It is frequently asserted that a system of free market capitalism reduces everyone to the level of animals, subject to the “law of the jungle”. Similar emotive epithets are those such as capitalism being “dog eat dog” or “winner takes all”. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Under a capitalist system all property is privately owned. Therefore, all exchanges are voluntary and not coerced (except, obviously, for acknowledged criminal acts of theft and violence). But for a voluntary exchange to occur then both parties must expect to benefit from the exchange. The exchange has therefore been productive as it has left both parties with something better than what they had before. If they did not expect to be better off then neither would have made the exchange.

Contrast this, however, with Government intervention. Such interventions, such as taxation, are ­non-voluntary, i.e. the taxed individual has no choice as to whether the exchange occurs. But if he would not have made the exchange voluntarily then it follows that he does not regard the post-exchange results as being to his benefit in comparison. Hence while the recipient – Government, or whoever Government distributes the money to – benefits, the forced giver manifestly does not. And as it is not possible to measure utilities between individuals we cannot say that the recipient gains “more” than the tax-payer loses.

Indeed the very essence of capitalism and its ability to lift whole populations out of the slum of poverty is because people produce goods that other people want which they then trade for what they themselves want in return. There is production of new goods that are voluntarily traded to make everyone’s lives better off. It is a plus-sum operation. Taxation and other forms of coerced exchange, however, are fights over existing goods – goods that already have been produced but the Government wades in and decides that someone other than the productive party should have them. This is manifestly a zero-sum game, one party reaping what another loses. And what could be closer to the law of the jungle than this? Animals in the jungle are not productive, they fight with other animals for the restricted goods that nature has offered them so that they may survive. What one animal gains another animal loses. “Dog eat dog” is therefore a more appropriate description of political fights for taxpayers’ money rather than for free exchange.

Finally, “winner takes all” would be a more apt description for democracy than for capitalism. With private property and free exchange the minority does not have to be restricted to the products and services that the majority wants. Most people might decide to shop at the mall but that does not force others to do so and does not stop the latter from spending their pounds or dollars at a boutique. In a Government election, however, the minority – the losers – have to put up with the successful candidate even though they didn’t want him and might find his policies odious. Such a system benefits only the majority – the winners, who take all – at the expense of the hapless losers.

Indeed such epithets as these we have been discussing are usually applied to capitalism by those who do not believe that they have benefited enough from free exchange and to remedy this they want to start taking what other people have, usually in the name of “fairness” and “equality”. Such charlatans should be exposed for what they are honestly trying to do – reduce human civilisation to a very real law of the jungle.

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