In today’s political climate there is a huge debate centered around which economic and political philosophy is better for the Citizens of this Country – Capitalism or Socialism? The reality is that both of these ideas need each other. America’s greatness is a byproduct of the way we balance the two.
Mankind is a complex organism. Every individual is unique. Our genetic structure is unique. The way we are raised, the opportunities we have access to, the people that surround us, the climate we grow up in, and a million other facets combine to make us unique. Because of this diversity there are very few one-size-fits-all solutions that really do fit all, and that is especially true in the way we choose to govern.
Here are basic definitions of these two Governance Systems according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
Socialism – Any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.
Capitalism – An economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.
To flesh out these definitions let’s take a closer look at the philosophies behind them and how they play out in real life. Depending on your politics, both ideas can be defended, but taken to the extreme, do not ultimately work to govern Civilization in our current state of evolution.
While there are no examples of any Country governing by pure Capitalism, the United States, pre-1909 and the institution of the Income Tax, would come as close to that model as any Nation. There are more than 100 Countries that identify some form of Socialism in their Constitution or as their form of Governing. The truth, though, is that most Countries balance some form of Socialism with some degree of Capitalism.
Countries that have tried pure Socialism like Nazi Germany, The People’s Republic of China, and the United Soviet Socialist Republic, and most recently Venezuela, met with limited long-term success and ultimately introduced some Capitalism into their governance or ceased to exist. One of the few long-term examples of almost pure Socialism that has managed to survive is the Republic of Cuba.
The Concept of Socialism vs Capitalism
Socialism in prose – All for one, one for all. What’s mine is yours, what’s yours in mine. All together for the greater good.
Capitalism in prose – As you sow, so shall you reap, the limits of one’s success are always self-imposed, the ingenuity of man fuels the ability to be compassionate.
Philosophically, there are justifications for each of these methods of Governing, and if Mankind weren’t involved in the actual governing either form could work.
Socialism might create the purest form of equality. If everyone contributed equally to the greater good and everyone benefited equally there would be no poverty, nor would there be excess riches. Unfortunately, this system must always have an entity determining what is fair and who gets what. Someone or some group must always hold the strings of power and inevitably that power corrupts. I always question Politicians that encourage a drift towards more power in Government because I think it exposes their actual desire for the power of office.
Capitalism, on the other hand, unleashes man’s ingenuity, creativity, and produces constant innovation to make life better in such a way that that benefits mankind. Unfortunately, success also exposes the Seven Deadly Sins of pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth. These traits are part of the Human Condition and the degree of success that brings riches, often brings an untethering from the Social Covenant that keeps these character flaws in check.
Socialism vs Capitalism in our Culture
You can identify where you land on the scale between these two Philosophies by asking yourself a simple question: Would you rather work in service of something or startup and run your own business. If you see one as incredibly dull or the other as incredibly risky, you will also probably lean towards Capitalism or Socialism.
Fortunately, this Country is made up of a blend of people that fall somewhere in between either of these philosophies. That is what makes us great and, often, creates dissention. Some of us enjoy the journey while others are focused on the destination. Some like the thrill of going all in and let the chips fall where they may while others want to save for a rainy day. At the same time, we look at the people that fall into the opposite category and have a difficult time understanding what drives them. It is often foreign to the way we think.
Someone once asked me if I would ever want to ride a flat rollercoaster. While that does not appeal to me at all, I was reminded of when my children were very young. At the amusement park we went to there was a Kiddy land that was designed for pre-school age children. The rollercoaster was a flat oval with a small hump on the back side. I remember that my children initially had a blast because they enjoyed the movement, the changing scenery, and the wind in their face, which were all new experiences.
As they got older, however, they began to want to go with me on more aggressive roller coasters and that is still their favorite ride. I hung with them until the impact and jarring motion became to severe for me to keep up. Now I look for a middle of the road option to enjoy in my old age.
Others enjoy the Small World type of rides that are calmer and expose the passenger to colors, sound, and images meant to relax and soothe. They enjoy the slower pace, the sights, and the air on their face. They can simply enjoy the experience without having to feed an adrenaline addiction. This is an oversimplification of society, but it does speak to some of the root conflict between those that lean towards Socialism vs those that thrive in Capitalism.
The Realities of Capitalism versus Socialism
Capitalism can be a cruel mistress, replete with the thrill of success and the devastation of failure. I have started numerous companies over the years, and I would say that most of those efforts either ended in failure or at best a break-even outcome. Several times, however, the stars aligned, and the business succeeded, and I was able to not only support my family but create jobs for others and contribute to my community.
The failures were instructional, but they placed tremendous hardships on my family and personal relationships. This is the part that is so often overlooked when Capitalism is disparaged. For every successful business start-up there is usually 9 business failures. Being willing to risk everything for the chance to ultimately make a difference can be daunting and costly.
Conversely, there are many people that have no desire to introduce risk into their livers. Those that are really risk averse tend to be drawn towards a collective environment like Government or a non-profit service entity. They enjoy serving while working under an umbrella of security. Many times, they place more value in serving the world than they do seeking self-aggrandizement. They place family time or the pursuits of self-reflection above the need to be in charge or run a business.
