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The Modern “-isms”: Communism, Socialism, and Capitalism
Greed and inhumanity know no bounds. The elites in every
society, not even knowing their own true or fullest self-interest, let alone the
interests of the many or the nation as a whole, invariably oppress and exploit
the many until a breaking point is reached and the people rise up against them.
History is punctuated by one bloody uprising or revolution after
another with nauseating repetition.
The difficulty with revolutions is that they
all create leaders who ride at their heads, and these leaders, once ensconced
firmly in the seats of power, prove to be even more ruthless than, just as bad
as, or little better than the tyrants that they replaced. The result is simply a
continuance (in slightly different political and economic garb) of authoritarian
plutocracy and the underlying biological male dominance hierarchy.
Often intellectual visionaries attempt to lead “the
peasants,” “the masses,” or “the proletariat” into a
new age and new social order only to find that the new order has fewer believers
and followers than it takes to fully implement and sustain it. They then attempt
to force the unseeing many, not to mention the recently dethroned elite, into
the new way hoping that in time, once the new way is understood and takes root,
the force may be removed and a new age will have dawned. Many dictatorships and
totalitarian states have been born in this way. The many remain unseeing, and
the new elite degenerates into just another authoritarian corruption.
America and other plutocratic nations of the West have
long used such misguided revolutionary efforts and social forms as
communism and socialism both as distractions, e.g., “the red scare,” from their own deep flaws and as the means to paint
their own governments in a better
light then they really possess. But it should be remembered that it was the
gross injustices and abuses inherent in the current plutocracies (monarchy, aristocracy, and capitalism)
that caused so much of the world to see hope in communism and socialism in the
first place. Few foresaw that the flight from one horror would lead to an even greater horror, the totalitarian state. Older but wiser, we now know that our
lesser misery is far better than that much greater misery. Whatever appeal
communism and socialism may have had intellectually or idealistically to the
oppressed, that appeal was crushed by the rise and actions of the totalitarian
Although such political systems were misguided and deserved to
fail, the fundamental injustice that drove people to them remains with us today.
Until this fundamental injustice is corrected, the outcry from
below will never cease, and nations will inherently be less just, free, happy,
and stable than they could and should be.
The vast panorama of unspeakable horrors of the last century
has driven the economic underclass into a state of disarray and impotence. Most
people have little stomach for it and forbear much abuse before physically
fighting against oppression. There are proper times to rise up against
oppressors and to draw blood. But if another way can be found to throw off
oppression and redress injustice without drawing blood, then let it be tried
As for the modern “-isms,” communism fails because it is
not possible or desirable to reduce the entire human
race to one level economic sea. While communism’s central premise that one
works according to one’s ability and receives according to one’s need is
high-minded and altruistic enough, it would require a world of saints. And we
are definitely not saints. Any viable social relationship requires first of all
that it works in the real world with people as they really are.
The argument of this work is not that there should not be a
few and a many. It is not that everyone should be reduced to one economic level.
Nature itself produces an inequality of strength, beauty, intelligence, talent,
and capability, and, therefore, “the few.” The argument is against the
current political-economic relationship between the few and the many and for a
new kind of relationship.
The argument is also about the nature of the few who
rise to the top in authoritarian, plutocratic states. It is not nature’s
few of excellence but merely a human-created aristocracy of birth, wealth, and
power. This few merely oppresses and exploits everyone else and grabs and hoards
everything. The question is can we ever find a way to dethrone this base and
greedy few and select nature’s nobility of intelligence, wisdom, generosity,
and humanity for the
seats of power?
Socialism fails because private ownership
of property functions better than collective ownership of property. With
collective ownership decision making is taken away from the individual and
installed within a centralized political body far removed from the myriad local
and personal effects of the decisions. The individual becomes insignificant in the face of a
monolithic power. This reduces the individual to a state of powerlessness,
forces him or her to conform to standards set down from on high, and inhibits
creative activity and spontaneous, enthusiastic improvement of one’s environ.
Private property is also the natural sibling of something else
that best fits our current human behavior: a market economy. It may
be the case that in some future time we transcend the need for private property
and a market economy, but that time is not now. In our current plutocracy, it is
the case that some people own entirely too much wealth and property while
millions of others have little or none. But this is a problem of adjusting the
distribution of power and wealth, not a question of private versus collective
ownership of property.
The mercantile economy and the budding government of the
time have evolved into the huge capitalistic market economy and the powerful
federal government of our time. The principal flaw of both early and current
capitalism is also the direct cause of the principal flaw of the government that
the founders set in motion and of all of today’s so-called democracies.
