When Thomas Robert Malthus published his Essay on Population in 1798, explaining that population always tends to grow faster than the resources available to support that population, condemning most people to a level of income barely sufficient to survive, he was describing the history of humankind up to that point.

The history of humankind goes back hundreds of thousands of years. Only in the past few hundred has economic progress raised most people out of poverty. What has been responsible for this remarkable increase in the global standard of living? Capitalism!

Since its beginning, capitalism has had its critics. In a new book, Rainer Zitelmann presents compelling and well-researched answers to many of the criticisms leveled against capitalism. His book, In Defense of Capitalism, is well-written and provides readers with solid support to counter anti-capitalist arguments.

One very interesting part of the book reports the results of a survey Zitelmann conducted in 21 countries, with 21,856 respondents. Survey participants were presented with two sets of questions asking their views on economic systems. One set referred to economic freedom and purposefully avoided using the word capitalism. Another set asked them their thoughts about capitalism. People were far more positive in their views favoring economic freedom when Zitelmann did not use the word “capitalism.” 

People say they favor an economic system that allows people to run their businesses as they see fit, has less government intervention, and supports private property rights. However, their favorable views on economic freedom decline when the word “capitalism” is used to describe such an economic system.

Are capitalist’s supporters undermining their support by using the term capitalism, which appears to have negative connotations? Would they do better to talk about the market system and economic freedom rather than calling such a system capitalism?

Capitalism is the most successful anti-poverty program in human history. I like the term capitalism and will continue to use it while recognizing that it has a negative connotation among many people. Zitelmann’s book confronts this negative connotation head-on by boldly using the term and solidly defending it.

Randall G. Holcombe is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute, the DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University, and author of the Independent Institute book Liberty in Peril: Democracy and Power in American History.
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