Capitalism and Freedom and JNU

This piece by David Henderson has a very powerful quote by Milton Friedman. Quoting in full:

In the circumstances envisaged in the socialist society, the man who wants to print the paper to promote capitalism has to persuade a government mill to sell him the paper, a government printing press to print it, a government post office to distribute it among the people, a government agency to rent him a hall in which to talk and so on. Maybe there is some way in which one could make arrangements under a socialist society to preserve freedom and to make this possible. I certainly cannot say that it is utterly impossible. What is clear is that there are very real difficulties in preserving dissent and that, so far as I know, none of the people who have been in favor of socialism and also in favor of freedom have really faced up to this issue or made even a respectable start at developing the institutional arrangements that would permit freedom under socialism. By contrast, it is clear how a free market capitalist society fosters freedom.

Think about the ongoing protests at Jawaharlal Nehru University, a far-left-of-centre university, regarding the rally they took out last week and the government crackdown thereafter. While the current protests there have little to do with economics, and mostly about government control, given that a large section of the university has a mostly leftist anti-capitalist agenda, it’s a good example to take.

So where did the students and faculty of JNU obtain the resources to organise their protest marches? Some posters and banners might have been handmade, but many would’ve been bought (or made to order) from capitalist banner manufacturers.

The protests were largely covered by capitalist media houses which gave them further ballast, and acted as a force multiplier. Discussions on capitalist TV channels and newspapers (some of them publicly listed) added legitimacy to the protests.

Protestors would have needed a way to coordinate regarding the time and location and manner of protests. While old-fashioned methods such as notice boards and offline meetings could have been used, it is far more likely (and far easier) that the protestors used a capitalist social network (such as WhatsApp or Telegram (though admittedly the latter is not-for-profit, but it’s just that its owners are not optimising for profits) ) to coordinate their protests, using smartphones and computers made by capitalist manufacturers and sold by capitalist shopkeepers.

In other words, capitalism is a necessary condition for any kind of freedom, especially freedoms directed against the state. In a wholly state-owned economy, last week’s protests would have been far harder, if not impossible.

The state-owned media could have been one-sided in the coverage. The state-owned banner manufacturers could have refused to sell to the protestors. State-owned social media would have snooped on and subverted attempts to organise (if not block them altogether). I’m only picking a few examples here.

The next time you think you can have social freedom without capitalism, think again. It is capitalists driven by profit motives who provide anti-state activists the necessary tools to express their freedom.