Gambling, as practiced within honest Las Vegas gambling houses
under known rules of chance, is based upon the principle of a few winners and
many losers. That a few gamblers may win large sums, many other gamblers must
lose. The house sets the gambling odds in its favor, but the odds are not set so
high as to turn away the gamblers or to lose them to other gambling houses.
There is something of a win-win situation here in that the gambling house, better
still a cluster of them, serves as a mecca attracting many gamblers and much
money, thus providing the potential for much larger winnings. The mecca also
gives rise to many other businesses.
Laissez-faire capitalism functions in a similar way. It is a
win-win situation in that centers of commerce and industry serve as meccas
attracting many people seeking their fortunes who create many businesses,
products, and services and much wealth. Everyone, even the less fortunate,
benefits from the many amenities not available to them were they alone in the
However, as with gambling, that a few people may
profit fabulously under capitalism, many others must lose. And, unlike the strict honesty and
known rules of chance obeyed by honest gambling houses, laissez-faire capitalism
is a game played in an often extremely underhanded way. Anything goes and anyone
may make any rules as they go along. Those who have advantage take advantage.
Those who have the most take even more, all that they can manage to take,
without limit. The wealthiest, most powerful few takes all of the fruit of its own labor plus a significant portion of the fruit from the labor of others. At
the other extreme, there are many who labor for only a tiny portion of the total
value of the products and services that they create and provide. And, of course,
one can at any time be cast out into the mean streets of the city broke,
homeless, hungry, and ill.
While laissez-faire capitalism can create enormous amounts of
wealth, it does not produce a very attractive social model and often produces
devastating environmental and personal results. Capitalism depends on the
creation of many economic losers and, in and of itself, cannot correct this
failing. Even if they wanted to, which they don’t, the fierce competition
among capitalists for the lowest possible cost of production and price of
product or service does not permit the luxury of protecting or tidying up the
environment or of repairing broken, impoverished lives. Capitalists seek the
immediate lowest possible cost to oneself at a much higher long-term cost
foisted upon the common weal and the weakest in society. The supposed
efficiencies of capitalism cannot bear the light of day when the total
environmental and human costs are fairly examined. To the limited extent that
the environment and the rights of the powerless are protected, they are
protected by government, not by capitalism. The capitalists moan and groan and
drag their feet every inch of the way.
Champions of capitalism and free enterprise never tire of
holding a few of the Horatio Algers among us before our admiring and desiring
eyes as examples of what one can accomplish within our economic system if only
one studies, works hard, and is enterprising. This is akin to a Las Vegas
gambling house’s ringing of bells and sounding of sirens whenever a gambler
wins big time. It motivates all of the losers to keep pulling the handles on the
slot machines, rolling the dice, and plunking chips down on the card tables. And
Horatio Algers paraded in the limelight motivate all of the “little people”
under capitalism to keep putting one foot in front of the other, to continue
working “for the man,” and to continue striving for or at least dreaming
about that big break. We all know that capitalism produces some big winners, but
less obvious and not advertised is that it must, of necessity, produce
many losers to keep the wheels of the system turning. Oh, as pointed out before,
everybody wins a
little bit compared to living in the wild. But
laissez-faire capitalism is a system that definitely has a seedy underbelly to
play down and hide. We can, we should, and some day we will do better.
As discussed earlier, the ideals of communism and socialism were
born of the horrendous conditions created by unrestrained plutocracy and capitalism. But, as we
all know, these systems produce even worse results. The ruthless few reign as an
over-class in an all-powerful state that imprisons and oppresses everyone.
Freedom and the motivation to create and produce become destroyed. In the end,
communist and socialist nations remain poor compared to the great wealth created
Capitalist purists argue against any mitigation of the means
or the results
of capitalism. To them not only are communism and socialism horrors, but so is
any interference of capitalism by government, particularly government redistribution of wealth
via taxation and spending.
The purists’ arguments are dishonest in two ways. First, by
its laws and rules and by the presence and use of its military and police forces, government creates and
protects the means by which wealth is accumulated and protects the accumulations
themselves. Such accumulations are not “natural.”
