The importance of knowing the meanings of words

In the previous blog entry, I wrote,

it is important to be clear about the meanings and definitions (of words).

Do you know the meaning of “capitalism“? I thought I did… until I read Ayn Rand. Then I realized I did not really know what capitalism was. I had not thought deeply about it in detail.

In the previous blog entry, I quoted a free-market journalist (Bill Bonner) and a British libertarian (Sean Gabb).

The reason I quoted them was because reading what they wrote can help us think about and understand more deeply, and more accurately, the meanings of some important concepts, such as “the free market”, “capitalism”, “big business”. Sean Gabb points out that “big business” does not mean capitalism.

We think we live in a “free” society, a “capitalist” economy; but do you remember being taught these things in school? In college? Anywhere?

So, here are some more quotations I found today. My purpose is not to persuade you to believe in capitalism or libertarianism. I merely hope that you will find these quotations interesting and “food for thought”.

Here is part of an interview between Milton Friedman and Phil Donahue, conducted onFebruary 11th, 1979. (Who was Milton Friedman? Click here to find out in English and here to read in Japanese. Who is Phil Donahue? Click here to find out. From Donahue’s questions, we can guess that his philosophy is “left-wing” or socialist rather than capitalist. Donahue also interviewed Ayn Rand shortly before she died. You can see part 1 of the interview on by clicking the YouTube image above). (I found the quote below in an article by Marc Faber, who is a well-known investor who is in favour of free-market capitalism – read about him in Japanese here). Marc Faber’s article is on the Lew Rockwell website, a libertarian website.)

Phil Donohue: When you see around the globe the maldistribution of wealth, the desperate plight of millions of people in underdeveloped countries. When you see so few haves and so many have-nots. When you see the greed and the concentration of power. Did you ever have a moment of doubt about capitalism? And whether greed is a good idea to run on?

Milton Friedman: Well first of all tell me, is there some society you know that doesn’t run on greed? You think Russia doesn’t run on greed? You think China doesn’t run on greed? What is greed? Of course none of us are greedy. It’s only the other fella that’s greedy. The world runs on individuals pursuing their separate interests. The greatest achievements of civilization have not come from government bureaus. Einstein didn’t construct his theory under order from a bureaucrat. Henry Ford didn’t revolutionize the automobile industry that way. In the only cases in which the masses have escaped from the kind of grinding poverty that you are talking about, the only cases in recorded history are where they have had capitalism and largely free trade. If you want to know where the masses are worst off, it’s exactly in the kind of societies that depart from that.

So that the record of history is absolutely crystal clear, there is no alternative way, so far discovered, of improving the lot of the ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by a free enterprise system.

Phil Donohue: Seems to reward not virtue as much as the ability to manipulate the system.

Milton Friedman: And what does reward virtue? You think the Communist commissar rewards virtue? You think a Hitler rewards virtue? Do you think… American presidents reward virtue? Do they choose their appointees on the basis of the virtue of the people appointed or on the basis of political clout? Is it really true that political self-interest is nobler somehow than economic self-interest? You know I think you are taking a lot of things for granted. And just tell me where in the world you find these angels that are going to organize society for us? Well, I don’t even trust you to do that.

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2 thoughts on “The importance of knowing the meanings of words”

  1. I don’t know why disappeared in the previous post. It was a copy & paste of a few lines of the email which telling “fairness” and “equality” as a code word for envy in anti-individualist society.

  2. Thanks for so many “food for thoughts.” Although there are things left indigested, I’m quite full now.

    I’ve felt I use some abstract words without knowing the clear meaning. Even when the meaning is clear to me, the interlocutor might have different ideas. One of them is “equal/equality.” I’ve thought “equality in education” means “equal opportunity to have education.” In this meaning, I feel it is a code word for challenge that anyone can try, hope of success. Some people take it “to treat children flatly equal (regardless of ability.)” Same with this, <>

    I’ve watched Ms. Ayn Rand speaking on YouTube on the blog. Out of curiosity, I’ve heard the rest of the interview. ( The one on the blog is 1st of 5 videos.) Of course I didn’t understand all due to the limitation of my listening comprehension. In one of them, she told that the state (America) has spent too much on helping the poor and the disadvantages and that it should help the more gifted individuals; there are no school, or very few for the more gifted children. Here, I remember the scene in “The Fountainhead” where Wynnand quit neighborhood school after being questioned too easy questions for him to answer.

    Reading and studying of Ayn Rand is fun, maybe just as fun as films of Daniel Craig, these days.

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