This autobiographical journey of how I became a capitalist is aimed at those who are sympathetic to the principle of individual liberty but may be skeptical of libertarians’ claim that, ideally, when the market is left to its own devices, free of government intervention, society is more prosperous.

Unfortunately, capitalists get a bad rap: we look like we’re only interested in money, and are unconcerned about the plight of the poor. We love the idea of greedy bankers and oil barons pillaging the world for their own benefit, meanwhile exploiting the poor and polluting the atmosphere. Profit is king, altruism be damned. This is a distortion of the truth, but I’m not going to get into a general defence of capitalism as it takes too long and there are far more qualified writers for that task. Those looking for a primer in the defence of the market, on a more soundly economic basis, should check out this recent lecture from Timothy Terrell, at Mises University.

I would like to explain my perspective by charting how my views have changed over the years. Hopefully, by describing my own thought process, I will at least be able to demonstrate how I have come to those views, and generate understanding, if not agreement.

Please keep in mind, by ‘capitalist’ I just mean someone who favours ‘capitalism’, and by ‘capitalism’ I mean an economic system in which completely free trade is permitted in accordance with private property rights.

What I thought:
The market is rigged

At this point it is hard to put any stock in the government’s claim to know what is best for us and implement it with any efficiency, but this wasn’t always the case. In fact, there was a time where I had no theoretical trust in the market, and believed that some form of centralised planning was necessary for social justice.

In my teenage years, first learning about the world in a superficial way, it seemed that ‘the system’, as it were, was rigged against humanity. There appeared to be a ruling class, and then the teeming, ignorant masses idly going about their apparently shallow ways, buying their products with no sense of purpose. I had no real understanding of the market, nor the subtleties of the relationship between corporations and government.

Although I wasn’t quite on the money, I had an intuitive sense that something was amiss with the way the economy works that eventually proved to be justified. I channeled my dissatisfaction into a number of sources: I was interested, for a time, in the resource-based-economy, advocated by Jacques Fresco, and others. Roughly, I saw the ideal society as a communitarian one, being generally anti-market and also anti-work. I saw a life sitting in an office cubicle not only wasted, but also frightening. Additionally, I had a profound distaste for mass-consumerism.

The market is not ideal, but better than the alternative

A winding and convoluted journey to ‘the truth’ led me to Ron Paul. I had heard of this guy before, but didn’t pay much attention. He was supposed to be ‘the true conservative’, the principled anti-war politician that was not willing to buy into the two-party consensus in Washington. Only when he was running for the 2012 Presidency did I fully understand what he stood for. He was something called a ‘libertarian’, who agreed with the United States’ founding fathers’ view that the government should not interfere in the private lives’ of individuals.

This was something I was ready to hear since I was becoming increasingly aware of the dangers of any kind of ‘war’ that the state wages: principally, on terror and on drugs. Neither of these wars has produced anything of value, and have actively harmed almost everybody involved. The danger of unchecked state power becomes all the more obvious when they’re waving guns around the place.

With Ron Paul, I was willing to passionately argue for his foreign policy point of view, as well as his views on the police state and the nanny state. Where I was slightly more hesitant was his views on the economy, which he believed should be left to its own devices in a lassiez-faire manner. OK, I thought, I’m not a socialist, but McDonalds makes us fat and those damned banks ruin everything – how are we going to deal with those? Wasn’t the first century of the US an era of the vicious robber barons? Why would we want to go back to that?

Well, when delving into ‘the freedom movement’, and the libertarian tradition, you encounter figures that explain these problems in a perspective you have not seen before. These figures included Stefan Molyneux, who through his podcast series, really brought it home that the only consistently principled political view one can have is a strict adherence to the non-aggression principle. Although I tried my best to synchronise my previous communitarian view with these revelations, I conceded that Molyneux was ultimately correct.

Frederic Bastiat, through The Law, taught me that taxation is indeed legalised plunder. And Murray Rothbard was the most persuasive libertarian writer, destroying all of the false conceptions of the state I had. These guys offered the most satisfactory explanation of ‘the system’ I had heard: one of the reasons your average giant corporation has such a hold on the market is the special privilege it gets from the government. They are rarely subject to the same market forces as medium and small businesses are.

I discovered that banks are the most egregious example of this, as the cartel system with a guaranteed bail-out makes sure there is always an entrenched state-granted upper-class. Not only that, but the state enforces an inherently fraudulent banking system that makes everything more expensive and causes economic havoc. I came to realise that we live in a system that grants capitalism for the poor but socialism to the rich. Public losses, corporate gains: this is the era of  ‘corporatism’, ‘crony-capitalism’ or simply ‘fascism’, if we want to be technical.

So with this bombshell I came to the perspective that the market may not be the best thing ever, but whatever it does can always be made worse by the state. Whatever problems the market has, I thought, it cannot match the state’s crimes against humanity. We can deal with that after we’ve ended fascism.

The market is quite interesting

But, in this period I had an endlessly inquiring mind, and wished to know everything I could about the system. Everything I had been taught, if not a complete lie, was hopelessly skewed in perspective. What else had I got wrong? I had read Ron Paul’s Liberty Defined which nailed down some key concepts and gave me persuasive arguments against many state interventions. It was unfortunately light on economic material, but in an appendix Paul lists recommended readings, one of which I had heard cited by many sources, and intensely so – it wasn’t just ‘this is a good book’, it was referred to in terms like ‘must read’ and ‘essential’.