They are not merely the result of the intelligence, talent, education, entrepreneurship,
or even the sheer brute strength of wealthy individuals. They are not a product of nature but
the result of the artificial means—government, laws, military, police, etc.—that
we create to produce the result. At one time, the wealthiest person in the world
possessed 100 billion dollars. Can you envision one monkey sitting upon a pile
of 100 billion bananas trying to protect them from the other monkeys? What do
you think all of the other monkeys would do? But this unnatural set of
conditions created by our artificial means is exactly the view embraced by
capitalist purists. While government may work for the wealthy and make possible the
accumulation of wealth in the first place, it may not help labor or the
Second, capitalists conveniently overlook the fact that any
redistribution of wealth by government is really only a secondary, corrective
redistribution. The first redistribution of wealth takes place within capitalism
itself when business owners, managers, etc. take onto themselves an undue
portion of the fruit of everyone else’s labor. Capitalists always
sing the praises of capitalism in its creation of wealth but always play down its unjust redistribution of
that wealth. Those who most benefit from the much larger but less visible
redistribution under capitalism point to the much smaller but more visible
redistribution by government and scream bloody murder.
The capitalist purists lament about the injustice of
government redistribution. They cry, “Government takes our hard earned money
and hands it out to the lazy poor.” While one can argue about how wisely
the government uses our taxes, the argument as to the justice or injustice of
government redistribution cannot be appropriately examined from so narrow a
view. The justice or injustice of the actions of government can only be
legitimately considered from a much larger view that includes its facilitating
and protecting by its laws, rules, military, and police the means by which
wealth is accumulated, the accumulations themselves, and the redistribution of
wealth in the private sector under capitalism. The issues of the accumulations
and the redistributions of wealth can only logically and justly be considered as
In the final analysis, the overall distribution
of wealth is the result of the actions of a government that has been created by
and that is owned and populated by the principal benefactors of that
distribution. The “invisible
hand” of the market is a slight of hand that deals a crooked hand. This
crooked hand is the creation of those who also created the crooked government that
In a sense, the redistribution of wealth in the private sector
can be looked upon as a tax on work levied by the owners of the tools, the means
of production. While the wealthy moan about the injustice of the government tax
burden, we find the tax burden and redistribution levied against everyone else
by the wealthy, powerful few in the private sector to be grossly unjust.
To be sure, the investment of capital in
enterprise is risky, and entrepreneurship is hard work. That risk and work
should be rewarded. But, after subtracting all of the costs of an enterprise, what should be the amount of the reward or profit for the risk taken
and the work done by the entrepreneur? One percent? One hundred percent? One thousand percent?
Clearly, it is not a matter of a particular percentage. There can be honest
disagreement about that. But it is all too clear from the result, the current
distribution of wealth, that the current distribution and the tax burden levied
against everyone else by the owners of the means of production is unjustly, immorally,
obscenely high. This fundamental failing and excess of capitalism must be
corrected so that our capitalism
and, indeed, our whole system of government and society may be rendered more
humane, serviceable, and secure.
Another argument of the capitalist purists is that handing
money to the poor only removes their incentive to better their lot which
keeps them lazy and poor. This may be true if money is unwisely handed out with
no strings or the wrong strings attached, and no effective program of
self-improvement is in place. But
it is also true that in sucking all of the blood out of workers—low pay and no
benefits for the lower level employees but high pay and profits for the managers and owners—the
incentive to work is also removed: “Why bother working hard? No matter who you
work for you still get screwed.” By taking an undue measure of our nation’s
wealth unto themselves, the wealthy create both the poor and the lack of
incentive to work.
Further, seeing the capitalists and the
politicians they own lie, steal, and do anything to anyone to always win, the
rest of the populace becomes demoralized both spiritually and in their actions.
Millions of young people and adults lie, cheat, and steal because they see all
the politicians and CEOs doing it. They use the immorality of “the successful”
as justification for their own immorality. “It is the way of the world. It is
the only way to survive. Anyone who does not do it is a naive chump.” The
entire society becomes demoralized, corroded, and corrupt.
Closely related to the ideas held dear by capitalist purists
are the notions of what have been called “supply-side economics” and “the
trickle-down theory.” The argument is that by decreasing or eliminating the
capital gains tax and by other measures such as deregulation, the even greater
amount of wealth that would accumulate in the hands of the wealthy would be more
freely invested creating even more wealth. This effect of lifting the boats of
the wealthy would eventually “trickle down” to others, raising their boats
as well, thus benefiting everyone.
