I’ve been seeing a lot of signs and posts opposing Capitalism. And, I think a lot of it is valid. In the effort to win the Game of Capitalism, many cruelties and miseries have been inflicted on those less fortunate. What’s even harder is that we have no choice but to play the game. It’s not like we buy tickets to a Capitalist game or choose to bet our house on the ending score. No, it permeates our society. You can’t get away from it.
One definition of Capitalism is: “an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.”
That’s a pretty benign definition of Capitalism.
People often take this to take this to be a freedom, a freedom to make their own way in the world, and if they win, they enjoy the rewards of their work.
And really, isn’t this what we really want? I know I do. I want to be able to make my own way in the world. I want to work hard, achieve my goals, and be rewarded for it.
But the game isn’t working that way, is it? There are people with two or three jobs who still can’t afford a small apartment in Seattle. Education has become so unaffordable, that the youngsters with talent aren’t allowed to grow that talent. We have -isms running all over place that make no sense except to remove people from the playing field. You’re poor. You’re a woman. You’re African American. You’re old. And yes, you’re a white male pops up as well.
A Good Society
Any good society needs certain things, even if there are a million paths to get there.
We need education. We need health care. We need basic needs of safety, shelter, food, water and clean air to be met. Everyone must have a place in society.
We need certain functions to be in place. We need garbage collectors, mail carriers, cleaners, construction workers, grocery clerks, farmers and teachers. We need all the different types of functions in order to operate efficiently.
Think about it. If we had to deal with our garbage ourselves, either we’d be spending entirely too much time on it to get anything else done, or else we’d just pile it up somewhere, like many neighborhoods or cities do. Piling it up means rodents, filth and sickness. Garbage collectors are the most important people on the planet, in my opinion. It’s a dirty job. A filthy job. A necessary job.
Our greatest, most valuable resource, is the children. They need to be nurtured and educated. They need to find their place in the world, each according to their abilities. A kid on welfare who has a knack for biology should have a path to become a biologist.
What would our world look like if everyone could find what they’re best at and the do that thing?
Some may say, well if everyone is a scientist, who will collect the garbage? The truth is that even with every opportunity a person may have, they may not have the desire or motivation to do the work. I know people who love to clean houses. They get to save their energy for personal projects. I would love to be a mail carrier. I’d be able to have time to think all my esoteric thoughts and since I don’t like to sit down, it would be perfect.
Each to their own ability. If the opportunity is there, and a person doesn’t grab it, well, the opportunity was there.
But that isn’t the way it is, is it? No, it isn’t. And because of that, Capitalism is decried and Socialism becomes idolized.
A definition of Socialism is: “a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.”
That’s a pretty benign definition of Socialism.
People often take this to mean equality, universal health care, better social services, government control over everything, and a flatter distribution of wealth.
And really, with the exception of government control (nod to the Republicans and Libertarians), isn’t that was we all want? To be assured of our own safety in this world? To be confident that if something goes wrong, we have people to help us?
But Socialism doesn’t often work that way does it? There are still people in mansions. And government is slow as it is, how can they be expected to make sure there’s bread at the grocery store? A picture we often see depicting Socialism is that of long lines to get the thing everyone desperately needs.
We are in a hard spot because neither system works. And they don’t work for the same reason. The reason neither system works is because we, as humans, have values that have been drilled into us since the day we became cognitive.
What’s true is that, even though many won’t admit it, competition, especially in terms of bettering our own lives, is very high on our value list. It seems to be a major need, to find a way to make things better for ourselves and our families. If you talk to the “Redistribute the Wealth” people, they want that wealth to help make things better for themselves.
The yard stick of our Capitalistic society is wealth. The playing field is competition. We are motivated into action, not necessarily for the action itself, but what we, or our causes/values, get out of it.
And, we are always competing. We compete against each other for the best mates, the best houses, the best jobs, and the best value systems. You think women wear makeup for men? No! We’re competing against other women. Most men could give a crap about makeup. Think about the term “frenemy.” That term takes into account a friendship that’s based on rivalry, on competition. It’s in our nature.
