Old Man Young Rants Again: Capitalism vs. Socialism

Argle bargle.

It is so beautiful outside.  Why am I in here writing?  I’ve got to get out and take some photos.  And I feel like there’s something I’m forgetting today.  Like I’m supposed to be somewhere.  Hm.

But for now, I have to unpack some thoughts that are distracting me.  Recent readings, news, conversations, podcasts that are stuck and need to be processed and will roll around in my head like a handful of loose ball bearings banging around making unsettling noises.  So gots to get it out while I cook lunch.

I’m Ignorant

Let’s start there.  I don’t know much about the economy, guns and butter, supply and demand, various economic theories, and yet I have theories of my own.  Feel free to disagree and educate me.

Ever since Pres. Obama started campaigning and especially since he took office, a lot of conservatives have sharpened their pitchforks, lit their torches and set off in mob form to confront the demon straw man of Socialism.  If you’ve watched conservative Christian shows and such — the dejected former Moral Majority-ers — you know what I’m talking about.  Of course, if you’ve been watching them you probably strongly disagree with what I’m about to write.  Oh well.

They have a hodge podge of grievances and philosophically masturbatory fervor that involves the Rapture, end times, fascist, socialist, Muslim, Anti-Christ, collapsing economy, buying gold and silver, and so on.

If you know me, you know that I do not appreciate the co-mingling of religion and politics in this way.  Where people confuse their political beliefs with their religious beliefs and therefore conclude they’re armed with The Truth and that everyone else is ignorant, hell-bound, apostate, blah blah blah.

F.O.S.

You know how you can tell a Christian (and I consider myself one, of sorts) is FOS?  When they divide the world into us vs. them.  When they talk about “the liberal media”, for example.  When they describe themselves as “counter-culture”.  When they talk about American Exceptionalism and they believe that God is on our side and that makes “us” right.  When they refuse to apply critical thinking to their beliefs or evaluate our own behavior, beliefs and consequences.

I mean, if you’re patriotic, fine.  If you think America is the best country ever, despite its flaws and failures, that’s great.  USA!   But don’t claim to be — or justify your actions as acts of — the right hand of God.

Oh.  I’m starting to rant a little.  Sorry.  It’s relevant, though.  BECAUSE, these same folks believe that Capitalism is synonymous with democracy and even Christianity.  It is not.  Yet, The current Republican presidential candidates are catering and pandering to this mindset.

I want to shout to the world — to those that listen to bombastic, flame throwing pundits and talk show hosts — don’t fall for it.  Don’t believe that our issues are binary.  That everything is a matter of good vs. evil.  You know.   “We’re pro-family.  Those liberals are anti-family.”  Anti-family?!?!

It’s not true.  It’s divisive.  It’s an intentional distraction, I dare say.   And we, as a society, are falling for a neo-Southern Strategy.

Capitalism is not an ideal

Okay.  Let me switch to brevity mode.  I am NOT anti-Capitalism.  I am NOT a Socialist or Marxist or Communist or Anarchist or whatever.  I’m not a “Down with Capitalism!” kind of guy.  But I feel like we’ve lost perspective on reality.

Recently, I’ve heard:

Unemployment insurance is just paying people to not work.

If you’re not rich or don’t have a job, don’t blame rich people.  Blame yourself.

The underlying belief is that government is bad (if a Dem. is president, of course) and that the free market will take care of itself and all social ills will work themselves out due to supply and demand.

I think that is complete and utter %$@!

REGULATION

I will be the first to admit that government regulation is flawed and often inefficient.  However, it also provides checks and balances against corporate corruption and power.

A corporation will calculate the cost of, say, making car crashes survivable vs. the probability of the costs of being liable for horrendous deaths, and will of course vie for maximum profit if it can smooth over public relations.

There are lakes in the US and Canada that were so acidic to industrial pollution that life could not survive in them and the water was hazardous.  Where I grew up, it was discovered that there’s a form of carcinogenic chromium in the soil from when companies had dredged and dumped.

High asthma rates in low income communities near industrial plants?

Melamine in milk and pet food?  Lead paint on toys?

Bank of America got bailout money.  And yet is holding on to it and charging extra fees for a customer to access his/her own money.

Without the media to inform of us such things and some entity large and powerful enough to challenge large companies, we would be screwed.

But wait.  These large corporations now also own media outlets.   And contributes megabucks to politicians, including Presidential Campaigns.  So … who’s in control?

Look at the “Occupy Wall Street” protests around the country now.  Despite Obama’s very progressive campaign (and very moderate and slightly Right presidency), he’s got some very hefty Wall St. backers.  How’s he going to react to this type of uprising then?  Or any president for that matter?

We give lip service to free market competition, but meanwhile big companies are swallowing up little companies like goldfish.  And each other.  The bigger they grow, the more power and influence they have to skirt what once was our anti-monopoly values.  I found out recently, for example,  that there are three companies now that own all of the major mountain bike brands.

Maximum Profit and Maximum Efficiency

Here’s theory #1

Maximum profit and maximum efficiency is bad for our economy.

Our economy — and the world economy, in fact — is in bad shape.  It’s going to take years and possibly decades to recover.  When we do recover things won’t be the same as they are today.  We were once an industrial economy.  I mean, we made things and exported them.  Now we’re not.  We’re more of a service economy.

We’re very bad at that, I think.  Americans have a sense of entitlement that isn’t conducive to providing good service.

In the mix, we also have technology.  Computers, robots and machines can do more.  ATMs reduce or eliminate the need for bank tellers.  Self checkout lines drastically reduce the need for clerks.

