So the economy is officially fracked; that much we agree on. But as discussions everywhere from coffee shops to global summits turn to how we should “fix the system”, there is a gross error that occurs in much of this public discourse – about what our society is or isn’t.
We are not a capitalist society.
Instead, we live in a very particular socio-capitalist hybrid. From minimum wage and child labour laws to public fire departments1 and social security, western industrialized nations – even the United States – have socialism woven into their very fabric. A purely capitalist system (lacking these and other attributes) would be unconscionable, even to capitalism’s staunchest defenders. That doesn’t mean we don’t like our open markets; pas du tout. It simply reflects the fact that an economy is unidimensional, and thus insufficient to be the single determinant of the value of things. It must be tempered by rationality and fundamental human rights. Insufficient tempering, or inadequate parameters placed around open markets, is neither sustainable nor desirable.
This has two important implications for the topic at hand. First, it means that capitalism isn’t broken, as some have suggested. It works great, when operating within the correct limits. Second, it reframes the task ahead of us in a psychologically significant way. It’s no longer a question of “does our current system work, or should we adopt a new one?” – given that we’re starting with a rather arbitrarily-drawn line between pure socialism and pure capitalism for our societies in the first place, a gentle redrawing of parts of this line needn’t be a melodramatic and fearsome “new system” at all.
Instead, a return to this better tempering should be seen as a practical, pragmatic, and ideology-free decision.
Side-point: The red-scare rhetoric emanating from the right is, predictably, disingenuous and counterproductive. But the criticisms of Obama as a “socialist” are ridiculous on more than one level. Not only is the label itself rather meaningless in the modern world, but if evaluated at face value, then Obama in fact is a socialist, though only as much as any other American president has been.
- Some would suggest that public fire departments would be classed with police departments and national security as a part of the bare minimum scale that government apparatus must assume to ensure the optimum functionality of open markets, and thus doesn’t contravene the laissez-faire capitalism doctrine. This is a cop-out – public health care delivery could trivially be painted in this light, too. Back to post