Socialism has to be the most maligned and misused word in the America lexicon. It is the favorite scare word of the right. The slightest hint that something or someone might lean toward socialism is enough to make grown men swoon. I know because I’ve told people that I think we need socialism to keep capitalism alive and well. And I’ve taken lots of heat for that belief. Unfortunately, most of the people I want as readers have already stopped reading. But I’m going to explain my thinking anyway.
Capitalism has built the most powerful economy that the world has ever seen. But socialism has been its traveling companion. We need socialism because profit is the last surviving principle of capitalism. Completely unprincipled capitalism is the most frightening prospect I can think of.
My reasons follow; capitalism, in the words of Joseph Schumpeter, is a system of creative destruction. That means that the strong company will “destroy” the weak or capitalism wouldn’t function as it should. In other words, companies that lose their competitive edge go out of business and others take their markets. In the meantime, when a company is destroyed, people lose their jobs. If a corporation is doing its job for its shareholders, it cannot be concerned about that ugly fact. But none the less, there is an enormous amount of destruction and employee displacement in capitalism.
What has made American capitalism strong is the social safety nets that we’ve put under displaced people. When America was headed toward real socialism in the 1940’s, our government was frightened by that powerful trend and asked the big corporations to fill the gap. That was the beginning of corporate provided socially oriented benefits like health insurance. I won’t argue whether they went too far but the resultant expansion of benefits rivaled the European socialist democracies. But in America they were provided by corporations. The tax payers still paid for these benefits in the prices we were charged for corporate products and services.
That game is over. American companies can no longer compete with companies in foreign countries, especially when in those countries the government supplies the benefits. Every successful industrialized nation on the planet is part capitalistic and part socialistic in varying degrees.
A country’s economy couldn’t survive with pure unregulated capitalism. And this is not a slam at capitalism. I fully believe that America’s future depends on a strong capitalistic system. But I also believe that we will never have that without well-fed, properly educated, sufficiently housed and healthy people.
To try to put these responsibilities fully on the shoulders of our corporations is folly. America is in a serious economic stall that will not improve until we make certain structural changes. Some of those changes must be the reallocation of our enormous resources. I mean, away from needless wars and toward full healthcare for everyone. Away from government waste and toward feeding the fifty million American children who go to bed hungry every night. Away from multi-billion dollar political campaigns and toward decent housing for homeless families. Away from the burden of multi-billion dollar incarcerations for minor offenses and toward intelligent drug treatment programs. Away from corporate tax exemptions and toward exceptional educational opportunities for all. Away from the cynicism that seems to permeate our discourse and toward the enthusiasm of our parents.
We’ve been lulled into an anti-intellectualism’s that being held together by special interest political agendas. Too many Americans don’t know a socialist from a dog’s ear but depend on irresponsible media personalities to tell them what to believe.
Socialism is with us and has been for a long time. It is not the enemy of capitalism but is its most powerful enabler. Socialism reminds capitalism that the end goal of all capital and labor is human flourishing – not just for a privileged few, but for anyone willing to work at it.