The standard British left's confusion between capitalism and free markets on display

The Guardian has one of their long reads on why this neoliberalism, this free market capitalism, is just so over. In it they manage to show why the British left never does get it, the point. That point being that markets, free or not, and capitalism, are entirely different things. They are not even measures along the same axis.

Capitalism is a description of who owns, markets are a description of distribution, with prices in those markets being the information source. Until and unless this is understood no one is ever going to understand what are the important parts of the system.

How Britain fell out of love with the free market
Under Thatcher and Blair, it looked unassailable. But now both Britain’s main parties are turning away from unfettered capitalism. By Andy Beckett

That basic conceptual error runs throughout the piece. Unfortunately, it also runs through the thinking of just about everyone to the left of us - given us being us, that's just about everyone of course. 

A market system aids us in working out the price of bread. Who will make it, who gets it, how to coordinate the resources needed to make it, move it and distribute it. As Paul Seabright informed that very surprised Soviet manager there is no one in charge of the bread supply for London.

Capitalism is a description of who owns the assets which produce the bread. John Lewis is a worker owned cooperative, it's a socialist organisation, the CoOp is also known to produce and supply bread, it's a customer owned cooperative, it's a socialist organisation. The bread at Sainsbury's is produced by capitalist organisations.

It's true, we do tend to think capitalism is a pretty good thing as it quite obviously works. But we're vastly more interested in the importance of markets and that price system. We have before us the example of Venezuela, brought low not actually by socialism but by the idiot destruction of that information system known as those prices. They fixed the price of bread and bread disappeared. Who owns the bakeries is near irrelevant in comparison to that.

We're also entirely willing to agree that markets need crowbars jammed into them at times. Public goods and externalities (which are really negative public goods) most obviously but there are other desirable restrictions and modifications as well.

This is the great lesson the left needs to learn, something they've been getting wrong since Marx himself who didn't understand that importance of markets.