Chomsky on Playing Fair

Noam Chomsky is a great orator if you get him and that means you must share his contempt towards unjustified power.  If you don’t and instead have unabashed exuberance and pride towards the United States, such that you wouldn’t ever criticize it, then you will hate him and call him an anarchistic, left-winged, socialist nut.

His writings and speeches—all shaped by his disdain for hegemony—are the epitome of diatribes but serve the purpose of reminding us that we too must look in the mirror.  And not only does Chomsky tell us that hypocrisy escapes no one, but he also provides us with deep social and economic analyses even if in a bitter package.

It is perplexing to me how so many conservatives are turned off by him because he connotes radical liberalism, yet he is arguably one of the greatest thinkers of our time.  But just because I value his critical thinking skills and astute ability to point out our moral failings, this does not mean I’m a raging socialist as I like my 65″ OLED Sony made possible by market-based principles.

Competition and Our Values

Chomsky’s message that power systems can and often times do exploit and subordinate by creating social hierarchies should be listened to (i).  And here below he comes across as a radical much like Jesus would have when advocating “turning the other cheek”.  Think about how foreign this must sound to staunch believers in free markets and the pursuit of self-interest to better all.

Milton Friedman’s interpretation of the success of market systems is historically wrong, and his faith in market systems to achieve desirable ends is grossly mistaken.

And I don’t accept his values either. I don’t think the ability to succeed in a system of competition is much of a value to be admired.  [3]

Despite the proverbial economic pie being a positive summed game when we gain wealth, this does not mean those disparities that competitive-based systems create, which are a feature of capitalism, do not have measurable effects yet to be clarified (ii).  And like or hate Chomsky’s values, he highlights certain aspects of our human nature quite well.

We Did Not Always Play Fair

What about the idea that most hegemonic economies, like the US and England before it, built their economies on the “backs of others” and didn’t attempt to follow the rules of laissez-faire until they were powerful enough to risk it.  From protectionism to slaved labor, the US did not play fairly and has no right to boast about being a beacon of capitalism until after WWII.

Through massive state intervention, US was a pioneer in protectionism to protect the textile and steel industries from superior British technology and production while stealing technologies from them.

The US economy was built on vicious and murderous slaved labor.  The slaved labor camps in the South producing cotton would have impressed the nazis and was a violent intrusion in market systems.  [3]

We could even argue that the genocide of the indigenous population that came before us was a violation of free-market principles.  But those in power often do what they can get away with and always justified in the name of nationalism, economic interests, and religion.

Cleaning the continent of its indigenous inhabitants is a serious interference of the state on economic systems since they had an economy. The idea that economies developed from market systems is so grossly false that you can hardly even talk about it[3]


i) Human social hierarchies are complex and wax and wane between agonic—dominance-based and uses the threat of force and aggression—and hedonic—affiliative-based on mutual benefit through positive displays—scenarios.

Just because macroeconomic principles claim that if we pursue our selfish interests that everyone will benefit, this does not mean that conflicts of interest don’t arise from everyone pursuing the same things – positions, high salaries, desirable mates, and friends.

ii) The study of happiness and wellbeing is still in its infancy and there is much to say on how unconscious social comparisons tax our mind and body—by increasing cortisol circulation and down-regulating serotonin receptors—to create a lower mood and accommodate us to a lower rank.


[1] Boehm, Christopher. Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior . Harvard University

[2] Chomsky, Noam. Requiem for the American Dream . Seven Stories Press.

[3] Chomsky, Noam. YouTube one.  Youtube two.

[4] Deaton, Angus. The Great Escape. Princeton University Press.

[5] Marmot, Michael. The Status Syndrome . Henry Holt and Co..

[6] Quartz, Steven. Cool. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

[7] Wilkinson, Richard G. . The Inner Level. Penguin Publishing Group.

[8] Wilkinson, Richard. The Spirit Level. Bloomsbury Publishing.


  1. jenorafeuer says

    And let us not forget that Hollywood, draconic modern enforcer of copyrights that it is, was established out in California so they could get away from having copyright and patents enforced on them by the big houses in New York. And that New York got big publishing houses by doing the same thing regarding English copyrights decades earlier.

    How strongly copyrights should be enforced is a whole other debate, but the biggest pushers for enforcement are the ones who are trying to close the barn doors after they’ve already herded in the horses stolen from somebody else’s barn.

  2. says

    The slaved labor camps in the South producing cotton would have impressed the nazis

    They did impress the nazis. So did the FBI! Himmler could tell J Edgar Hoover was his kind of guy and they swapped friendly letters up until the invasion of Poland.

  3. brucegee1962 says

    I am pro-competition. The problem with both socialism and capitalism is that, given time, they both tend to evolve into states that eliminate competition. Part of the biggest problem with both our hospital system and our energy distribution is that they aren’t capitalist enough — they’re set up in a way that can completely eliminate any rivals.
    Just because a system is socialist doesn’t mean it can’t have competition — that’s one of the advantages of having fifty states running different experiments all the time. I work in education, and we’re always saying “Does state X do a better job than we do in this area, and how can we imitate them?”
    One of the most important functions of government in a capitalist society is to act as a referee and break up monopolies. Of course, during the last few administrations that role has been completely abdicated.

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