“The function of government is to represent the middle income and working people rather than just the wealthy and the powerful. [We have come to] worship greed.”
~Representative Bernie Sanders
Capitalism is defined as an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods; by investments that are determined by private decision; and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market. Hmm… That sounds all well and good, but what does it really mean to live in an American capitalistic society? Where did it begin and when?
As a political science major, I was introduced to Adam Smith , who is often referred to as the “Father of Capitalism” and it was then that I had to suffer through the “Wealth of Nations“, although I was saved from having to read all 5 books (it was a 5 book series) and only had to read 2 of them. What I did find interesting about Smith was his belief that self-interest in a free market economy would lead to economic well being for society as a whole. Smith described a system in which an “invisible hand” would maintain the market without government intervention, and he felt that the government exists merely to protect individual rights, Hmm.. But to keep things in perspective, this was written in 1776, the same year of the Declaration of Independence and the social and political dynamics were much different then than they are now.
Let me say that I am not completely against Capitalism. After all, I am now a published author who has goods to sell, and what I earn in essence is my capital. And I fully support entrepreneurship and small business ownership. I believe that what I choose to do with my capital in terms of “giving back” to my community, like frequenting and financially supporting local businesses, is the key to the success or failure of my community. But as a Political Scientist, I’ve been forced to take a critical look at this current Capitalist system that our society has been operating in and this is what I’ve found: Capitalism…
- Benefits the selfish interests of a few privileged elites
- Discourages local production and encourages unregulated growth of gigantic corporations that exploit local labor for profits elsewhere
- Claims to be a system that promotes “free will;” however, the economic disparity that it evokes diminishes the possibility for social mobility, thereby constricting people to not only certain classes, but also to certain neighborhoods and opportunities.
And of course I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the infamous “Trickle Down Economics“ which provides tax cuts and other benefits to businesses, and indirectly helps the rest of the population by increasing investments in infrastructure and markets. Let me repeat that. Indirectly helps the rest of the population… In all actually, what this translates to is tax cuts on capital gains, corporate income, and high individual income taxes, which, as we see time and time again, exclusively benefits the wealthy.
Time for some Radical thinking! If we really want a more fair and just system, we need to acknowledge that our focus should be the overthrow of this current version of Capitalism and the replacement of a more sustainable system that I feel should contain some of the tenets of Socialism. I say some, because obviously, there are some practical and logistical issues with the socio-economic theory of Socialism, although, in actuality, the only example of Socialism we Americans have is the Soviet economy that began under Stalin and Lenin in the 20’s, and lasted throughout the 60’s.
But the reality is no one has figured out a way of combining genuine Socialism with high rates of growth over a long period of time, which is why, combined with a lack of understanding of what Socialism really means, we haven’t seen a sustainable Socialist economy as of yet.
With that said, I’m a strong proponent for a social-economic system that exists somewhere between Capitalism and the realization of Communism, that has a touch of Socialism. This system would embody equitable principles and standards, and be run democratically to meet the needs of the diverse groups of people, not just a few elites. And I would start by having our Government use Our tax money to say, actually create opportunities for everyone. I know. A bit too radical huh?
And what if businesses, small and large actually used and shared their resources with the communities that housed them? Whether by supporting a local community based organization, voluntarily teaching skills to folks in the community or sponsoring a community event, if more local businesses participated in these acts of “giving back”, imagine the extensive benefits for the community as a whole.
Of course, our next priority would be to decide how society should be run while we attempt to adhere to this new system. In my opinion, this is arguably one of the most important roles for activism in the future, especially in light of our newly elected president and the administration that he is building as I type. We need to be smart and strategic, (as we see the Republicans have been), and really use this time to come together locally and statewide as individuals and community leaders, to re-build our communities.