What’s the difference between capitalism and free markets?

This market doesn’t look too bad. (pexels.com)

I’m a cultural historian. I’m not a theorist, a philosopher, nor a political scientist. But I’m intensely interested in the question of how people got so confused about the difference between capitalism and a “free market economy.” The question gets to the heart of confusion over other definitions: capitalism, anti-capitalism, and socialism, specifically. And it thus raises broader questions about language and who has the power to shape narratives and epistemes. So I think it’s worth diving into.

So here are my thoughts on why it’s wrong to conflate capitalism and “free markets.” Fair warning: these are in some ways a repetition of and an extension of thoughts I posted here a few years ago, so it’s not entirely new.

Continue reading “What’s the difference between capitalism and free markets?”

How the Hollywood Blacklist Gave Us the Term “Witch Hunt”—And Why the Phrase Would Be Best Forgotten

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Daniel Day Lewis stars as John Proctor in the 1996 film adaptation of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.

Editor’s Note: Before you read this post, here’s a weird story about how it was almost published elsewhere.

I initially wrote this essay, and sent it off to various online publications to see if it might be posted somewhere a little more prolific than my humble WordPress site. After many solicitations, I found an editor that was interested, who emailed me to say that they “would be delighted” to publish the essay on their website. That editor and his publication will remain nameless, but suffice it to say it was the website of a relatively venerable magazine of the left. Continue reading “How the Hollywood Blacklist Gave Us the Term “Witch Hunt”—And Why the Phrase Would Be Best Forgotten”

Postmortem on My “Hail Caesar Project”

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Gee, thanks Robert Picardo playing the rabbi in Hail, Caesar! (2016/Working Title Films)

I’ve gotten in the habit of writing about some of my essays here when they go live, so I thought I’d share some random thoughts about my latest, “‘Sometimes a Bee Can Move an Ox’: Biblical Epics and One Man’s Quest to Promote Jewish Values in Blacklist-Era Hollywood,” now online at the journal Modern American History (MAH), which, in a reflection of the paper’s provenance, still sits in my computer in a folder labeled “Hail Caesar Project.” I like to write these postmortems just to get some of my thinking on the record, so to speak, but if you’ve already read the essay and might like to know a little more, please do read along. Continue reading “Postmortem on My “Hail Caesar Project””

Why I Dislike the Word Illiberal

Was the Tea Party movement a manifestation of “illiberal democracy” or “undemocratic liberalism”? (2009/public domain)

I want to expand a bit on my recent comments on why I dislike the word “illiberal” and the phrase “illiberal democracy,” terms that appear to be nearly ubiquitous in contemporary popular political discourse.

In part, this is because I’m delighted to discover that there is an existing debate over this that I was entirely ignorant of. It seems that there is a cadre of political scientists—at least according to Wikipedia—who question the use of a phrase that seems simply to mean “undemocratic democracy.” Continue reading “Why I Dislike the Word Illiberal”

Haunted by Churchill: Civic Nationalism and Churchill-Philia

Gary Oldman plays Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, here addressing the British House of Commons in 1940.

Winston Churchill wasn’t a saint—he was anti-labor and pro-imperialism, and responsible for a famine in India and an ethnic cleansing in Kenya. But I don’t need to tell you this. Since the latest Churchill biopic, Darkest Hour, began earning accolades and awards in late 2017, plenty of columns have been written to remind us that Churchill is not worthy of our veneration.

These columns are worth your time if you are not familiar with Churchill biography. But for cultural critics to write solely about what gets left out of our present day American conversations about the British prime minister is to perform a kind of critical dodge. We should be asking: What is it that makes this moment ripe for a renascent Churchill-philia? What is it about the story that is being told about Churchill that seems to be resonating with American audiences and critics? Continue reading “Haunted by Churchill: Civic Nationalism and Churchill-Philia”

Universal Basic Income Vs. the Left, Part Three

(Read Part One and Part Two first.)

Against “the Worker”

For a number of voices on the left, one of the chief concerns about the basic income movement is that appears to obviate a historical locus of class struggle: the workplace. Such a concern is understandable, particular in the context of the recent calls for basic income that deny the agonism necessary for political change and power dynamics involved in the occlusion of such change. As Peter Frase writes, we need to make sure that “politics” and “class struggle” are included in discussions of utopian societies.

It is not my intent to deny or elide the historical and still-relevant place of workplace struggles in the cause of social justice, and am delighted by the most recent organization being done by groups such as Fight for Fifteen and National Nurses United. We can take on a more expansive version of class than that which is presumed by discussions of industrial work, however. And in doing so, we can understand struggles in the workplace to be means to an end, rather than ends in themselves. Continue reading “Universal Basic Income Vs. the Left, Part Three”

Universal Basic Income Vs. the Left, Part Two

(Read Part One first.)

Can I Still Get Filthy Rich?

It seems to me that the crux of the debate around Universal Basic Income is the following question: Can I still get filthy rich after UBI is implemented? The short answer—I hope—is hell no. And this is in direct opposition to >the Silicon Valley libertarian conception of Basic Income.

I’m continually struck by the degree to which mainstream discussions of UBI avoid the discussion of redistributive tax policy, nevermind wealth ceilings. Consider an essay written by one of UBI’s most prolific advocates, Scott Santens, in which he lays out the case for why a universal basic income would not cause inflation. His tortuous avoidance of the word “tax” is nearly comical: Continue reading “Universal Basic Income Vs. the Left, Part Two”