I was told that my name came up once at a meeting of the local Republican Party and someone said, “He’s the biggest socialist in the Cedar Valley!” My reaction was an insincere (frustrated is a better word) chuckle. To call me (a confessed capitalist) a “socialist” is an affirmation of the misunderstanding of economic and political theories I often write about.
“Socialist” is, of course, that dirty word that is being used to warn good Americans that we are on a slippery slope toward government tyranny nothing short of complete oppression, i.e., “communism.” When I attempt to explain that communism and socialism require definitions to explain differences, I don’t seem to get very far.
To be clear: I do not believe in the extreme political-economic theory of socialism. Not by any stretch of the imagination. What I do believe in is “social awareness and responsibility” and the “community” aspects inherent to a Republic (of, for, and by, the people).
It is not difficult to understand where the confusion lies, but there is a difference. “Communism” is a classless political system in which all property and wealth is owned by all the members of that society.
It fails on several levels; it denies the motivation from competition and it is vulnerable to an oppressive (and tyrannical) government that can be created in the absence of private ownership. It is the realization of “Marxist socialism” but the defining and crucial difference is that communism requires a “classless political system.”
Socialism itself (not it’s oppressive communist extreme) is a system of social organization that does not demand the absence of different class constructs (or profits), but advocates the vesting of ownership and control of the means of production and distribution (capital, land, etc.) to be in the community interest. That does not even mean equal, or non-competitive distribution, it simply means that the distribution is influenced by what is best for the community.
Conversely, the function of government in a representative democracy (or republic), such as what we have, is to maintain a fair distribution of our resources to promote the common good; it has roots in a social concept.
We have a democracy where voters choose in free elections representatives to act in their interests, but not as their proxies, i.e., not necessarily as directed by the majority, but with enough authority to exercise initiatives in the face of inevitably changing circumstances. That was the directive of our Founding Fathers to provide for the “general welfare” of the people.
The argument here is that “socialism” by itself is not a dirty word when it’s understood, and that understanding is essential in establishing better government.
A related misunderstanding regards our financial system. We often hear that “government regulations” hamper the “Free Market” where prices are determined by supply and demand and from which our capitalist system, favoring private ownership, is derived. It needs to be explained, however, that nowhere in the history of economic theory is it said that capitalism is a perfect system.
The concept of a free market is predicated on the market receiving “perfect information” and that no company can be so large that it has enough power to set the market price. But, in the real world if the market is unregulated, freedom takes on a different meaning. It becomes (as history shows) the freedom to manipulate. And that is no longer a genuinely free market.
The Great Depression proves that capitalism is not a flawless system and that it has a cyclical vulnerability that can be catastrophic. That’s why we actually have a “Mixed Market/Capitalist” economic system where there are regulations to control the drastic and potentially devastating swings.
An example is the creation of the Securities and Exchange Commission and while we can argue its effectiveness until the Day of Rapture comes, its failures are primarily a result of turning a blind eye to infractions (especially when under administrations promoting de-regulation). The SEC was established during the Great Depression to regulate the stock market and to prevent the corporate abuses that contributed to the collapse.
Our prosperity is secured when those principles apply to our financial system; a modified free market where judicial fairness is mandated and enforced by our representative power.
Let’s put the socialism rhetoric to rest. We were created as a Republic, founded on representative government that provides for the common welfare of its people; and in doing so offers the best realization of personal freedoms, while not infringing upon the rights of others, that a civilized society can provide.
Let’s get back to defining THAT.