Sometimes people mistake my desire to create a world that works for all people as favoring socialism over capitalism.

Of course, that’s not true. Nor is that even a fair “either-or” consideration of the real world. It is false thinking to believe that one can live in a country with either “pure” socialism or “pure” capitalism and have it work completely for the benefit of the entire society.

A Dynamic Balance

Most healthy and productive countries find an effective dynamic balance between the collective ownership of certain social goods and the private ownership of others.  This is what I favor — finding that “right balance” that both ensures that all people have certain basic rights met while the marketplace continues to encourage innovation and offer one the opportunity to flourish financially and creatively.  Most economic political debates are around finding what we see as that “right balance”.

As an aside…and to be clear, “socialism” as I see it is not a dirty word representative of an economic system that is one step removed from “communist control”, rather it is only one end of an economic spectrum that ranges from “complete social ownership of all means of production” to “complete private ownership of all means of production with no governmental intervention or controls” on the other (this latter end being the myth of the “free market” that many strict libertarians and “neoliberals” like to tout).  Modern groups and individuals who tend to lean towards the more “social” end of the spectrum have tended to use the phrase “democratic socialism” to describe their beliefs and to distance their flavor of socialism from the complete non-democratic control of everyone experienced under communism.

So why is a dynamic balance preferred over the movement to one end of the spectrum (pure socialism) or the other (pure capitalism)? Advocates of one economic system over the other tend to forget certain human truths and needs that get ignored and not met in the “pure” versions of socialism or capitalism.

On the one hand, a complete social ownership of all the means of production tends to kill the innovation and creative spirit that is fed by the possibility of benefiting financially from one’s creation. Consider what happened in the USSR under communism or Cuba for that matter….this point was highlighted recently in watching on Netflix the most interesting documentary series “The Cuba Libre Story”. Under Castro and communism, total governmental control of production improved a few things on the island (one could argue health care improved), but other technological innovation came to a halt. Yet in the 1990s when the government loosened some restrictions on private businesses, people began to exhibit creative ways to generate money.  Cuba still has a long way to go to catch up to the rest of the world in innovation and expression of the creative spirit in the marketplace.

On the other hand, a complete private ownership unfettered by any governmental controls at all leads to social and economic inequities that spiral more and more out of balance leading to a lack of opportunity for those on the bottom.  In such a situation, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. One only look around at what has happened in the United States since the early 1980s when a conservative movement began to lift all government controls. Ronald Reagan proclaimed that “government is the problem” and since that time there have been changes to put more money in the hands of the wealthy, allow the rich a greater voice in our government’s affairs and decisions, a privatization of the “commons” and a slow abolishment of the rules and funding designed to provide governmental oversight of the dealings of business.  The result was not the fantasy of so-called “trickle down economics” that would help the “working people” but instead a worsening of economic inequality in this country.  The perverse incentives that cause corporations and those in power to push to grow their power further is well documented in the film The Corporation (which you can watch here).

Prior to that time, the United States had successfully maintained for the most part for many years a delicate balance on the continuum of social ownership versus private ownership……it is my humble opinion that much of the frustration that voters felt this past year in the United States that led them to supporting Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump was linked to our “out of balance” system where the rich and the corporations held all of the economic and political power.  People wanted change.  Unfortunately for Hillary, she represented the status quo.

Trump’s Agenda?

So Trump is now President and we are getting change.  But is it the change we needed? Some say yes, many say no.

There are two areas of this change that we need to watch and consider as a citizen wanting the best for our country.

The first is how the proposed changes by Trump affect this “dynamic balance” between social ownership and private ownership.

Already Trump is tending to move us more towards the “private” end of the spectrum at the expense of the social commons.  The needs and desires of the Native Americans and their concerns over the protection of their lands and water was ignored by pushing forward the DAPL project which is privately owned. Trump’s Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is an advocate of using public funds for private schools.  Trump’s recent budget proposes major increases in defense spending which favors, of course, private corporations who benefit the most from the build up of our military….and it proposes cuts in many domestic programs, especially the EPA whose efforts to protect the environment are seen as “anti-business”.  Proposals to rebuild our infrastructure call for “public-private partnerships” which bring the private companies into control and ownership of our previously owned public commons in a big way.  The trend is fairly apparent.

My Advice:  Continue to pay attention to the administration’s policies and ask yourself this: “does this favor social ownership of our means of production and our commons or does it favor private ownership?” “Who benefits?  People in general or companies?”  Then consider if that aspect of  privatization that Trump and the Republicans appear to be pushing is in our collective best interest. Does it contribute towards a world that works for all? Again, what is best for us is not having everything publicly owned or privately owned–it is finding the right balance.

Next Time….

And what is that other area we need to watch?  As Trump’s administration continues its push towards privatization, we must consider if it benefits the “market” or “business”.  That topic will be considered next time…

Mark Gilbert


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