July 25, 2013 By Jack Jodell.
Most of us in the western world have been literally brainwashed into believing that capitalism is the best and fairest economic system ever devised. Indeed, we have been led to believe it is the ONLY economic system worth even considering, and the terms socialism or communism are considered unacceptable alternatives, and that capitalism is the be-all and end-all of economic systems.
I DISAGREE COMPLETELY, AND OVER THE NEXT FEW POSTS IN THIS SERIES, I SHALL EXPLAIN EXACTLY WHY.
We have been socially conditioned to think mainly in terms of back or white as well as either-or. Our corporate-owned mass media has been notorious in presenting the news in such a dumbed-down fashion. This, I believe, is foolishly simplistic, disastrously limiting, and leads us to many wrong conclusions. For any rational, intelligent, thinking adult knows that life consists mainly of varying degrees of GRAY as well, and that black and white comprise but a small part of actual reality. Only a daffy absolutist would deny this very basic truth. This is especially true in the field of rconomics.
Many people erroneously believe that the United States is a capitalist country. That is incorrect, in that we actually live in what may be more accurately termed a social welfare state. For, as our country and its economy have evolved, we have found it necessary to place much-needed limits and regulations on various industries and a few powerful, wealthy individuals, to protect average everyday citizens and especially workers from the excesses of those groups. If the United States were truly and fully capitalist, there would be no labor unions, no overtime pay, no health or safety standards, no minimum wage, no Social Security, no Medicare or Medicaid, no welfare, no provisions for the handicapped or elderly, and no federal protection for your bank deposits, Our air, ;akes, rivers, streams, and oceans would all be hopelessly polluted and toxic, and our lives would be completely miserable and not at all pleasant, except for the very wealthiest few, in whose hands all power would reside. It would be a Libertarian’s or Tea Partiers’ dream, but all the rest of us would be living in a literal nightmare world of despondency. That is why, like it or not, rules and regulations amending pure capitalism came into being and were imposed by the federal government, in order to ensure the health and welfare of ALL the people!
The recent technological advancements made in the late 20th – early 21st century (the widespread adoption of the personal computer, and the creation of the internet and its related social media networks) has gad a massive impact on people’s lives (the full extent of which won’t be fully known for some time to come). The Industrial Revolution, which began in 1760 and lasted well into the mid-1800s had a similar wide-ranging effect on the people of that time. Goods became easier and quicker to produce, and the steam engine plus great advancements in mining and metallurgy spurred a tremendous amount of economic activity and resultant wealth for the small cadre of businessmen and bankers who managed to capitalize on it. Very little of this newly-created wealth ended up in the hands of the workers or peasants whose long hours of labor had actually oroduced it, and they continued to barely eke out a miserable living, trapped in the horribly primitive working conditions and long, long working hours they were forced to endure. Widespread crop failures during 1846 exacerbated the miseries of the peasants and lowly-paid workers, and eventually culminated in a series of revolutions all across Europe during 1848.
Out of this chaos emerged Karl Marx, a brilliant philosopher and journalist who became known as the father of modern Communism. With his partner Friedrich Engels, he produced a series of thought-provoking books and papers which correctly analyzed the predatory and exploitive tendencies of mid 18th century capitalism. Among these were The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital. He amazingly proved to be an excellent diagnostician of the evils of capitalism, but, of course, was unable at that time to foresee the welfare-state changes to capitalism that future leaders like Otto von Bismarck or Franklin D. Roosevelt (among many others) would make. These changes modified capitalism and made it fairer and somewhat more palatable to the vast masses of peasants and working people, actually providing for the emergence of a fairly prosperous middle class. Marx, of couse, advocated the overthrow of the capitalist system, and called for it to be replaced by a dictatorship of the proletariat (working people), until eventually what he described as true communism would emerge (“from each according to his ability; to each according to his needs.”). Marx also dismissed religion as being “the opiate of the people”. When Vladimir Lenin seized control of Russia in 1917, he established the world’s first Communist state. Both he and his immediate successor, Josef Stalin, then embarked on a crusade to close down churches, murder or imprison their clergy and all perceived political opponents, abolish all private property, and impose strict censorship on the press. Subsequent leaders in Russia and also in other, later Communist-led countries like China, North Korea, North Vietnam, Cuba, and the Russian-dominated nations of eastern Europe all followed this model, and their extremist social control and sreict, unyielding economic centralism alarmed the capitalist countries. A long and bitter Cold War ensued. On one side were the communists, and on the other were the welfare-state capitalists together with the Christian churches. This continued until the collapse of world communism in the early 1990s. After that, the capitalists became emboldened, which has ;ed to our present abysmal state of stagnating wages, a record disparity in wealth between richest and poorest, severe weakening of labor unions, exploitation of cheap foreign labor via outsourcing, and growing calls for such reactionary actions as eliminating the minimum wage and abolishing other time-honored, necessary social welfare programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
This current state of economic affairs was actually forseen only a few decades after Marx had issued his publications. Oddly enough, it was Roman Catholic Pope Leo XIII who, in 1891, issued an encyclical called Rerum Novarum (i.e. “of revolution – the rights of capital and labor”). This unprecedented document laid out the Church’s official stand on the respective duties of capital and labor, citing the need for finding a way to end “the misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class” and actually advocated the right of labor to form unions! Additionally, it rejected both communism and unrestricted capitalism. Moral theologians had long been disturbed by the extremes inherent in both the capitalist and communist economic models. They were obviously displeased with the atheistic overtones gushing from applied Marxism, and found its practice of slaughtering political or economic opponents and applying severe repression to its captive populations to be very abhorent. They were displeased, too, with its abolition of private property. They were also disenchanted with the way that capitalism seemed to exploit workers and ignore the poor as it continually and obsessively pursued profit above all else. They saw massive injustices being carried out routinely. They were concerned that this profit was going into far too few wallets, and they saw a definite need for a kind of distributive justice. Clearly, there had to be a better way, or a third way, that in practice and outcome would prove to be a viable alternative to both communism and capitalism. So was born the notion of a new economic theory called distributism.
IN PART TWO (coming in a few more days) I’LL COVER DISTRIBUTISM as well as critique it. .