Capitalism is a system of social interaction which uses money as a medium of exchange for goods and services. It evolved from barter, in which items were merely traded, value for value. As long as the value of the money relative to whatever is being exchanged is agreed upon, then a capitalistic transaction takes place – it matters not whether the currency is in salt or seashells – as in ancient times; or in gold or silver; or the paper dollars, yen or marks of today.
What gives capitalism its potential as a moral system is this aspect of fair trade, of a voluntary transaction where both parties agree and both freely trade a value for a value. The benefits of such transactions, such as creating wealth, freeing up commerce and providing incentives for technological advancement and human achievement, are in great example and undisputed.
However, examples of capitalism's corrupting influence on social interactions also exist in great number. A product might be sold to satisfy a certain need under false pretenses, such as the milk manufacturers in China that used toxic waste to expand the product resulting in many deaths to small children. This extreme example is not atypical in a capitalistic system, where the acquisition of money becomes of paramount importance over personal and social responsibility. Understand: When the quest for profit becomes more important than doing what is right, capitalism, as a social system, fails. As such, capitalism mirrors human nature: It shines when the individuals involved are moral, aware of their actions, intent on being fair, treating the other as they would like to be treated; and on the flip-side Greed: the desire for the unearned, drives individuals to trick, deceive, coerce, extort, and basically rip-off the unsuspecting consumer or robbed victim.
To consign capitalism to be purely a benevolent system is as ideologically dishonest as condemning it to be always malevolent and greed-infested. Like Democracy, capitalism is only as good or as bad as the people which exercise it, as it is the relationships between people that make up any social system. The acquisition of capital provides the incentive to do great things and also to do unspeakable evil.
There can be little disagreement on this reality: For every example of a positive benefit from capitalism, there can be found another with a negative outcome. A manufacturer moves an operation overseas to take advantage of lower wages, while eliminating jobs and hurting families here, he creates opportunity and a higher standard of living for the new workers, but at a high cost to them as well – they work in substandard, dangerous and unhealthy working conditions for long hours, and without a strong government to enforce environmental regulations, the corporation dumps toxic waste into the drinking and bathing water resulting in cancer outbreaks long after they have moved to the next poor country to exploit.
Capitalism's greatest virtue is fair trade, its greatest failing is putting profit before people.
For those that advocate laissez-faire, that capitalism and the individuals and corporations involved should be given free reign, consider the social costs. The only legitimate role of government is the protection of individual human rights, among those are to breathe uncontaminated air and drink pure water, at the most basic level; and to make sure that a fair trade really is one, and if it is not, to have legal recourse to correct an injustice. Laissez-faire is a fantasy where everyone acts like the moral characters in an Ayn Rand novel, without the moral failings all-too-common in the real world.
Socialism exists in a dependent parasitic relationship with capitalism. As such, it relies on and works within a monetary system. The basic premise behind socialism is a redistribution of capital by the use of statist government force. Indeed, without government to do its bidding, socialism could not exist. Likewise, without capitalism to provide the capital for goods and services, socialism would not exist.
One can not only consider the positive benefits or negative consequences of a particular system to appraise it. The positive derivatives of socialism are many: A space program, the pride of the entire world, achieved landing men on the moon and exploring distant planets. Deadly diseases have been eradicated. Advances in science and technology were made in areas not profitable to corporations. Preventing starvation and homelessness to the poorest. Providing medical care to the needy. And so on.
The negative consequences of taking away money from someone to give to another is as infinitely varied as those who give, who now have less of their money for their own needs and ambitions. Less money might mean less education or healthcare for their families, less consuming which means less manufacturing and less jobs, less investment which depresses the economy. But even if the economic effect in total was a zero net sum, meaning money taken here is spent over there equally, the main negative consequence is one of a polluted moral environment.
And here socialism fails as a social system. The moral equivalent of socialism is theft. As in Robin Hood, it may steal from the rich to give to the poor, but it is still stealing. Here, statist government dictates who should be the recipient of the money and who should be the giver. The corrupting influence on politics is evident everyday in the hustle for money and programs on Capital Hill. Political influence is the overriding determination as to where the money ends up, notwithstanding any concepts of need and especially not justice.
