I’m starting to realize that the reason I started blogging is to define things. Terms get thrown around in the media as if we’re all in agreement on their definition. But these terms are interpretive. Instead of real understanding we’re left with presumption, oversimplification, and gross generalization. It’s pretty easy to get caught up in the rhetoric. Next thing you know you’re wasting your time battling propaganda and false arguments and the point gets lost.
Of course, obfuscation is the point more often than not. Modern discourse in America isn’t about trying to solve the momentous problems we face. It’s about playing politics. We’ve been programmed to forswear actual debate and instead respond to sound bites. Job Creators. Pro Choice. Family Values. We hear the cues and infer the rest.
For example, the reason I started writing this particular blog was to rail against the privatization of our prison system (based on a story I saw on The Young Turks). I feel strongly that our prison system should remain socialized. But I kept feeling like I already lost the argument because I was talking about socialism, a word whose very mention opens me up to ad hominem attacks from the right and abandonment from everyone except the far left(many of whom are, in fact, socialists). Never mind the fact that police, firefighters, teachers, and soldiers are all forms of it, the common argument is that socialism somehow destroys capitalism. It failed in the Soviet Union; it’s failing in Europe; and it will fail here. Socialism is un-American and by proxy, I am un-American for proposing it.
Socialism is automatically condemned as a hammock for the weak and lazy…as capitalism is worshiped as an almost biblical virtue. In reality, neither is inherently good or bad. They are simply economic systems. Both have a variety of interpretations, manifestations, and specifics. The good and bad is derived from their application.
So what do I mean when I say socialism and capitalism?
- When I say capitalism, I mean an economic system where the means of production are primarily controlled by private enterprises.
- When I say socialism, I mean an economic system where the means of production are primarily controlled by the government.
Capitalism is not morality. However, it has proven to be the most effective way to cultivate resources and equitably distribute the goods and services needed to drive the economy and meet the needs of the population. It generates profits by rewarding ingenuity, invention, and hard work (and luck). Markets are vicissitudinous. Private enterprise can be very nimble. Governments generally plod. Capitalism is the most logical and natural economic system for the overwhelming majority of market needs.
However, there are times when need for a good or service supersedes the profit that can be gained by providing it. We can probably all agree that it’s better for our military to be controlled by our representative government than by private corporations. It’s better not to need a credit card or account number when we call 9-1-1 to report a crime. And it is in the interests of our nation as a whole not to task Microsoft with educating our children.
Corporations aren’t necessarily malicious. (Inherently, they are amoral, and free to decide how they will conduct themselves.) But their main priority isn’t determining what’s in the best interests of the people they serve; it’s making money.
That’s where the argument lies. It’s not a battle about whether or not capitalism or socialism can work as a philosophy. Both have examples of success and failure. Besides, I agree that capitalism is almost always the better choice. Nor is it a battle for the country’s soul. Capitalism and socialism have always been a part of America’s composition.
The U.S. Constitution establishes the government’s responsibility for raising and maintaining a military, building roads, and delivering post. All are Constitutionally established socialized institutions. So the un-American argument about socialism is fiction. There are socialist institutions at our very core. Socialism and capitalism can coexist in the same economy and have since our nation’s inception. It’s a marriage that has lasted for two hundred and twenty-three years and looks highly likely to reach its tricentennial.
With the dogmas removed, the philosophical questions become simple.
- Is it in America’s best interests that private corporations profit from imprisoning people? Is it right that they lobby for more laws and stricter sentencing?
- Is it in the interest of commerce to unburden private businesses of the responsibility of providing healthcare?
- Does Social Security keep the elderly and disabled out of poverty? Is America better off if the cost of their care is placed on individual families?
The devil is obviously in the details, but these are some of the real questions surrounding socialism and capitalism that can lead to real answers (and ultimately, real solutions) to our nation’s problems.
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