… As Long notes in his Rothbard lecture, the word “capitalism” today contains implicit contradictory market and interventionist elements. Much of the world, and perhaps most Americans, think of it as something other than laissez faire. Quoting Long:
Now I think the word “capitalism,” if used with the meaning most people give it, is a package-deal term. By “capitalism” most people mean neither the free market simpliciter nor the prevailing neomercantilist systemsimpliciter. Rather, what most people mean by “capitalism” is this free-market system that currently prevails in the western world. In short, the term “capitalism” as generally used conceals an assumption that the prevailing system is a free market. And since the prevailing system is in fact one of government favoritism toward business, the ordinary use of the term carries with it the assumption that the free market is government favoritism toward business.
Carson doesn’t object to the use of the word in the libertarian sense, as long as it is clearly defined. But he is not wrong to use it in the neomercantilist sense. “Hodgskin was one of the earliest writers to use the term ‘capitalism,’ and may indeed have been the first to coin it,” he writes in his book. We saw above how Hodgskin used it. In his rejoinder Carson adds, “Like Benjamin Tucker in ‘State Socialism and Anarchism,’ I advocate an end to capitalism by means of laissez-faire and free markets.” There is a long history behind the use of “capitalism” in an non-free-market sense.
Language and definitions surely evolve. But it is just as surely not the case that “capitalism” has come to mean laissez faire, no matter how hard Ayn Rand and we libertarians have tried to make that happen. The fact is, “capitalism” means, at best, the privilege-laden mixed economy we see all around us. We will fail to communicate if we ignore that fact.