16 Responses to Beyond Capitalism and Socialism

  • As we face the most difficult times that the human race has yet to experience, I think that it is important that we emphasize that the concept and the term socialism was born out of compassion.

    Before Robert Owen “coined” the term socialism, cooperative communitarianism or mutualist communalism were ideas put forward by intellectuals and advocates of the oppressed in a brutal feudal and emerging Capitalist economic system. They were eutopian dreams of equity (equality in proprietership), put forth by altruistivc thinkers and taken to heart, mind, and body (thus the beginnings of class struggle, a struggle against a brutally oppressive and exploitative system)by some of the peasants, some of the artisans and, as industrialization set in, a new more dehumanized class, the factory worker.

    It was in light of the depraved conditions, particularly of the last, and with population growth, the enclosure movement, the waning influences of the established charities of the Catholic Church, that in England, the aristocratic, paternalistic, parliamentarian mill owner, Robert Owen, campaigned for the increased role of the State to improve the conditions of the workers and the indigent, and that he suggested that the ideas of the workers’ “movement” be termed “Socialism” to include such.

    “Socialism” and its predecessors, got a bad connotation because of sporadic violence in reaction to oppression. Such was the origin of the term “anarchist”, originally a derivise term used against the early cooperative communitarians who occasionally fought back against active oppression. The term Anarchist, which eventually would be adopted as a “positive” tendency by some Marxists was used, in the early days, to turn public sentiment against the Cooperative Communitarians.

    Of course, the history of bloodshed between the Capitalist/Feudal establishments and Marxist/Leninist/Maoist strikers and soldiers and the eventual expropriations that came with the eventual victories of the latter have given the terms “Socialist” and “Communist” negative connotations.

    As a lover of life, a Friend, I abhor violence.

    Socialism, at least, should take care of those that can not take care of themselves. That aspect of it, by itself, makes it an improvement in economics(i.e. the management of the home)and consistent with one of the pillars of Islam, the giving of alms. The more “utopian” (“eutopian” means “good place”, “outopian” means “no place”) aspects of cooperative communitarianism or mutualist communalism such as an economy dedicated to meet the needs of all founded on the principles of inclusion, equity, humanity, quality of life in lieu of maximization of consumption and waste, environmental/public health and wellness, sustainability, and peace (the hoped for result)which seeks to inculcate that all men are brothers, all people kin, are worth consideration when dedicating thought and communication towards the progress of the human race.

    As the laws of nature (survival of the fittest) are horrendously cruel and have been taken to the ultimate by the human species, and thus there will always be motivations of competition that can be divisive between individuals, within communities (however defined) and among communities, we must use every opportunity and devise that we are able to counteract such, to truely establish our humanity.
    Given the fact that we can communicate like never before, let’s use it! Let’s declare the future a new era, an era of speciation that brings about the ideal of mankind, the evolution to Homo Cooperativa.

    I believe that Hugo Chavez is a peace loving man. I hope tha Hu Jin Tao is a peace loving man. Despite the policies thus far exhibited (e.g. Afghanistan and Pakistan), I’d like to believe that Barack Obama is a peace loving man.

    Left to their own motivations and momentum, men will fight. There is no such thing as a good fight.

    Forget “command and control”, what we have in mind is “plan and implement”.

    Let’s work together!

    In Peace, Friendship, Community, Cooperation, and Solidarity,

    Mike “Cuthbert” Morin
    Eugene, OR, USA
    wiserunion@earthlink.net
    (541) 343-3808

  • Blackadder says:

    Joe,

    You’re right that employee-owned firms have certain advantages over traditional firms. I’ve seen studies, for example, suggesting that absenteeism is lower at employee-owned firms, and in general better worker morale can translate into higher productivity. On the other hand, employee-owned firms are also subject to certain disadvantages, as I’ve discussed before. The question is whether the advantages stemming from worker ownership outweigh the disadvantages. The small number of employee-owned firms relative to traditional firms suggests that, in most circumstances, the answer to this question is no.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    My response to those criticisms is that this is predominantly a cultural and political problem. I am highly doubtful of the notion that in the vast majority of cases, business owners compare a worker-ownership model with a traditional model and decide on the latter with reference to the advantages and disadvantages of each. Rather I think the alternatives are not a part of the culture and thus do not come to as many people’s attention.

    Let’s take a look at the situation in Europe, for instance, where the cultural climate is different. Throughout the last two decades there has been a sharp increase in employee ownership in Europe. 30% of firms with more than 200 employees in the European Union have share ownership, while 45% have profit sharing. These are hardly small numbers, and the trend is toward their increase.

    Even in the US, there are now more workers participating in ESOPs than there are in unions. The number of firms that are extending voting rights to employee stock holders is on the rise. The trends aren’t rapid – but I think they could be accelerated through tax incentives and through more public promotion of the idea.

    Worker ownership, in general, in the broadest sense of the term, is an upward trend. If we were only to compare the fully owned and controlled cooperative to the traditional capitalist firm, then of course we would find a great disparity. If we broaden our criteria, and I have no problem doing so (for I am not some kind of ideologue), then the picture for employee ownership looks better.

