Clarabelle Cow, Capitalist
By Alberto Mingardi
Like Art, I enjoyed the book. It is a very good example of how political philosophy can be written in an easy and yet profound way, to the benefit of a broader range of readers.
If Cohen “sells” socialism by explaining how wonderfully a “socialist” camping trip among friends, with all sharing everything, works, Brennan resorts to a Disney show, the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, for allowing his readers a glimpse into a capitalist utopia. As anybody, I am familiar with the characters, though I don’t have kids and thus I have never seen this particular show (whereas I remember watching “DuckTales”, that Brennan also references, as a young boy myself – and I have very fond memories of that). In their village, Brennan explains,
Mickey Mouse owns a clubhouse that he shares with his friends. Minnie owns and runs a “Bowtique”, a hair-bow factory and store. Clarabelle Cow owns and runs a Moo Mart” sundries store and a “Moo Muffin” factory. Donald Duck and Willie the Giant own farms. Professor Von Drake owns various inventions, including a time machine and a nano tech machine that can manufacture “mouskatools” on command.
In this community, Brennan notes, “everyone does his or her part. Everyone works hard to add to the social surplus” and yet everybody “trades value for value” and “is free to pursue his or her own vision of the good life without having to ask permission from others”. In short, the village appears like a capitalist society, but one in which instead of people being greedy and nasty to each other, people (or, well, mice and other animals) are friendly and cordial, too. Instead of a hive where the bees are thriving until they are made “honest”, Brennan goes for a “capitalist utopia” in which all the nicest features of human cooperation appear at their high, but the mode of production is capitalist indeed: people own things, and trade one with the other. His point is that Cohen is unfair in comparing an ideal socialist society (the camping trip of friends who decide to share stuff because everyone wants everyone to have a great time) with his own caricature of “real capitalism”, as if private property of the means of production and good, honest, cordial human beings couldn’t go together. So, Brennan proposes an alternative utopia, and I think it was a great idea to search for it in the Disney world, which has fed the imagination of three generations of kids (and is in itself a beautiful capitalist achievement, too).
It is not my business, but it would be fun to see what the good folks at “Econstories” could make of Brennan’s book and its insights into the capitalist acts among consenting ducks and mice that are performed in the Disney world.
There are many interesting insights in Brennan’s book – but my favourite one lies in the last chapter. The chapter appropriately starts with a quote from Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State and Utopia” and argues for a system based upon private property rights as the proper “framework for utopia”. He makes a point which is very relevant, and yet frequently forgotten: capitalism is “pluralistic”, it rejoices at diversity, it prizes experiments, it doesn’t require uniformity.
Capitalism is tolerant. Want to have a worker-controlled firm? Go for it. Want to start a kibbutz or a commune in which everything is collectively owned? No problem. The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse villagers would allow Cohen to have his permanent socialist camping trip, so long as Cohen likewise lets Minnie Mouse have her Bowtique.
There is an essential asymmetry in the capitalist and the socialist visions of utopia. Capitalists allow socialism, but socialists forbid capitalism.
This is a most persuasive argument for capitalism, and Brennan makes it in a very succinct and yet well argued way.