Beaton column: This isn’t capitalism
I am tired of hearing people bandy about labels like capitalism, socialism, communism, conservatism and liberalism when they have hardly even a vague idea about what these terms mean.
Let’s begin with the widely held notion that the present U.S. economic system is capitalism. It is not.
A capitalist system is supposed to consist of a myriad of small to large (not huge) businesses, no one or several of which is large enough to dominate the market or fix prices or buy the government or be “ too big to fail.” We used to enforce antitrust laws for the exact purpose of making sure no corporation became big enough to dominate its market or anything else.
Instead, our present economy is dominated by huge, multinational corporations, including banks, that not only dominate their markets but have literally bought our government. They are thus able not just to fix many prices but to ensure that the will of the majority of U.S. citizens is thwarted.
The people’s desires to keep good jobs at home, to break up big banks, to have affordable health care, to pass laws protecting the environment and the health and safety of workers, to legislate anti-poverty programs, invest in infrastructure, etc., etc., are all thwarted by this oligarchy (rule by the very rich).
In a well-run capitalist system, the banks are supposed to finance productive enterprises. Our huge banks do very, very little of that. Instead, they use their trillions and trillions of mostly ill-gotten gains almost entirely for their incessant gambling on more and more exotic financial instruments. Some economists call this “casino capitalism.”
And these huge corporations and the very rich that own and run them care nothing about the welfare of the U.S. They use every opportunity to give themselves not only low taxes but special tax breaks, and they outsource more and more jobs to enjoy cheap labor along with virtually no regulation of their activities.
Then people like to decry “socialism” as though it were something horrible. And everyone professes amazement that we should even consider a candidate like Bernie Sanders, who used to call himself a socialist. (He now calls himself a progressive.)
There is absolutely no one definition of socialism. So it is foolish to denounce it without specifying a particular economic/political program. The U.S.S.R. used to bandy about the words socialism and communism, but of course neither Karl Marx nor any other respected communist or socialist theorist would consider that the U.S.S.R. practiced either. The U.S.S.R. was simply a dictatorship, period.
Then all the countries that may be loosely categorized as practicing “democratic socialism” — the Scandinavian countries, Canada and, to some extent, Germany, France, and other European countries — all have different interpretations and systems. Probably the first program of socialist reforms was instituted by conservative 19th century German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. He was trying to save or conserve free enterprise and monarchy.
And, as far as Bernie Sanders goes, his present program is very mildly, if at all, socialistic. It’s really all quite similar to FDR’s New Deal, which was another attempt to rein in and reform a supposedly capitalist system that had run amok and failed the vast majority of the people.
In fact, one may well be justified in calling Bernie Sanders a conservative since the main thrust of his program involves conserving the middle class, breaking up the “too-big-to-fail” banks and other corporations that have perverted our economy and government, and in general, returning us to the fairer distribution of wealth we enjoyed during our prosperous post-war decades, 1950-1980. He is also strong on conserving our planet and its climate.
As for the term “liberalism,” I wish it would just disappear since nobody knows exactly what it means.
The fact is that in all cases, the devil is in the details. You can’t know what you’re talking about without studying the details. We all need to avoid loose talk about various “isms,” which are as concrete and down-to-earth as clouds. We need to look at the specifics instead.
Fortunately, today it’s very easy to go online, Google each candidate and see exactly what his or her program entails. And if you don’t find enough detail, scratch that candidate. We shouldn’t have to vote politicians into office before finding out what they plan to do.
And so far, the only candidates willing to tell us exactly what they think and plan to do are Sanders and, to a lesser extent, Rand Paul. Trump has been explicit about little other than walls. Hillary has perfected the art of vague.
So I don’t care about labels or whether the candidates are male, female, transgender, white, red, yellow, black or blue. I just want to know precisely what they think and plan to do. And I want to see a past record that gives me confidence they will not go back on their word.
Glenn K. Beaton’s Aspen beat column appears on the third Thursday of each month. Correspond at theAspenbeat@gmail.com. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.
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