AN ECONOMIC SYSTEMS FIELD GUIDE

Okay, SO tired of people in the Spokaloo region evidencing confusion about what the hell economic system they happen to be living under. Not that any of these fine folk will change their minds – after all, it is America, and we have a right to be ignorant, a right to ignore the facts, and a right to insult, belittle, and threaten those who don’t agree with said facts. But nonetheless, worth a try.

COMMUNISM – That’s where the government owns everything and dispenses goods an services as they see fit.

SOCIALISM – That’s where the citizens as a group own everything. The government just divvies out goods and services according to the wishes of the citizens.

CAPITALISM – That’s where individuals own everything, and can do whatever they damned well please with it.

Each system has its drawbacks, of course.

COMMUNISM – Centrally directed, thus ponderous, slow to change, subject to takeover by self-centered political figures. See North Korea.

SOCIALISM – Citizens disagree with what comprises “the greatest good for the greatest number”. Arguments and paralysis may ensue. Subject to takeover by self-centered political figures.

CAPITALISM – All wealth becomes concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. See USA and the 1%. Subject to takeover by self-centered business figures.

Sometimes the major political players of the various systems have observations to make, and sometimes these observations have much to say, in few words, about the system they are directed at. For example:

COMMUNISM –
“The theory of Communism may be summed up in one sentence: Abolish all private property.” – Karl Marx
“Communism doesn’t work because people like to own stuff.” – Frank Zappa
“Communism is the exploitation of the strong by the weak. In Communism, inequality comes from placing mediocrity on a level with excellence.” – Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

SOCIALISM –
“Under socialism all will govern in turn and will soon become accustomed to no one governing.” – Vladimir Lenin
“Many people consider the things government does for them to be social progress but they regard the things government does for others as socialism.” – Earl Warren
“Socialism is… not only a way of life, but a certain scientific approach to social and economic problems.” – Jawaharlal Nehru

CAPITALISM –
“We are not in business for our health.” Attributed to J.P. Morgan
“What do I care about the law. Ain’t I got the power?”  – Cornelius Vanderbilt
“The public be damned!” Attributed to Cornelius Vanderbilt’s son, William.
“I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.” Attributed to robber baron Jay Gould.
“In a Republican district I was a Republican. In a Democratic district, I was a Democrat. But I was always for (my business).” – Jay Gould
“God gave me my money.” Attributed to John D. Rockefeller
“What good is $10 million if you can’t have real money.” Jesse Livermore

Interesting. But I found this quote to be quite revealing:

“Socialism proposes no adequate substitute for the motive of enlightened selfishness that today is at the basis of all human labor and effort, enterprise and new activity.” – William Howard Taft.

Taft, for your info, was the 27th President of the US, from 1909 to 1913. He was known as a progressive, and put some energy into busting the big-business trusts of the era. The phrase “enlightened selfishness…” Hm.

“Enlightened selfishness”, to my mind, means that, in every business, there comes a moment to examine the larger picture as opposed to immediate short-term profits.

Let’s say your business makes millions in the production of basketballs. It costs 20 bucks to produce one basketball. You charge 50 bucks for one basketball at Walmart. So that’s 30 bucks of pure profit. But you want more, so you start charging 75 bucks per ball, to up your profit margin. Meanwhile, because you are offshoring your tax burden, or taking advantage of the many loopholes that Congress has provided because of your “donations” to certain Congresspeople for their election, the money to support public basketball courts and parks-supported recreational leagues is cut, and cut again. Not to mention the fact that public workers have been laid off wholesale, so now no one to oversee these public venues, and they are closed.

Basketball sales are going to inevitably start slipping. An “enlightened” capitalist might see this coming, and take steps to avoid it. But not the short-term-profit, quarterly-reports capitalist, because he doesn’t care about the product, and doesn’t care about the customers – he cares about the money. His fondest dream may well be to sell his basketball business for billions, and thereby retire young to the life he is certain he is entitled to. So, the endgame is one really rich guy doing nothing and a giant basketball corporation that can produce a substandard product because they bought up all the competition. Purchase and enjoy your crappy, out-of-round, puncture-prone basketball, or screw you. So lots of people stop buying basketballs and the basketball business suffers. HOWEVER – said business has DIVERSIFIED, and bought up interests in sneakers and ketchup. To do this, they drained the basketball business of its assets, fired all its workers, and started buying their crappy basketballs from China to sell at inflated prices, because those are now the only choice. Now they can go through the same routine with the sneakers and the ketchup.

Somehow this  process reminds me of endlessly circling a drain. Not helpful to society as a whole, yet that’s where we keep winding up.

As an enlightened pragmatist, I am not willing to just write off the best ideas of communism and socialism just because the names are scary and my Tea Party boss told me to hate them. Certain products and services SHOULD be socialized – basic health care, energy, water, education,and food come to mind. Certain others do not need to be socialized – basketballs, luxury cars and private planes, for example. If everybody has what they need of the survival basics, then society is stable. When you start shorting people is when you get what is politely termed “unrest”. So far as societies go, as a pragmatist, I like stable.

China has figured out a way to combine its communist system of government with certain aspects of our capitalist system. Observe: the greatest economic success story of all time. Why can’t American capitalism do that too?

Oh. I remember.

Money.

 

 

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