The challenge that I always found with that environment was the lack of innovation or willingness to buck the status quo. Others thrive in that environment because they understand their role and are content to produce a consistent product or output. This type of mindset is critical to the stability of an organization.
The Value of Government
The Director of a large Government Agency once told me the reason Government is so risk averse is that if the World falls apart, Government has to be there to pick up the pieces. If skeptical about that outlook think about most disaster movies that you have ever seen. Who is always there after the hero saves the day, removing the results of the disaster and getting order restored? It is always some Government entity putting out the fires or taking away the bad guys.
Government keeps the proverbial trains running, the lights on, keeps us safe from our enemies and creates the rules that define the playing field so that those that are not so risk averse have a common foundation with which to pursue their dreams. Government also handles those tasks that we, as a society, have decided are too unpleasant or too big to handle individually. Think infrastructure, social safety nets, National Defense, and the creation and enforcement of laws.
I harken back to William Golding’s Lord of the Flies in which a group of schoolboys are stranded on an island after surviving a plane crash. They attempt to bring order to chaos by establishing a governing body. Unfortunately, they are too immature to understand human nature, so the effort fails in the end. The point is that we all want stability in our lives to either be able to anticipate what each day brings or to have a platform with which to pursue our dreams.
Which Philosophy is right for America?
Many People will say they want stability and security. They will identify the need to sacrifice and contribute to those less fortunate. They will claim that it takes a village to be great. Others say they desire the chance to create something where nothing existed before and profit off taking that risk.
If you talk to those that feel most comfortable in one of these groups, security/altruism versus risk/reward, you will find great passion for their view of the best society. I believe, however, most people in this country want to be able to have access to both environments at different times of their life and that majority will always determine the system that ultimately governs us all.
Capitalists chafe against Socialism as a governor or break on their creativity, weighing them down with social responsibilities that impede their progress. They fail to account for the infrastructure that allows them to transport their goods or services. They discount the role that the service population contributes to the repetitive processes involved in production, customer service, accounting, or other tasks they would consider mundane.
They forget that without a Military, Public Safety services, Health Services, and an overarching set of laws they would not be able to sustain or grow a business. They can often forget their responsibility to care for those that can’t care for themselves or those that have sacrificed and can’t contribute a full portion.
All these benefits have a cost, and as much as some would like to believe, Government does not create the funding for these services. Government takes contributions from Businesses and Individuals in the forms of taxes, licenses, tolls, service charges, and levees to create a pool of money and then distributes those funds to programs or services, theoretically dictated by the voters.
Socialists are frustrated by the injustice in a world where the ultra-Wealthy and ultra-Poor exist. They desire a world in which everyone is equal. Based on my initial premise, that we are all unique, that dream can never be a reality if Mankind is in control. We are all broken vessels to one degree or another and the best we can do is to appeal to everyone’s better angels and hope for the best.
Socialists need Capitalist in order to create the funding for their social programs and services that they wish to see enacted but can’t or won’t fund themselves. They need revenue to pay the people to do the jobs that they can’t or don’t want to do. They exist in a world of Haves and Have Nots and strive to constantly balance the scales.
What they fail to account for is that the revenue that they need to fund their view of society comes from people that were willing to take risks that they weren’t. In many cases, the success that frustrates them was built on numerous failures that collectively may still leave a debt on the entrepreneur’s balance sheet. They must understand that their vision of the successful person’s “fair share” may only be accounting for the current success and not the historical investment.
What is the balance?
I truly believe that there is a quantity of money that satisfies a person’s basic needs. If someone is fortunate enough to create wealth above that amount, they have an opportunity to better themselves and others by taking a portion of that excess and contributing it to Society. I also believe that that decision is one that everyone must ultimately make individually.
To the degree that Government dictates that level of contribution creates the support or resistance to that Government. If the demand becomes too great, those with Wealth and Power will either hide their riches or work to change the Government. If it the demand is too little, the masses will not have the basics necessary to survive and will rise up in opposition to the Government.
For 243 years, America has gotten it right more times than not. The robust debate that we have had in this Country has managed Government’s demands through the electoral process and has created a Nation that not only can care for its citizens but also act as a benefactor to the World.
Currently, however, the debate has gotten incredibly heated. One of the main reasons for this is our ready access to information. We now see the waste, fraud, and abuse within our Government as it is forced to be ever more transparent. Those that align behind Capitalism are frustrated at the way their contributions are wasted, especially when you see Politicians become wealthy while their constituents suffer.
Socialists see the aberrant behavior of the super-rich as well as the way they can weld that power to corrupt Government and wonder what this world would be like if there were a better way to force them to give up their excess and distribute that to the needy.
Ultimately, both sides need to become better informed. We need our Government to become more representative of our county and less a vehicle of power and dominance for their individual philosophy. Politicians need to realize that America can now see them more clearly and honestly than at any other time.
We are a great and compassionate people. We have a divided spirit that allows us to soar with the eagles while looking out for the downtrodden. We are also a just people, however, and we rail against those that would misuse our trust for their own benefits. We can have Capitalism and Socialism, if fact we need both to be that God-fearing Country that we were founded as, but we need honest brokers to take our bounty and use it honestly for the good of the World.
Written by Russ Hicks
I want the best Country possible for my children.
Russ Hicks is a 62 year old Vietnam era Veteran with strong opinions and a humorous take on life.
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