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It Takes a Disaster to Illustrate that Good Government is NOT Socialism

September 23, 2018

Paul Buchheit, whose Common Dreams articles reliably pillory the greed that underpins capitalism, wrote an article last week titled The Sinister Subtext of the Capitalist Manifesto that underscored his theme. The article opens with this paragraph describing the Capitalist Manifesto:

The original Capitalist Manifesto was a 1958 book by economist Louis O. Kelso and philosopher Mortimer J. Adler. In their view of a properly conducted democratic capitalist society,a sort of modern-day Homestead Act was envisioned, in which all Americans would participate in the “capitalist revolution” of growing stock portfolios. This would be possible because of great technologies (energy in the 1950s, AI now) that would allow all of us, in Aristotelian and Jeffersonian property-owning ways, to become ‘free’ to pursue the arts & sciences and to enjoy more leisure time. Today, this form of democratic capitalism could be realized through the Employee Stock Ownership Plan promoted by the “Just Third Way” movement.

But… as Mr. Buchheit notes, this ISN’T being realized today. Why?

Just one problem. Apparently, in 1958, economists and philosophers were not able to foresee the unlimited greed of the relatively few people with the power to manipulate the strings of the capitalist state. They thought the newly productive post-war capitalists were being cheated by workers who depended on socialist strategies to even the score. But the opposite has happened. Average Americans have been cheated out of the gains from technological productivity. Just in the past ten years in our world of big business, over $30 trillion — nearly a third of our nation’s TOTAL current wealth — has gone to the richest 10% of Americans. Yet market-happy illusionists like the Wall Street Journal keep spouting nonsense about a healthy economy built on today’s capitalism.

The root of the problem is the condemnation of anything ‘social’ as un-American, which has helped modern-day capitalists to justify their belief in individual gain by any means. Wealthy conservatives know that social responsibility might take away some of their riches by providing opportunities and jobs and a decent standard of living for all Americans. In their minds, the poor have only themselves to blame for being poor, and for dying. But it is capitalism that is killing them. The Capitalist Manifesto has been twisted into an assault on poor people.

Mr. Buchheit then makes an excellent point, a point that neither party is making to change the narrative about the poor being responsible for their own ill-being:

What is the capitalist incentive to clean the water in Flint, Michigan? Little money is to be made, so little effort is made to save lives. People are DYING because there’s no market for profit-making.

I expected Mr Buchheit to pursue this by noting that instead of insisting that only a strong, well-funded government can solve problems like pollution, both the GOP and the neoliberal wing of the Democratic party believe the solution is to create a capitalist incentive to clean water, clean the air, and… as noted repeatedly in this blog… to “fix public education”. Instead, Mr. Buchheit noted how “the capitalist incentive” led to the opiod crisis in our country not only because of the money to be made from the supply of the drugs but also because of the despair created by capitalism that led to the demand for the drugs.

The last paragraphs of Mr. Buchheit’s essay drove home a point that led to the title of this post. Headed with the caption “The True Meaning of Socialism”, he writes:

In the worst moments of the hurricanes that keep hitting American cities, members of government and business and military and especially the public abandon thoughts of personal gain and dedicate themselves to the needs of fellow human beings. People around the nation pitch in, through their labors and donations; neighbors and first responders rescue trapped victims; the Red Cross and other charitable organizations, including many local churches, deliver food and supplies and medicine; GoFundMe initiatives are set up; the business community donates their goods and services; government officials remain focused on the people they were elected to represent; even the military contributes with rescue helicopters. No one seems to care about the skin color or religion or politics of those in need.

It takes a tragedy to reveal the true meaning of socialism. It’s not government control, but rather people controlling their own lives through empathy and cooperation.

It may take a village to educate a child… but it takes a natural disaster to demonstrate the benefits of a strong, well-funded government… which now goes by the name of “socialism”.

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