Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A new word for capitalism?

In The Fatal Conceit, Hayek tries to explain how the "extended order" came into being, i.e. the global civilization in which we now live. It is fair to say that, according to Hayek, capitalism is what has allowed the extended order to come into being and continue to exist. Without the spontaneous processes of cultural evolution (see my previous blog post on the matter) human life would never be able to thrive in such large groups.

However, Hayek had trouble with the word "capitalism."
Since this term suggests a system serving the special interests of the owners of capital, it naturally provoked the opposition of those who, as we have seen, were its main beneficiaries, the members of the proletariat. The proletariat was enabled by the activity of owners of capital to survive and increase, and was in a sense actually called into being by them. It is true that owners of capital made the extended order of human intercourse possible, and this might have led to some capitalists proudly accepting that name for the result of their efforts. It was nevertheless an unfortunate development in suggesting a clash of interests which does not really exist.
After briefly considering the term "market economy," Hayek concludes that something more fitting is required.
Hence I proposed some time ago that we introduce a new technical term, one obtained from a Greek root that had already been used in a very similar connection. In 1838 Archbishop Whately suggested 'catallactics' as a name for the theoretical science explaining the market order, and his suggestion has been revived from time to time, most recently by Ludwig von Mises. The adjective 'catallactic' is readily derived from Whately's coinage, and has already been used fairly widely. These terms are particularly attractive because the classical Greek word from which they stem, katalattein or katalassein, meant not only 'to exchange' but also 'to receive into the community' and 'to turn from enemy into friend', further evidence of the profound insight of the ancient Greeks in such matters. This led me to suggest that we form the term catallaxy to describe the object of the science we generally call economics, which then, following Whately, itself ought to be called catallactics.
Two problems with this: one, this word "catallaxy" doesn't really replace "capitalism," but only "market economy," and two, it would be very difficult to make this word popular, since most people aren't going to readily connect it to the Greek derivation. (I might also add, somewhat facetiously, that "catallaxy" sounds a lot like "Cadillac," which still makes me think of a system favoring the rich.)

Still, I can't help but admire the effort to introduce a new term so that we might discuss what it is we're really talking about. The derivation from the Greek is ingenious. Instead of saying, "I am a proponent of the free market," one could say, "I am a proponent of the catallaxy," and one would probably be saying something much more worthwhile (once the word were understood by others). I can only hope that such a shift may happen in our language with regard to "capitalism."

No comments:

Post a Comment

I love to hear feedback!