This argument fails in several ways. First, it not only
does not correct the failings and shortcomings of capitalism but exacerbates and
increases them. Second, the deregulation or decrease in regulation in recent
decades of major industries such as airlines, power generation,
telecommunications, and the financial sector has proven disastrous. Third, as the apologists of capitalism proudly
point out, millions of people own stocks and bonds. And we have no shortage of
creative financial instruments to provide for every financial need. Personal
wealth no longer needs to be concentrated in the hands of the few to raise the
sums necessary for venture capital and large, corporate investment. Currently existing and newly forming companies
and business ventures can offer their stocks, bonds, and other financial
instruments as easily to hundreds, thousands, or millions of investors as to an
over-moneyed few. Millions of such transactions are conducted daily by people
over the Internet. Fourth, studies have shown that it is not the wealthiest few
who do the most investing, take the most risk, and create the most jobs; it is
the great body of Americans in the economic middle who do so.
There is another important necessity of capitalism
ignored by “supply-side economics” and “the trickle-down theory.” The
whole point of investment and enterprise is to profit by selling goods and
services to the populace. If, as is the case in America, the lion’s share of a
nation’s wealth is hoarded by the few, then who is left to buy those products
and services? With the poor turning out empty pockets and the credit of the
great middle class tapped out, who is left to create the market? During the
of the business cycle, this house of cards tumbles down with a painful
crash and recovers only slowly.
Feeding the same problem, in recent decades the always-greedy
multinational corporations have roamed the world ever seeking their Holy Grail,
the dollar-an-hour worker. But in having moved their factories and millions of
America’s good paying jobs abroad, corporations have shot themselves in the
foot. The resulting gutting of the middle class destroyed the market for the
goods and services that the corporations produce. Now corporations face
declining profits, and all but the wealthiest Americans face declining
The ills of unrestrained capitalism are horrendous, indeed.
Aside from the capitalist purists, almost everyone agrees something must be done
to mitigate capitalism’s ills, to smooth down its raw, bleeding,
dysfunctional edges. For this mitigation we turn to government. It is expected
of government to keep the rules of the capitalist game reasonable and honest, to
regulate the conditions under which enterprise and labor take place, to wisely
husband and keep the common weal in good order, and to create a milieu conducive to
a flourishing market economy and a healthy, happy populace.
Well and good … were government an honest broker. But, of
course, it is not; it never is. Invariably, the heights of government are
populated by the same types of unscrupulous, carnivorous people that populate the
heights of business and industry. In the end, government laws, actions, and
favors are bought and sold just like any other commodity. That which could
potentially redeem capitalism ends up being corrupted and owned by it.
the sad truth not only after the government is created and is functioning, but
it is what dictates the form and structure of the government during the very
process of its creation. Under laissez-faire capitalism one ends up with a
laissez-faire government that is of deliberately little use in mitigating the
many ills of the capitalism.
Capitalism is an amoral economic system that creates wealth and power, which is good, but then concentrates that wealth and
power without limit into the hands of the few no matter what the consequences
are to the populace or to our world. And those consequences are draconian.
Thus we roll up our sleeves and try again to create a decent
relationship among ourselves and with this planet. Not wanting to return to some
primitive state and not wanting an all-powerful
communistic or socialistic state crushing us, we are pragmatically driven to turn up the light and reexamine
our current capitalism and republican form of government to see if we can find ways
to correct their shortcomings.
A market economy is the most practical and
efficient way to address the myriad lesser decisions of our economic activity
and relationship. But unbridled capitalism always tends toward monopoly, placing
too much power and wealth into too few hands. Using their hegemony of power, an
all too often immoral, ruthless, carnivorous few first create and then use a
dishonest, corrupt government to further their selfish ends. An immoral few
operate America’s economic system and government at a deeply imbalanced,
self-favoring extreme. We must create a moral government that honestly includes
and serves the entire electorate and firmly and humanely manages the parameters
within which our market economy must function.
Over the decades people have attempted to fight “the
system” or “the establishment” to correct some of its ills.
Organizing people, gaining some power, and making some changes has done
a lot of good, and such efforts should continue. And humanitarians of every
stripe should keep up their efforts. The world is a better place and we are a
more humane race for their being in them. But plutocracy and the biological male
dominance hierarchy still reign supreme and have never been transcended by such
efforts. A completely new kind of understanding, vision, and effort
Liberalism forever applies patches to and reforms within
the existing system. It never changes the system itself or its most central and
fundamental problems. For their never fixing the real causes of our many
problems, liberals will always remain employed at their never-ending task.
Labor unions were born and continue to exist in response to
the excesses and evils of unchecked and insufficiently managed capitalism. They
have done and continue to do much good for their memberships. In that their
effect reaches beyond unionized workplaces, lifting standards a bit in the
larger work community, unions do much good in the larger community and society
as well. However, unions arise and exist as symptoms of a problem to which they
can apply Band-Aids but never fundamentally repair.
