Capitalism, Socialism, & Freedom
By: Marcus Perriello | Our Voice Contributor
Capitalism: An economic system in which single solitary individuals control the means of production and make the decisions that dictate the course of a society’s economy.
Socialism: An economic system in which the public controls the means of production and democratically decides on the course of a society’s economy.
Freedom: The absence of theoretical and/or behavioral inhibition.
The concept of Freedom gets thrown around a lot in the world of politics and is often associated with the preferred economic infrastructure from those at the top of the economic pyramid. Not just in Capitalism, but in any economic system, wealth equals power.
The debate between Capitalists and Socialists isn’t just a debate over who should have control over society’s economy. It’s also a debate about the definition of Freedom; more specifically, which form of Freedom we as a society want as our symbol that represents our values and goals.
For capitalists, freedom is defined as the absence of regulation and oversight with regards to their individual pursuits with which they hope to achieve greater wealth and power. But for the socialists, freedom is defined as the peace of mind and assurance of survival without the selfish economic and political dictations from those with greater wealth and power. This presents a truism that is almost never talked about; in economics, freedom is a paradox. What constitutes freedom to the rich constitutes tyranny and oppression to the mass of people. By the same token, what constitutes Freedom to the mass of people constitutes tyranny and oppression to the rich. Because of the limitations on the abundance of natural resources, in combination with the rate at which capitalism has been destroying the means to maintain them, it is literally a fantasy to think that freedom can exist both ways.
Historically, capitalism incentivizes personal enrichment at the expense of the public welfare. Socialism incentivizes the protection and promotion of the public welfare over the greed and ambitions of individual capitalists. Often, we see a power vacuum emerge in various parts of an economy that capitalists work to seize greater control over the whole of the economy, further consolidating the power of society in their hands and leaving the mass of people with fewer and fewer means for legal recourse as the capitalists work to rig the system in their favor. This gives rise to what we know as oligarchy. At this point, capitalism has basically run its course and the race to the top is over. From here, oligarchy takes over and society is forced to engage in a race to the bottom, providing even more power and control for the capitalists, who at this point we refer to as oligarchs.
What we see happening at this point is the expansion of financialization and commoditization. More and more goods and services in society fall under the control of the oligarchs as they move to privatize – and therefore financialize and commoditize – everything. Because the oligarchs desire the accumulation of wealth and power above all else, they not only force the public to have to pay more for what was once either inexpensive or free, but they refuse to provide the public with the income necessary to afford that which the oligarchs are trying to sell. As the public declines in living standards and the opposition to the ruling class grows, the oligarchs seek greater opportunity outside their own borders and the process, along with its inherent consequences, is multiplied. From this, we see, in real time, a Capitalist’s definition of Freedom.
Once a society reaches the pinnacle of tolerance for the behavior of the Capitalists, the movements towards Socialism begin to build and the Capitalists seek assistance in maintaining the status quo, which is defined as Fascism. This is where things get dangerous. Throughout history, Fascism has emerged wherever and whenever capitalists, oligarchs, Lords and Monarchs recognized significant threats to their wealth and power. Each and every revolution over the centuries has been the result of ever-growing inequality within society.
These changes in society’s economic and political landscape never come smoothly, nor over a short period of time. As human beings, we are individuals with our own goals and ideals, which make the progression towards Socialism more challenging than simply floating with the winds of Capitalism. But as inequality continues to grow, and the public realizes they have less and less to lose, unity and solidarity begin to grow. For the most recent evidence of this fact, look no further than the ensuing actions taken by the Poor and Working Class in the United States, post October 29, 1929.
The Great Depression paved the way for the various Working Class movements among America’s Socialist, Communist, and Labor groups that demonstrated just how much power the mass of people can truly have if they recognize who their true enemies are and unite around confronting and defeating them. The election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a gigantic statement to the status quo, letting them know that the American public saw the ideal of Freedom as applying to everyone rather than solely the upper echelon of societal wealth and power.
Out of these movements came some of the U.S.’s most notable and popular socialist programs, including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Public transportation would also become one of the country’s most popular socialist programs. Public housing for those who could not afford to pay the cost of lodgings in a competitive market. Public education K – 12. These would all become staples of shared prosperity across the economic and political landscape and regardless of one’s own economic and political ideology, the vast majority of Americans value these programs more than any other issues that are often debated.
This gave rise to what was called The Golden Age of Economic Expansion, which is often referenced by modern-day capitalists in their arguments for protecting and promoting the status quo, demonstrating their level of ignorance as to exactly what led to that era of American history. It was because of the Socialist movements during the Great Depression that the Baby Boomers and Generation X-ers were able to comfortably navigate their way through life and do things like save for retirement and bargain for better wages. This was a period of American history where the idea of Freedom was most prevalent from the prospective of a Socialist; yet when we hear this argument from capitalists, they equate this notion of freedom to that of a capitalist, once again demonstrating the level of ignorance associated with the nation’s misconceptions about the various economic systems and how they actually work.
Today, as inequality continues to grow and opportunities continue to fade away, interest in Socialism is growing right along with it. After decades of lies and propaganda stemming from the competitive nature of the Cold War, Americans are beginning to reexamine their outlook on life and what they’ve been taught was true growing up. Almost everyone notices that what they’ve been taught and what’s actually happening is not matching up the way they were told things would if they worked hard and played by the rules. They see how capitalism has allowed certain people to amass unimaginable wealth and power while they themselves see their standard of living and opportunities for the future dissipate right in front of their eyes. There is still a great deal of comfort and complacency involved during this process of realization, which makes the eventual rebellion against the establishment that much farther off in the future than would be ideal.
One thing is clear: The American people are beginning to understand that capitalism and socialism represent two diametrically opposing ideals of freedom, and it’s only a matter of time before the public loses more than they are willing to tolerate, at which point they will finally settle on which ideal of freedom they want their country to represent. So far, it’s looking like the socialist perspective of freedom is gaining momentum and personally, I don’t think it’s going to go away this time.