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A Dog Named 'Plantation'

For most if not all of us, the most important word in our vocabulary is our name.

Has a friend ever called you by the wrong name? It happens occasionally. When it does you’ll likely feel surprised and your friend will likely feel embarrassed. Usually the friend offers the excuse of being rushed or distracted, followed by an apology. Usually you respond by forgiving them and you both move on with no further issues.

But how about the friend who calls you by the wrong name frequently? (Can I really call that a friend?) After a few rounds of that you’ll likely stop accepting apologies and start correcting them before they get in another word. If they continue calling you by the wrong name you’ll likely ratchet up your response, like telling them you’ll ignore them (or just ignoring them) when they call you by the wrong name.

If case you’re not fully convinced, imagine calling your spouse or partner by the wrong name. Now imagine their response. Okay, good, now I know we’re on the same page.

Calling a thing by the correct name is just as important as calling a person by the correct name. I have two dogs, Hana and Domino. When a visitor calls out the name Hana expecting a response from Domino, they’re not going to get the response they want from Domino and they’ll likely get a response from Hana they didn’t want. Even if the dogs can’t correct the visitor immediately, the visitor should figure it out quickly enough.

The same principle applies in all our communications; if you call someone or something by the wrong name you shouldn’t be surprised when you get no results or the wrong results. Wisdom literature likewise instructs us to call things by the right name. For example, we’re not to call good what is evil, and not to call evil what is good (e.g., Isa 5:20; see also Prov 17:15).

These examples from the lived experiences and wisdom literature were instructive from the moment Aaron and I started writing Better Capitalism. We know that words matter, especially words that become labels or are used to explain, and we worked hard choosing the right words to label our observations and explain our theories. When it came time for us to label capitalism as it’s currently practiced – not capitalism with a capital “C” to include the vision of Adam Smith or is its potential future, but an accurate name for the way capitalism is currently practiced – we had no trouble naming it “plantation economics” and a “plantation system.”

‘Plantation’ sounded and felt right, from the beginning, because it quite accurately described what we and others are living. We had no trouble or concern with this name because we felt like we nailed it. We gave this dog the right name and once we did it opened up to us. Although we had no concern, we were realistic that others might have a different perspective. Especially those who haven’t actually read Better Capitalism might find any term with the word ‘plantation’ in it demeaning, aggressive, or offensive for one reason or another.

Over the course of writing our book we’d circle back to the question of potential objections and offenses, and debate whether we should use a different term in anticipation of offending and to soften the blow to the feelings of those who might be offended. Like most people, we’d prefer to turn strangers into friends rather than into critics, so why poke people in the eye, right?

Ultimately, just as we were confident in the name we selected, we were confident that we owed it to our readers to be accurate and faithful in our naming and explaining. In being accurate and faithful we’d prove ourselves trustworthy, and in the long run we’d benefit many more supporters and followers. The initial offense – the assumption that we’ve called something by the wrong name – we were willing to risk would soon be understood by our readers, as they recognized we gave the current dog of capitalism the right name.

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