They weren’t kidding: if there is one book in existence that can turn a person into a capitalist in one reading, Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt is it.

This book was crucial for me in a number of aspects:

It taught me that economics need not be a turgid, statistic-y and graph-y science. The Austrian method that Hazlitt follows, pretty much, is based on the logic of human action. It follows then, that insights learned in the book provoked lots of ‘aha!’s . It’s like it’s simply reminding me of things that I already knew: ‘of course it has to be like that’. Whenever I recommend this book, I feel I have to explain that it’s actually an exciting read. The title connotes ‘school’, which is rarely enticing, but it reads like a human being trying to explain to a friend something true about the world, and it’s brilliant.

It was galvanizing in that is suggested an untapped method of understanding the world around me. It was obvious to me that economics was a powerful explainer of human interaction. The make-up of society was no longer mystifying – people act in certain ways based on their desires, and certain outcomes naturally occur. And it’s just so interesting how resources get distributed, isn’t it?

The book reinforced my intuitive sense that the free choices of individuals are more effective than central planners, giving it a firm economic explanation. It gave me the means to explain to the progressives: look, your intentions and good and all, but there are things about the way humans act that make any state intervention doomed from the start. With every regulation, decree or subsidy, there are the immediate beneficiaries, but there will always be negative implications down the line. You can break a shop window to help the window-fitter, but harm the tailor in the process.

The market is pretty cool

Now my mind is open to the literal wonders the market can create, it’s hard to retain the old anti-consumerist prejudices. On principle, I would warn against being psychologically invested in material wealth, but in the main it is hard to have the same aggressive attitude to your average consumer. If someone wants to buy a new pair of Nike trainers every month, I’m not going to get too worked up about it. It is not harming anyone, and if they perceive that it will make them happier, good. It’s not my business, and definitely not the state’s.

Given the proper perspective, we should be amazed that we’re complaining that we are too rich as a society. Most of the western world is eating enough to sustain, but many are eating too much to a point we are getting sick by it. All right, it is not the ideal scenario, but we should not be putting it in the same category of social problem as poverty and war.

Libertarianism still has plenty of crossover with the counter-culture, which means libertarians find themselves rubbing shoulders with environmentalists, the natural-foods movement and other greeny types that see society as having lost its spiritual centre thanks to consumerism. To these guys, living modestly is a necessary sacrifice to reclaim meaning in our lives and be at one with Gaia. I wish them luck on their personal mission, but if they expand it to an imposition of poverty on society, count me out.  Priorities, people. If we can find a way to end or at least curb war and violence, it will be some achievement, and at that point we can start questioning each other’s life decisions.

The market is AWESOME!

Lately, I’ve moved on from the point of view that the market is merely an added bonus of a free society, but being crucial to the idea of liberty: the market is why many of us love liberty in the first place. The market is innovation, cooperation and ultimately the development of civilization.

The only way we can possibly advance as a species is if we are free to trade with each other. Capital accumulation gives us more opportunity, time and resources for research and development, which creates innovation, which makes production more efficient.

It is literally amazing how much we have achieved in the last two centuries thanks to free-exchange. Communication is faster and more effective, improving our decision-making and our ability to synchronize. The exponential growth in the computer technology market, which is much freer than most, gives us ways to make our life easier, so that we can devote our time to pursuing greater goals that humanity has yet to challenge. Every few weeks there is a new app or service that revolutionizes our way of doing things: the rise of airBnB and Uber allows us to travel faster and more cheaply than before, music and movie streaming services are improving range and quality all the time (no thanks to IP laws), we can learn a new foreign language from our own home (!), nearly all the worlds books are available for access at our fingertips and we can order any product we could ever want and have it delivered to our door.

If these things sound superficial to you, maybe this fact will sway you: free-markets and greater production make us all richer no matter what. To take Wal-Mart as an example, which seems to get a bad rap, how many of us know that the company saves the average family $2,500 a year, even if they don’t shop there?

This should not only shut the critics up, it should leave everyone bounding for joy, crying with happiness in the knowledge that one company, just one company, can make a key difference in millions of peoples’ lives. That is $2,500 extra pocket for the poor, miles better than any welfare program in history has managed to achieve. If we saw a true free-market revolution in the west, just think of the potential. We probably can’t. The state already takes more than half of our income, through a combination of the different forms of taxation, inflation, government spending, regulation and decrees that limit job creation and technological innovation. We already know that capitalism alleviates poverty, but it is a potential that boggles the mind.

This realization makes reading the anti-market writers even more maddening than before. Hopefully market-skeptics reading this will better understand why it is why people like me are so hostile of any suggestion of redistribution of wealth, market-failure regulation and further taxation. We are not necessarily against the stated aims of these interventions: the alleviation of poverty, social justice, stable economies; but we are against the interventions nonetheless, because 1. economics teaches us that they don’t work, and 2. the market is so glorious that there doesn’t seem much point to it anyway.