Many think that Socialism, or even Communism (in its purest form), is the right way to go. On paper, it sounds ideal and fair.
But unless we can satisfy ourselves with competition, it never works. People become lazy and disheartened. We NEED something to strive for. We need competition. Without it we become depressed. Pure Socialistic societies end up with people having to stand in line for bread because no one is motivated to bake the bread in the first place.
Because of this drive to win, the need to compete, any system we end up with MUST take it into account. If we don’t, we end up with populations who are living low while the elite live high. Even in Socialistic societies.
The thing that makes us human, the ability to ponder the future, to come up with ideas, to generate more for ourselves and our families, and to win, is also the thing that is makes any system vulnerable.
A New System
It may sound like I’m decrying this impulse to win, to better ourselves. I’m actually not. I think it’s needed. It’s how we generate new ideas and solutions. It’s how we create new products. It’s how we grow.
What really needs to change is the yardstick. Currently, having more money, bigger houses, better vacations, etc., is the yardstick. It’s very narrow and usually only includes us and our family. Sometimes it includes all your employees or the community (in great companies). Who is the wealthiest person in the world? Who has the biggest market share? Who makes the most? These are questions that even the wealth redistribution folks are concerned with. Even though they speak out about it, it’s still one of their values.
What I would love is to have a Capitalist society that has Socialist values. Where the yard stick goes from “How much can I better my own life” to “how can I better everyone’s life, including my own.” We see some of it in this “Age of the Virus”. Billionaires donating huge sums of money to charity, or CEOs taking a pay cut to ensure their employees can keep their jobs.
But this is the exception. And those who do it are not as celebrated as they should be. Other CEOs tend to think the givers are being naïve, and many of the masses see it as an entitlement, there’s not even a “thank you”. Why should they be so generous if they aren’t going to win? In the way we are currently playing the game, and the value system of all the players, people are just not motivated to be so generous.
The only way we can have a Capitalist society that has Socialist values is to change our value system. As long as wealth is the highest value, the game will continue, and those who play the best will earn the rewards.
Side Note: I come from a hard background. Because of that I have a baseline that I use to set how I feel about my own circumstances. The good life to me is 1) Living in a place that is physically safe 2) Having food to eat 3)Having clean sheets periodically and 4) being able to do what I love the most (for me that’s classes and learning) If I have that, I’m doing okay. I feel good about myself. If I can afford anything else, I’m rich. Can I buy bacon? Can I go to visit my brother Kelly in Omaha? Can I buy the nice shampoo? If yes, I’m doing very well. I don’t feel envy because you own a house. Or because you have a BMW. Or because you vacation in France every year. I just don’t. My life aligns with my values.
I have an old friend who came to visit. She became very jealous of my nice shampoo, she even said something about it to me, shaming me a bit about having it. This is a woman who built her own house and just bought 3 sets of bamboo sheets for her bed. She is envious of everything anyone has that she doesn’t have. She doesn’t see the irony of the fact that she could have had the special shampoo if she’d limited her sheet set purchase to 2 sets. I have one set of sheets myself. When we went to beach, she was scandalized because I paid the extra $60 dollars so we could have a room on the top floor, with a view of the ocean. She didn’t see that if she’d limited her sheet set purchase to 1 set, she could have paid that $60. She goes into debt trying to have everything everyone else has. I try to pay as little as possible for what I need, so I have more money for what I want. And my wants are small. An improv class. The nice shampoo. The room with a view.
We need the competition, yes. We need ways of scoring so that we can see if we’re winning or losing. We need it so that we are motivated to move forward.
But maybe it’s time to change that yardstick. Instead of “I’m the wealthiest person in the world” being something to aspire to, why not “I put 10 kids through college. And they all have jobs waiting for them when they’re done.” Or, “I sponsor the schools in my city and have purchases pianos and other instruments for them.”
We can’t get rid of the competition, but maybe, just maybe, we can change the way the game is played.