief but they will turn up tomorrow and get away with it. One reason is the truly peaceful nature of those they attack. Your bosses have recommended that you dress down tomorrow so as to avoid attracting the protestors’ malice. Those who run businesses are aware of the value of their employees and want to protect them. But in fact such dressing down will mainly be seen as a capitulation to the sneers of the protestors. Suppose one of you has to go to work in a suit, say for a client meeting. In disguising yourselves you will make him or her bear the brunt of the protestors’ attacks. Does disguise not seem cowardly in this light? What sort of people are we and what sort of society do we create if we show we are afraid to go to work as normal? Dressing down to please the protestors is a betrayal of every other day of your working life.
Unfortunately the day of protest planned tomorrow is not the first of its kind. Business is constantly under moral and physical attack. Newspapers, including the ‘business’ supplements, denounce profit with terms like ‘fat cat’ and ‘windfall’ - as if production was a matter of chance and the producers merely animals. Politicians then follow up such moral attacks with the threat of physical attacks in the form of new rules and regulations - the threat being that non-compliance will bring punishment. We all know that the vast majority of such rules actually hamper business far more than they ‘protect’ the consumer. But this doesn’t stop the rules being imposed - if businessmen are viewed as a collection beasts sitting under trees rather than as people, they can have anything done to them.
Why is it that productive, peaceful men and women are viewed like this? Why is capitalism so often denounced? The answer lies in two major conceptual confusions: one over the nature of money, and one over the nature of rights. Whether such confusions are a result of honest mistake or ignorance is hard to say. Whatever the case, since hardly anyone in this country has heard of a way to resolve them the current situation is understandable and improvable.
The confusion over money, is held in some degree by both business people and protestors. It has a long history and can be summed up in the phrase "money is the root of all evil". This idea is largely based on a false view of economics which leads to a false view of how human beings trade. The holders of this view think that money is like a cake, and that one person’s bigger share is always at the expense of another person’s smaller one. Therefor he who has the largest slice is the biggest crook. In fact, money is not what we consume, it is only a means of exchanging goods and services that we want to consume. The more of these produced, the more there is to exchange. Money acts as a standard of value against which to set prices and also as a means of storing produced goods as savings, ready to be exchanged later. As long as people trade voluntarily, there is no stealing from anyone. The confusion between the goods exchanged and the means of exchange, receives support from most of this country’s history. Under feudalism and mercantilism, there was very little production. Goods were usually plundered or made under some form of slavery. Only since the Industrial Revolution has it been shown that wealth can be created, and that prosperity requires free trade.
The confusion over the nature of rights is well illustrated by the collapse of a semi-industrial society: the Soviet Union. This had money and technology but no proper rights. They instigated a political system whereby rights belonged solely to the collective. Only the collective, in the form of central planning, had the right to decide what to produce and how to price it. Only the collective had the right to benefit from that production. Capitalists were weeded out and the distribution of goods was strictly controlled to ensure that each equal part of the collective, benefitted equally. Whether you were more or less productive than your neighbour made little difference to your lifestyle - you both got the same rations. This practice of treating people as parts of a vast machine, devoid of individual rights, led to the downfall of the whole system. During its descent, the central planners tried slackening one part of their stranglehold on production - they allowed some individuals a degree of control over what they made and with whom they traded. But this was not enough to stop the collapse. Communist ideology would not allow them to release the other hold on production. They could not bring themselves to say that the individual and not the collective was the rightful beneficiary of his own production. Their ideology failed them because they could not see men and women as individual thinkers. It takes mental effort to earn a living and if the rewards for that effort are kept from those who make it, they will not find it worthwhile to strive for better products and practices. Instead they will just follow routine. If it seems impossible for effort to be rewarded, eventually nobody thinks and deficits, surpluses and accidents mount up until people die or the system of government is replaced with a better one. The Soviets did not accept that production relies on primarily on thinking rather than muscle. If they had they would have seen the absurdity of supposing that there was such a thing as a collective brain which could run society. Thinking happens only in the heads of individuals and it cannot be performed unless that individual wills it. External force can stop a person acting on their thinking but it cannot make them do any thinking. As hard as they tried the Soviets could not whip or starve men into being successful.
Only if men are free to produce as they see fit, and guaranteed by law to be allowed to keep the results their production, will they apply their minds to production. That guarantee is the purpose of individual rights and the only prerogative of government. Unfortunately, we live in a society where individual rights are only partially understood and partially implemented. We have a system which tries to mix two opposing principles: collective ‘rights’ and individual rights. Sometimes you are allowed to keep your money and decide how your work, sometimes the government, on behalf of some pressure group, will make you give up those freedoms. The details vary from day to day as different groups vie for ‘their’ piece of the cake. People in business are in a confusing position. On the one hand they need the law’s protection to conduct their enterprises. On the other, they resent its interference.
The protestors tomorrow are among those who take advantage of this confusion to press their end of the argument - full collective rights. They are against capitalism only because they are for something else - socialism. Capitalism is a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned. Socialism is a cut down version of Communism in which individuals only have rights which are not voted away from them. Yet it should be obvious from the collapse Soviet Union that the denial of individual rights leads to poverty and destruction. This last is in fact the true motive behind the protest tomorrow. They will not stand and argue seriously for a better system that they have to offer instead of capitalism. If they had any intellectual ideas they would write about them, not try and persuade you by their numbers. Instead they will merely chant and obstruct their way into the headlines. They will mock you amid a ‘carnival’ atmosphere because they think they have a moral right to your efforts and that you are fools for working so hard to support them, which you do, through various benefit programs.
When they have nothing to offer, it makes you wonder why they are so insistent on displaying themselves. What benefit is there to them in disrupting you, especially when they rely on your production? Why do they urge you to have a day off and be more like them? It can only be because they hate productiveness and achievement as such, and if they can bring down those who produce, to a level where they apologise for their lifestyle, the protestor’s inability to produce will not be so obvious.
In a society that fully protected individual rights, they would have no authority to cause obstruction to others’ property. Since the protest is only a one time event., perhaps that doesn’t matter too much. But when you consider the cost of their effrontery in terms of lost business, in terms of harrassment, in terms of extra security measures, and most of all in terms of lost pride, perhaps you will be more concerned.
What should really make you object to the protest is that it explicitly adds yet more weight to the attacks on the principle behind your existence. The protest against capitalism is an attack on the City, on business, on anyone who has worked for a living and on the values that you yourself are working for. In attacking the right to earn, keep and spend money, these protestors are attacking your way of life. Don’t let them. Withdraw your moral sanction from their ideas and withdraw any material assistance you might inadvertently be giving them through related organisations. You should be proud not ashamed of working for profit in the City. You have a right to pursue your career in peace with others, unmolested. There can be no such thing as the right to deny you that.
- Henry Afton