    As far as I am concerned, then, the challenge is to accelerate an already positive trend.

  • Blackadder says:

    Joe,

    I will grant you that if you’re counting profit sharing at places like Wal-Mart then sure, employee ownership is on the rise. The question of how far it will or should go, however, is not one that can be decided on ideological grounds. To the extent that employee-ownership is a net advantage for firms, they will adopt it or will be out-competed by firms that do, and there will be no need advocate on their behalf. To the extent they are a net disadvantage, advocating them will be pointless if not positively harmful.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Well, I respectfully disagree. Catholic social teaching is not “ideology”; it is the political theory that follows from the teachings of the Gospels and the Church. The social encyclicals make clear that we have an obligation to work towards a society in which the dignity of all people in all capacities is respected, and that is why each of them have, not “pointlessly” advocated worker ownership in general.

    The aim here is also to reconcile two political factions that both have legitimate points to make about the economy and society. Economics will never occur in a political vacuum, ever; any system that fails to take into account political realities will simply fail, period. The people, in a political way, will always seek to intervene in the economy and shape it to their will. Now, we can try and steer this intervention down a path that will actually preserve all of the elements of free enterprise that we value, or we can look the other way and let come what may. I think that way leads to statism from above and communist and/or fascist movements from below.

    I know it is frustrating to the economist, with his mathematical models and statistical data, that human beings become dissatisfied with their circumstances and seek to change them. But there are other objectives that are as if not vastly more important than economic growth and efficiency; political and social stability to name one, the dignity of workers and all citizens to name another. An economic system that fails to provide these important non-material goods is simply materialism, it is the antithesis of a spiritual and humane world view.

    The bottom line is that employee owned enterprises exist, they function, in many cases, they succeed (I doubt the success-to-failure ratio is vastly different than the typical business, but I can’t say for sure), and even if an economy that was mainly comprised of them did not grow as fast as one that was not, I see no reason why rapid growth – which can become unstable and lead to meltdowns anyway – needs to be the goal to which all policy is subordinated.

  • American Knight says:

    Great topic. Joe the way you led us into the employee-ownership corp was gentle and I did not get the usualy gut-wrenching feeling that falls upon me when words like social justice, equality, charity (lower case C) employee-owned, etc. are used these days.

    You also bring up a great point and one I struggle with all the time. The perversion of language. When freedom is slavery you know that nothing has any meaning. Orwell hit it right on the head. I think that is one of the reasons most of us traditionalists prefer Latin for the Mass. It is a dead language so we need not worry about changing definitions. Sadly, English is the most dynamic language. Don’t get me wrong I love English, especially American English; however, political English aka politically correct English (is that an oxymoron, I mean it is discriminatory in and of itself becuase it excludes everything other than English!!??) is messing things up rapidly.

    Although I think I agree with many of your assertions I am inclined to agree with Blackadder. It would seem to me that a protected free market would have no problem with employee-owned firms, or for that matter with firm’s that are not employee-owned. It would be very interesting to see which model would be more beneficial to the employees. Of course, to do that we’d have to actually have a free market that is protected from interference by criminals, grifters, bureaucrats, regulators and subsidized foreigners.

    Sadly I think as long as people are financially and economically illiterate, unable to employ critical thinking and think beyond stage one and the language is perverted so that four legs good, two legs bad and freedom is slavery rule our brave new world, what we are discussing is just a dream.

    We have some basic foundations to build so that we can build a truly free society and weave Catholic teaching into its cultural fibre and defend it from the enemies and the Enemy.

    We can always hope becuase Rome wasn’t built in a day, nay it wasn’t even built in a century. The Old Roman Republic had similar problems to those we are facing today and they strenghtened the Republic, well, at least for a while – we know what eventually happened. I wonder if generations from now they will be lamenting the fall of America or her resurgance from near anarchy/totalitarianism?

  • afl says:

    Excellent disertations. I have a question for the experts..Why is it that there are many large firms that are not unionized or have ESOPS ( over 50,000 to 100,000 employees ) , yet their employees have all kind of perks and they are succesful and their employees are very happy and content in their jobs. I worked for one for 34 years and they continue to have Defined Benefit Plans in addition to 401 (k)s with good employer matches and health plans that are paid for on a basis of years of service up to 90%. plus many other benefits on vacations, day care, educational aid, etc. plus retirement benefits that are geared toward benefiting retires. Firms that did not take the government bail out and continue to increase their employee loyalty and productivity. They are active in their community and support them and are generous toward charity organizations.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Afl,

    Those are all fine benefits as well. It’s not like I’m opposed to them. But there are a lot of people who aren’t happy and content, whose benefits have been cut, whose pension funds have been raided. In the future, ownership and control, which will lead to greater transparency and accountability, will prevent those at the top from getting away with the massive corporate capers that have destroyed the livelihoods of millions of workers.

