Capitalists and Socialists

Posted on April 15, 2018


Putting all other categories aside for the moment—like sexists, misogynists, identity politics, me tooers, supremacists (of all colors), and a dozen or so others hurled around these days in the media—it seems that fundamentally this country has crossed the old taboo boundary between capitalism and socialism.

Since the nation was created we are and have always been democratic capitalists in the main. Socialists are, or were, people like Lenin and the Russians, Castro and the Cubans, or, in some instances like China and Russia these days, some amalgam or mixture of the two.

The collapse of the old Soviet Union at the end of the 20th century gave all socialists and communists of the world reason to pause. After a long run that began with the Bolsheviks in Russia at the end of the First World War almost exactly a century ago, communism collapsed with the Soviet Union and capitalism triumphed.

But, the truth, of course, is less definitive. Let’s examine this phenomenon.

Capitalism is a system which creates wealth generally; socialism is devoted to spreading the wealth, again, generally. Communism is, by the way, a form or subset of socialism, but they are often used interchangeably. Marxism is a form of communism, named after Karl Marx, a nineteenth century philosopher-economist who delivered a plausible explanation for the relationship between capitalism and socialism, predicting that in the end Marxism-communism would triumph destroying capitalism.

Furthermore, capitalism on the one hand celebrates and upholds liberty. Socialism tends to focus on equality. They are not mutually exclusive.
Thomas Jefferson wrote, for example, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” That mouthful is a fundamental tenet of democratic capitalism. Nothing any other advocate of socialism has written in the last two centuries come even close to the vision of a free people given voice by Jefferson.

The rub is that a free people will grow and prosper or, conversely, fail based on the exercise of their free will. Or, to put it another way, some will rise and succeed, others will fail. Or as Jesus spoke in a parable, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:14)

Furthermore, on free will, I kind of like the way a great battler of old, Joshua, stated it: “And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served…, or the gods of the Amorites…. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15) Other Biblical passages are equally devoted to liberty and free will.
Now, returning to our theme—capitalism and socialism. If we privilege, as we should, liberty and free will, then some will prosper, and some will not. This inequality in the distribution of wealth and power led to the rise of socialism, bent on privileging equality instead of liberty.

Marx popularized (although did no invent) ‘from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs,” which is about as good as Marxist rhetoric gets. As near as I read it, it means everyone produces according to their abilities, and everyone gets according to his needs, regardless if they worked for it or not. That’s Bernie Sanders-style political thinking. Everyone is entitled to a decent living, regardless of their circumstances. If they fail to use their God-given skills and talents—invoking their liberty and free will promised in Scripture and guaranteed by the Constitution–they still deserve to be supported by the government. This is the heart of entitlements.

The argument is complicated by varying historical circumstances (think slavery for example), ethnicity, race, and other factors that produce the “well, but…” style arguments when faced with the relatively plain truth of what capitalism and what socialism are all about. That capitalism has produced enormous wealth and privilege, often unequally distributed (the famous 1% who control 70-80% of the wealth), is true. That socialism has produced, almost invariably, totalitarian regimes which oppress and manipulate the people to the advantage of the State, is also true.

And one last note. Capitalism is usually associated with democracy, although even that is not wholly true. Look at China today, politically governed by Communists but with an economy driven by capitalism.

When all is said and done, I think Winston Churchill captured the truth well: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Published as “Liberty and equality are not mutually exclusive,” in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday, March 18, 2018

Posted in: Politics