Further, in bettering the lot of strongly unionized workers,
unions in effect create elite workers who, like the wealthy, are ultimately
subsidized by the labor and lives of others. It is also the case that some labor
unions have become plutocracies in their own right with corrupt leaders who
steal from the workers and grease their own palms.
Unions have their place. As long as we suffer under our
current or any future unjust system, we should give them our support. This endorsement does not include license for featherbedding (i.e. the
practice by some unions of requiring an employer to hire more employees than are
necessary or to limit production according to unnecessary union rules),
promoting laziness, or adding unneeded costs to the providing of services or the
production of products.
While unions serve in their way, it is the political system
itself that needs to be fixed. It is far more logical and efficient to
eliminate the fundamental problem that creates the need for unions in the first
A note on philanthropy: As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to
overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy
necessary.” Philanthropy eternally gives back a portion of what shouldn’t
have been taken in the first place. And philanthropists who have their names
carved above the door or their images cast in bronze get immortalization as a
perk, not to mention juicy tax breaks, placing their very ‘generosity’ into
We should also favor pragmatism over idealism. Many isolated,
idealistic societies based on a set of ideals or surrounding some charismatic
personality have been tried in the past. While some of them may have brought
some measure of comfort to their participants, such communities are generally
extremely limited, rigid, and isolated. What we must be about is a robust, just,
peacefully-evolving “social contract” and resulting laws and
institutions sufficient for our nation and for humanity as a whole. Cute,
idealistic hideaways cannot suffice.
At least insofar as the position taken by the Libertarian
political party is concerned, the libertarian position is inherently dishonest.
The Libertarian party is populated by laissez-faire capitalists who are
materially successful and by misguided others who are thoroughly fed up with
government but have simplistic and misguided beliefs as to what, at bottom, is
really wrong with our government. This is a deficiency suffered by the faithful who read too much Ayn Rand
and not enough else.
Most of us would like to see a small, efficient,
honest, non-meddling government that fosters a flowering of personal freedom and
liberty. But the way that the libertarians would go about reducing the size of
government is to hack and chop away at anything that they personally didn’t
like, leaving in place that which favored their own interests. They want
absolute freedom to take the fruit of other people’s labor, to accumulate
wealth, and to be facilitated and protected by government in their taking and
accumulating, but no one else should be helped by government. To the extent
that these government institutions protect their interests and views, the Libertarian party
prefers strong military, police, and financial establishments. Beyond that,
capitalism’s god, free enterprise, will magically solve all problems.
Some argue that we increase personal freedom
simply by limiting the size of the federal government. Such thinking really
misses the point. What liberty is gained by weakening government and
strengthening private power if that private power resides principally in the
hands of unchecked, ruthless, carnivorous corporate elites? Whether ruled by
the political mighty or the corporate mighty, the populace still remains with a
bent back and on bent knees. The problem is not merely one of the public sector
verses the private sector. It is not about the size of government as such. And
it is not about government verses liberty. Government is essential to liberty!
The question is, or should be, what changes to our government will correct its
current shortcomings, effectively mitigate the dysfunctions and bring out the
best of our market economy, and maximize the personal liberty of everyone and
the nation as a whole? It is correct governance that maximizes freedom both in
relation to government and outside of government.
The position taken in this work concerning the reduction in the size of
government and in the improvement of its function is to determine the
fundamental causes of its many malfunctions and to correct those problems. In
correcting those problems, the size of government will be greatly reduced and
its function improved, and personal power and liberty will be increased.
There are those among the wealthy who smugly look down
those who seek an improved government and society and sneer, “Sour grapes!”
Avoiding the truth that lies even within themselves, they claim that “the
failures” among us are merely envious and jealous of their wealth
and wish to take it from them. There are, indeed, those who are as shallow as
the “sour grapes” people who merely lust after possessions. But neither the snide claims of
the wealthy nor the wannabee’s who covet their possessions can obscure the
bright fires that burn in the hearts and minds of many who simply want a just
government and society in which the fruit of their labor is not taken from them
and in which their lives and labors are not wasted subsidizing the lives of the
wealthy with an endless supply of trinkets while the true needs of many and the
greater good go
unmet. Those who possess this fire and light do not seek a large, faceless,
monolithic state or any horrible “-ism” from the past, but only a government—a
small, efficient one will do—that includes their will as well and does not
serve only the few.
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Beyond Plutocracy - Direct Democracy for America
© Copyright 2001-2017 Roger D Rothenberger