    The research shows, moreover, once again, that employee owners work harder and are more satisfied in their jobs than their non-owning counter parts on the whole. It isn’t hard to understand why.

  • Kyle Cupp says:

    Being the good postmodernist that I am, I’m skeptical that there are “the true forms” of economic systems, but I concur that capitalism, socialism, and other economic systems have both much to offer one another and society in general and much that needs diligent and caring criticism (deconstruction), especially from those who advocate each system.

    A well presented and structured argument here, Joe.

  • afl says:

    Mr.Hargrave. I believe you missed my point or I have missed your point. Go the Fortune 500′s list of the 2009 Best Companies to work for by their employees and tell me how many have ESOPS. ESOPS have never been the answer to a 100% gaurantee of a well run company or happy and productive employees and many of the employees who suffered the worse in the ecomomic downturn were employees who held stock in employer owned companies. Check it out. Companies that rid themselves of Defined Benefit Plans and went to only 401 (k) plans or stock option plans or other employee profit sharing plans took similar hits and have many unhappy employees of the ones that were forunate to keep their jobs.

  • Micha Elyi says:

    “I tend to think I am doing something right if people from both ends of the political spectrum are rabidly attacking me.”–Joe Hargrave

    A more humbling alternative is that your ideas are so bad, Joe, that even the wrong side of the issue refuses to embrace them.

    “Attachment to labels is part of the problem I encounter when putting forth alternative economic ideas.”

    I’ll say! The phrase “Catholic social teaching” is not a Holy Hand Grenade to be thrown out as a way to cow anyone who disagrees with you. (The same goes for your magic word “Distributism.”)

    Also, the folks you call “right” understand socialism exactly the way the left does: it’s State control of the means of production. The difference is that one group recognizes that as a violation of the natural law and therefore abhors it. The left loves it.

    As for the label “capitalism,” recall that its popularizer was Karl Marx who fully understood that if he were honest about his opposition to what Adam Smith identified as the system of natural liberty, only a tiny, envy-ridden minority of people could be persuaded to abandon it. Thus, Marx propagandized the use of the ersatz label “capitalism” as a caricature of the genuine thing.

    Good luck to you on getting straight with all the other labels you use in your writings on political economy, Joe.

    “I doubt the average ‘tea party’ protester would call Benjamin Franklin a ‘socialist’ for establishing the post office.”

    Why the scare quotes, Joe?

    In my experience, the average tea party protester recognizes the Post Office is a socialist institution. Likely, the average tea party participant will understand it as something that in its day was a necessary evil. However, by concluding that this means Benjamin Franklin is a socialist (i.e., one for whom socialism is ones political goal in all things) is to construct an especially flimsy straw man, Joe.

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    “Within Catholic social thought, labor always has primacy over capital – the human rights and dignity of the worker always take a great moral precedence over profit.”–Joe Hargrave

    This doesn’t mean what you think it means, Joe H. Else, the Church would have liquidated all its capital long ago to feed the poor.

    “When a worker is reduced to a cog in a profit-making machine, to be granted the necessities of life while it is convenient and yet denied them when it is not, it is a violation of human rights.”

    In the system of natural liberty, a worker is not “granted” his wage. He earns it. Using labels sloppily leads you to confuse what is earned with a gift. Subsequently, Joe, you end up worse than wrong about what is “a violation of human rights.”

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    You don’t engage my arguments – you engage in a series of bitter, sarcastic comments that have nothing to do with anything I’ve actually argued. It’s like a case study in poor reading comprehension skills.

    “Also, the folks you call “right” understand socialism exactly the way the left does: it’s State control of the means of production.”

    In this country it has been associated with simple welfare programs and government regulation. Of course some of the more educated folks on the right understand that the minimum definition of socialism is state ownership of the means of production – that is why I clearly, for any honest, literate person to read, acknowledged that not everyone shares the definitions I was providing and that plenty of people understand the more traditional definitions.

    Secondly, the word “capitalism” was used by the French physiocrats decades before Marx – and is used by all of its defenders. Do you send bitter emails to the Von Mises people or the Objectivists for using the word too? I’d love to see a forwarded copy. Or maybe now you’ll stop making these ridiculous nitpicks about a word that everyone uses in a desperate attempt to find something to complain about.

    “However, by concluding that this means Benjamin Franklin is a socialist (i.e., one for whom socialism is ones political goal in all things) is to construct an especially flimsy straw man, Joe.”

    Are you serious? My statement obviously shows that it DOES NOT follow. The point is that if the post office isn’t socialist, governmental programs cannot be socialist by DEFINITION. Are you that dense?

    “This doesn’t mean what you think it means, Joe H.”

    You have no idea what I think it means. You read whatever the hell you want into everything I write, and you couldn’t care less about my actual views. Read Laborem Exercens sometime – read the encyclicals some time. Read the Bible some time. You have nothing to every support these bitter critiques of yours, no Scripture, no saints, no Catholic thinkers or Popes, just Micha’s raw, unfilitered, Randroid musings. It’s as sad as it is boring to watch you in action.

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