“Capitalism is basically a system where everything is for sale…Freedom is one of the commodities that is for sale.”

– Noam Chomsky

Meaning of the quote

Let’s take a look at Noam Chomsky’s quote in context, for a better perspective. (Bold emphasis added):

…capitalism is basically a system where everything is for sale, and the more money you have, the more you can get. And, in particular, that’s true of freedom. Freedom is one of the commodities that is for sale, and if you are affluent, you can have a lot of it. It shows up in all sorts of ways. It shows up if you get in trouble with the law, let’s say, or in any aspect of life it shows up. And for that reason it makes a lot of sense, if you accept capitalist system, to try to accumulate property, not just because you want material welfare, but because that guarantees your freedom, it makes it possible for you to amass that commodity. What you’re going to find is that the defense of free institutions will largely be in the hands of those who benefit from them, namely the wealthy, and the powerful. They can purchase that commodity and, therefore, they want those institutions to exist, like free press, and all that.”

The main takeaways are that powerful and wealthy people have access to greater amounts of freedom in the United States, not only in terms of personal freedoms, but also in terms of influencing legislation in creating regulations that allow greater freedoms to those who are using such wealth and power to manipulate the system in their favor.

For example, Americans often believe that certain laws enacted around business are in place to protect the public, but that is not the true purpose of such laws. Many laws concerning how businesses operate are there to ensure market share and control for those large companies or corporations already dominating that industry. Through their wealth and power, these businesses have influenced the legislation solely for the purpose of protecting their interests. What the laws do is prevent competition, making it difficult or impossible for a new startup or foreign-owned business to enter the field. The idea that these laws are protecting public safety in many cases is only an illusion.

Origin of the quote

From “Anarchism : Noam Chomsky interviewed by David Dobereiner, John Hess, Doug Richardson & Tom Woodhull” in: C. P. Otero (ed.), Language and Politics, Black Rose, 1988, pp. 166-196, January, 1974.

About Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky (born December 7, 1928) is considered one of the greatest intellectual minds of our times and often called “the father of modern linguistics.” Chomsky holds a Professor Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and laureate professor at the University of Arizona. He is an American linguist, analytical philosopher, cognitive scientist, political analyst, human rights activist and social critic. He has authored over 100 books on the topics of linguistics, politics, war and mass media.