Capitalism and Socialism Making Sweet Love For Over 200 St. Valentine’s Days

(That's Capitalism on the right)

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.

"What'chu talkin' 'bout, dog?"

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.

Being labeled a socialist might engender some mild criticism.

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.

Yay Products!

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?

    Where do we go from here?

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.

(Heart Hands image from http://www.fanpop.com/spots/love-stories/images/15142614/title/couples-love-photo  Confused baby image from: http://bellamysorganicnews.com.au/tag/babies-names/  Confusion fingers image from: http://vocalblog.blogspot.com/2011/05/capital-campaign-confusion-or-collusion.html  Obama joker image from: http://www.inhabitatiodei.com/category/culture/capitalism/  Weeping George Washington image from: http://www.politifake.org/793  logos image from: http://www.fullblownwebdesign.com/full_blown_logo_design.cfm)

The Obama Problem

President Barack Obama

There was an interesting article by Andrew Sullivan in The Daily Beast about President Barack Obama showing how both the left and the right have underestimated him and his supposed mastery of fourth dimensional political chess.

Andrew Sullivan has done some compelling work and often displays a very unique perspective.

This article, however, is nonsense.

Not in its entirety, mind you.  Mr. Sullivan does a nice compilation of the Obama administration’s achievements from a fairly objective point of view.  It’s an argument not made nearly enough in the media, forcing Obama to make it himself.  Sullivan is also effective contrasting the rapaciousness of the right’s attacks on Obama’s every word (even when they agree with it) and the left’s “unjustified” dissatisfaction with the rate and quality of progress.

However, he  uses the actions Obama is criticized for on the left to show conservatives why Obama is not a capitalism-squelching Marxist/Leninist.  Sullivan then ignores everything he just said and uses issues like the passage of Healthcare and Finance reforms into law as proof that Obama is achieving liberal objectives, pishawing the fact that most of the legislation his administration has passed has been gutted of the elements most dear to lefties and much of it by Obama’s hand.

The problem is, Sullivan seems to be  going by the conventional wisdom that progressives are a bunch of wide-eyed stargazers infuriated that Obama hasn’t delivered nirvana.  It’s a gross generalization.  Are there dreamers on the left? Absolutely.  That still doesn’t make it fair, or accurate, to portray all of us in that same light.

I’m liberal because I’m on the left side of most issues, not every issue.  Plus, its a sliding scale.  My spectrum ranges from far left to center right depending on both the issue at hand and the state of affairs at the time.  I didn’t agree with every position Obama took in his campaign, but I agreed with him more often than not.  Since’ he’s gotten into office however, that ratio has inverted.

The problem isn’t what he gotten done or the compromises he had to make.  The problem is that he constantly gives in to the right.  Before the negotiations even begin he hands the republicans the left-wing’s heart.   He runs from almost every fight.  He never even makes the argument.

  • He put Social Security and Medicare on the table for budget cuts.  He never made the point that Social security had a surplus that the Federal government raided for the general fund and now doesn’t want to pay back.  He doesn’t talk about the seniors and disabled that have been kept out of poverty by Medicare.
  • He “loaned” money to the banks (at 0% interest) with no strings attached, allowing millions of people to go underwater on their homes or lose them outright while the banks raked in billions.
  • He torpedoed the public option in his healthcare reform legislation.

    Shirley Sherrod, former Georgia State Director of Rural Development and Obama Administration Victim
  • He’s kept the prison at Guantanamo Bay open.
  •  He “asked” for the resignation of Shirley Sherrod. ( The administration wanted Sherrod fired before Glenn Beck’s show on Fox News went on-air.)
  • He stared at his shoes while Republican Governors went to war with the unions all over the country despite promising to march with unions if they were under fire during his 2008 campaign.
  • He signed the National Defense Authorization Act into law, allowing for the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens without a trial.
  • His administration has deported more illegal immigrants than any other president in history while offering no immigration reform in return.  (I guess he did give Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070 a good finger-wagging.)
  •  He told Bernie Sanders that the problem with “us” liberals is that “we” always see the glass as half empty.

Does this sound like a president that liberals should be happy with?  Fortunately for the President the Republican candidates are comically absurd.  No reasonable, free-thinking candidate is going to make it  through this Republican party’s primary seasons (As illustrated by Jon Huntsman being criticized for simply saying he defers to science on things like evolution and global warming).

The Republicans are insane and a vote for a 3rd party candidate is a wasted vote.  These are facts the president is acutely aware of.  According to Joe Biden, Obama is fond of saying, “Don’t judge me against the Almighty.  Judge me against the alternative.”

…Obama 2012.  Damn.

(President Obama image from:(http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/president-obama). Shirley Sherrod image from: (http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Politics/2010/0729/Shirley-Sherrod-Does-she-have-a-case-against-Andrew-Breitbart)

Boykin Bounced?

West Point Coat of Arms

Think Progress and other news outlets are reporting that Retired Lt. General William Boykin has “pulled out” as the featured speaker for the National Prayer Breakfast at the United States Military Academy at West Point.  Gen. Boykin and West Point have  both taken heat for his participation from  cadets, veterans, and other groups due to his Islamophobic rhetoric.  He has some kooky opinions about President Barack Obama as well.

Lt. Gen. William Boykin

If Lt. General Boykin has decided to pull out of his volition, then that is obviously his decision.  However, several liberal news outlets and activist groups pushed to oust Boykin as the featured speaker.  If this led West Point to in turn push Boykin to bow out, I think it is a bad idea.

We liberals and progressives largely define ourselves by our openness to a wide variety of ideas and opinions.  We cannot let ourselves be threatened by Constitutionally protected speech, especially when that speech is ugly and unpopular.  Setting up some kind of open forum around the speech allowing cadets to debate–which Boykin most certainly would have sparked–is one thing.  A good thing.  So is making attendees aware of  Boykin’s previous statements and issues while still in uniform prior to the speech.  Stymieing that speech is another thing entirely and I’m not so sunny on that.

Let people go into the speech with some context and perspective and hear what he has to say.  If we can’t do that, even on the left, winning this battle to get him out of the speech means nothing.  We’ve already lost the war.

(Coat of arms image from: http://www.fighterpilotsusa.com/Portals/0/fpusaimages/west_point_coat_of_arms.jpg.  William Boykin image from: http://www.freedomcongress.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Boykin-Headshot-Lower-Rez.jpg)