Herein lies the problem.  The more efficient (leading to more profitable) we get, the less workers we need.

Other economies in the world intentionally have “filler” jobs or occupations that aren’t strictly necessary.  I don’t know if that notion would fly in the good ol’ US of A, but man.

What happens if/when the unemployment rate reaches 20%?  it’s 30% in some country right now.  Can’t remember which one.

It also necessitates a source of “slave” labor.  A bare-bones, cheap workforce.  Slavery is illegal.  Sharecropping is kind of not happening, right?  Is that right?  Illegal immigration is an issue because businesses want and demand cheap labor.  Plus international economic politics and relations and treaties and what not.

Cheap labor means the middle class, again, will be undercut and will either have a drastic reduction in standard of living or … what?  I don’t know.

Theory #2

Pure, unfettered, unchecked Capitalism is not compatible with democracy or a Democratic Republic.

It’s just not.  Because Capitalism is a weighted game.  The more you have, the more you can get.  That’s why the richest 1% of Americans control 40% of the nation’s wealth (whatever that means).  I’m going to assume that’s true for the duration of this blog entry.

What has made America great and strong is a viable middle class.  That’s what separates us from being a feudal society.

But if the bulk of wealth — well, it’s like a game of Monopoly.  I always end up with nothing — maybe Baltic Ave. — after 5 hours, a few others get bored and sell their properties to the ones who can afford it, and the winner ends up with everything.  There’s usually not much middle ground if the game goes on long enough.

And our economy game is going on.

SO WHAT

I don’t know.  I don’t know what the solution is, obviously.  I would say that the ideal is a compassionate Capitalism.  And that just like our branches of government we have to have checks and balances between the private and public sector.  I’ve always assumed that’s what many European nations have striven for.  Democratic Socialism.  Not without its flaws, though.

You’ll hear conservatives vigorously bash that idea, though.

And religious conservatives somehow manage to say with a straight face that the government has no business being compassionate (in action).  That’s supposedly for the church and individual citizens.  Well, they don’t say it in those words.  That’s what I hear.

Progressives, on the other hand, don’t seem to care about the cost of social programs.  But where’s the money supposed to come from?

Hey.  If wealth is supposed to trickle down, how come the Bush era tax cuts for the wealthy didn’t seem to help our economy?  It’s not entirely separate from the housing bubble.  People who are bent on wealth and acquiring wealth will use their resources to game the system as much as possible.

Unemployment Insurance/Compensation

I thought I was winding down.  Bear with me.

People complain about things like unemployment insurance, welfare and government grants for higher education.  Yet businesses milk every opportunity, especially from the government, to either receive funding and grants or to minimize or avoid paying taxes at all.  I mean, if you want to call “mooch” — if you choose to view it that way for families that are struggling (and some opportunists) — at least be realistic and even-handed about it.

I do believe strongly in personal responsibility.  I also know that there are times when you just need help.  It’s not as simple as “get a job” when the economy or your professional field is in the tank.  I’ve been there.  It can take months and even years to recover from that and it’s harder than it should be to jump from white collar work to blue collar work or the service industry. I mean, it can be hard to get your foot in the door.  Plus if the economy is in that state, there’s a hell of a lot of competition for those positions.

Astronomical foreclosure rates, dying neighborhoods, hundreds of thousands with little or no income.  Without some kind of help from somewhere, how will that affect a community or town?  I mean, take away the income, essentially, of a small town due to mass layoffs or a business closing.  What happens to the business in that town?  The big ones close, the small businesses close.  Dead town.  Then what?

Such is the case now.

The Ending

We’ve got a lot of economic recovering and healing to do.  We need to be a little more open minded about how this is going to happen.  And we need to be mindful of those that are going to struggle more to get back on their feet.

I don’t know what that means exactly.  But I do know that our respective governments can’t ignore that fact.  And I do believe that corporations and their shareholders (ironically) — in the quest for maximum profit and minimal accountability —  have forgotten that they’re also part of the community.

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2 comments

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  1. Janna

    Ah, yes, such complicated ideas.

    I believe in personal responsibility, and yet, I want to live in a society with compassion for the down and out, and a modicum of historical awareness to help even out past societal injustices.

    And selfishly, I sure wouldn’t want to rely on each person to individually take care of their own health care and vaccinations—we all benefit from a society that’s mostly free of polio and measles due to “socialist” government-funded health programs. And yet, I think the whole health care system is utterly broken, and I’m not sure we wouldn’t be better off scrapping the whole thing.

    And I like having a police and fire department to keep me safe in emergencies, and I like having roads we all pay for to drive on. And so I believe in taxes. And yet I resent paying for things I don’t happen to agree with, like the broken health care system, or much of our armed forces.

    In the end, I agree that we’re going to need a whole lot more open-mindedness to get anywhere, I hope we can manage it.

    • garyarthuryoung

      Yes. Complicated, indeed.

      Janna!!

      I don’t want to pay for tobacco subsidies. Yeh, I think we need to stop thinking in binary terms about this stuff.

      I was talking with my stepfather last night about the state of things. He’s a planner for the state. It seems that the standard of living of the US is dropping. It kind of has to in order to be more competitive with the rest of the global economy. Otherwise, why would a business hire expensive Americans or buy expensive American products when they could go to India, Eastern Europe, or China. Manufacturing is growing in the US, apparently, but we don’t have the talent pool to support it, which is tragic.

      It’s like, we’re all askew right now. I think we need a (non-war) long term mission to unite the country: education, skills, training, etc.

      Oh, speaking of which, I need to get to work.

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