Coupled with capitalism's incentive for greed and socialism's political power of taking, the moral environment is one satiated with the predatory hunt for the unearned. In effect, this environment defines American culture and all of its failings, for when a society reaches such a low point that it sees institutionalized thievery as a right, it will begin to consume itself with cannibalistic self-destruction. No redistribution of wealth, no printing or borrowing of capital to stimulate a slowing economy will save a society bent on robbing itself blind.
Statism: The government system of force to gain the unearned which makes socialism possible. Its operating premise is false: that the end justifies the means. Should a government exist that would abolish and abandon this false doctrine and concentrate on enforcing human right laws instead of political influence and expediency, then it would be another government indeed. Would wealth still be redistributed? Just as surely as corporations must be forced to undo the damage they do, then yes, capital from the guilty to the victims would change hands. Personal responsibility must be enforced with a strong, but fair government hand. To do right implies a mandate to do right or face the consequences. Is this socialism? No, it is called Justice.
Communism: Totalitarian socialism. Communism is a high-degree to total control statist socialism, in which the normal everyday free capitalistic exchanges are manipulated and controlled by government. From childhood, the communist regime molds and shapes the individual to determine his best career to serve the State. Those with more athletic prowess are carefully trained apart so they can excel, while others are steered towards careers as doctors depending on their innate inclinations. Literacy reaches 100%, medical coverage is universal. Only the top government officials enjoy a privileged and lavish lifestyle and a high degree of freedom. To travel to other countries is considered a privilege, not a right. For all the benefits that a communist country promises one truth remains, expressed best to me by a Cuban – “We are a nation of 12 million slaves”.
Communism's failure is evident by its curtailing of human freedom of action. To restrict freedom of speech, to forbid its own citizens to leave, to repress dissent through prison and even death – all these indicate a system that would collapse without totalitarian controls in place to maintain the status quo. Human freedom of action is dictated by Nature, any dictatorships to the contrary, notwithstanding.
Altruism, in the context of economics and of morality, is a giving of oneself or one's acquired capital to others. Altruism can never be forced, so a giving of capital extorted through taxation to the needy is not altruism, but socialism. Charitable institutions rely on altruism, just as altruism relies on the capitalistic system to exist.
Altruism outside of a capitalist context, where one gives of himself without the involvement of money, could be called Communitarianism. If someone donates a book to a public library, the money transaction long-passed, then this would be one example. If public moneys are used for the public library, i.e. tax money, then it is socialism. But it can be, and often is, a combination of both social systems. Public television operates on private donations (altruism), volunteers (communitarianism), and taxes (socialism) all in the framework of a capitalist system.
The ultimate expression of communitarianism – (my term not his), is Jacque Fresco's Venus Project. In this social engineering vision of a future social system devoid of capitalism or socialism the needs and human rights of the community are provided for by a combination of volunteers and robotic mechanization.
The basic fundamental principle is that all of the world's natural resources belong to all. As the sun begins its trajectory across the sky radiating more free energy upon the Earth in one day than in centuries of human fossil-burning activity, the logic of harnessing and living in harmony with Nature seems sublime.
The ethics of a free public library has made the technological leap to the internet and only statist government intrusion will try to curtail this natural advancement in freedom of information and expression. The internet is the greatest example of today's communitarianism, one that we all embrace and acknowledge as a huge step forward in man's evolution, as significant today as the Gutenburg press of yesterday. To the children of today, the internet is as free and natural as the sunshine.
While Fresco's vision of the future may seem hindered by our own negative associations with the failed and failing systems of socialism and communism, rest assured that the internet is none other than part of this technological and social eventuality. It represents the first preliminary stage of a communitarian society and the end of capitalism and our artificial political and economic world as we know it.
Only time will tell how the governments of today will hinder or aid the upcoming robotic revolution, or whether mechanized intelligence will be used for good – the power of Venus or for war – the power of Mars. Just as it is an obvious megatrend that manufacturing is becoming more automated causing the loss of human jobs, it is even more worrisome that governments may harness robots to kill anyone, anywhere, anytime with the touch of a button. The day of the first to die by US drone attack has already passed. This age is dawning and we will all have to choose to take the path of Love over Hate, before it is too late to express any dissent to the contrary.Tweet
Latest posts by Jose Roldan: the Abolitionist (see all)
- The Ethics of Capitalism vs. Socialism vs. Communitarianism - April 8, 2010
- Tax Day: A Moral Reckoning - April 5, 2010
- The Consequences of Statism on the Human Experience - February 15, 2008