Marches against capitalism don't seem to be changing minds. One problem is that they conflate today's oligarch economy with the best of American enterprise.

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If you wish to converse with me, define your terms. — Voltaire

One of the most popular outdoor activities in Seattle is protesting. Among the demonstrations promised for May Day is a self-styled “anti-capitalist” march. But which capitalism?

If it’s a market economy characterized by competition, innovation, regulators with integrity, antitrust enforcement, rising productivity that is widely shared, increasing opportunity, unions and progressive taxes as checks against plutocracy, government investment in infrastructure and research, and vibrant local economies, then count me out. This was the American capitalism that existed for much of the latter half of the 20th century and created both the most powerful economy and strongest middle class on the planet.

That’s what I call capitalism.

If you mean highly consolidated industries, cartels and monopsonies, corporations as “citizens” flooding politics with money, capturing regulators and lawmakers, tilting laws and rules in their favor under the term “deregulation,” union-busting, ill-considered trade policies that send jobs overseas and depress wages, Wall Street looting the wealth it took more than a century to create, the fetishization of tech startups, “shareholder rights” trumping workers, communities and other stakeholders, rising inequality, destruction of local economies and the hollowing out of the middle class … all this is worth protesting against.

And it’s not what I call capitalism. Neoliberal crony capitalism and a gamed market, not a free market (to the extent that this ideologically hijacked term exists in real life). Oligarchy and the law of the jungle. Unfortunately, these, er, qualities have come to define the American economy in recent decades, drip by drip, merger by merger, election by election.

Two things are fairly certain. First, the protests will be held in the safety of a progressive city’s core. The “anti-capitalists” won’t take their message to the places the economic elite actually live in comfort. The workers they claim to stand for will have to stand for transit delays and traffic jams.

Second, most of the white working class will continue to identify its interests with the conservatives and big business, not with progressives or liberals, a la Thomas Frank’s book What’s the Matter With Kansas. And their votes will continue to ensure that the status quo remains and gets worse, even under a Democratic president.

And all the television coverage, helicopters and, God forbid, “anarchists” picking trouble won’t change their minds. Quite the opposite. Every protester should be asked: Do you vote?


Today’s Econ Haiku:

The final frontier

Bezos and Musk want to go

Prime competition