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Thoughts on capitalism

Posted by Chance on March 10, 2007

Many people detest capitalism because they claim greed is inherent in the system. After all, the motivation of each person is their own self-interest. However, do people not do the same in socialism? Yes, capitalism does allow for greed. People can accumulate large amounts of wealth and pursue the almighty dollar.

However, in a socialist/progressive society, people try to attain things, only through other means. Instead of attaining material goods through commerce, however, they do so through the arm of government. They vote for people who promise them more things. They vote to raise taxes on other people’s earnings.

Greed can work in both systems. However, a greedy person in a capitalist society will fight to earn and keep more money. In a socialist system, a greedy person will fight to make more money, but they will try to do so through other people.

One may say that the goal of a progressive/socialist society is to only give people their basic needs, not unnecessary material goods that a capitalist society promises. But, I think the goodness of people is given way too much credit. People are not satisfied with the “basic needs” in any type of economy. I don’t think 3 years paid maternity leave is a basic need. I don’t think having a job where it is almost impossible to get fired is a basic need either.

I am personally not a fan of Adam Smith’s, Milton Friedman’s, or Ayn Rand’s justification for capitalism. Their view is that everyone’s self interest makes the world run smoothly. I don’t see capitalism as a success because it is propelled on people’s self-interests, I see it as so because it mitigates the harmful effects of people’s self-interests. In a lawful capitalist society, people accumulate wealth through mutual transactions with other people. In a socialist/progressive society, people accumulate wealth through taxing other people and making others do things for them.

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10 Responses to “Thoughts on capitalism”

  1. Dan Trabue said

    “However, in a socialist/progressive society, people try to attain things, only through other means.”

    I think the difference is that greed is not built in to socialism. It’s not dependent upon everyone being greedy to work, it’s dependent upon everyone agreeing to work together for the common good.

    And that is a problem in socialism, and why I’m not advocating socialism. I’m just saying there’s a fundamental difference in the raison d’etre (I’ve always wanted to use that phrase in a sentence) of the two systems.

    There MAY be some in a socialist system who are greedy and want the gov’t to give them what other people have, but it’s not a fundamental component of socialism.

    On the other hand, looking to your own self-interest IS an inherent factor of capitalism and why I’m not an advocate of strict capitalism either.

  2. Chance said

    “I’m just saying there’s a fundamental difference in the raison d’etre (I’ve always wanted to use that phrase in a sentence) of the two systems.”

    I’m confused. What does fruit have to do with this?

  3. Josh said

    I think that whatever the situation, society in general wants what’s best for the individual. Is this greed? Call it what you will, just make sure to call it the same on both sides of the coin.

    Man is selfish. It doesn’t matter what side of the party line they tote. Sure, I want to help my fellow poor man out, as long as I don’t become poor in the process. How many more Americans agree with me? I think more than are vocalizing it, because it’s shameful to sound selfish & “greedy”. But when push comes to shove, for the most part we are and it’s not a political thing. It’s a spiritual thing.

  4. Chance said

    “On the other hand, looking to your own self-interest IS an inherent factor of capitalism and why I’m not an advocate of strict capitalism either.”

    That may be true, but along with that comes responsibility for one’s self. For instance, I know that it is up to me to feed myself and my family, I cannot depend on the government to do so. That means I have to work hard in my job and I have to do work that means something to other people in exchange for food and clothing. I would say that placing responsibility on other people’s shoulders is an inherent factor in socialism.

    This is my philosophy. Take care of yourself and family, take care of others, but don’t feel entitled for others to take care of you. I feel like socialism, or at least a more progressive/socialist economy, does the latter.

    “But when push comes to shove, for the most part we are and it’s not a political thing. It’s a spiritual thing.”

    Very true. My thought is develop an economic system in which selfishness does the least harm, yet selflessness can flourish. Selfless people I can think of are missionaries. Some I know of are funded by wealthy people. In a more socialist/progressive society, I believe that accumulation of wealth would be hindered.

  5. Josh said

    “Selfless people I can think of are missionaries.”

    True. I think missionaries are the most selfless people I can think of. But is missions totally selfless? I’m not sure.

    Many missionaries feel a “call” to missions work and fulfilling this calling brings them happiness. Selfishness in selflessness? I’m not quite sure.

  6. Dan Trabue said

    “but along with that comes responsibility for one’s self.”

    I’m no socialist, but wouldn’t the democratic socialist say that when The People have voted to take care of others, they are saying the same thing you are? That I want to take care of myself and my family, but I don’t want to accumulate a bunch of other stuff, rather, I want it to assist the needy?

    Isn’t socialism about voting to take care of the Others via gov’t assistance using My (taxpayers) money?

    In the case of socialized medicine, most of the people I hear advocating it are not advocating it so THEY’LL have insurance, because they mostly do, already.

    Rather, they are advocating it because so many of the poor DON’T have it and they perceive the costs of NOT providing health care (actual and societal) are more than the costs of providing it?

  7. Chance said

    Josh,
    That goes to an interesting philosophical question. Are there any truly selfless acts in society?

    Dan,
    I suppose it depends where you are on the economic ladder. If you are lower/lower-middle class, it is in your interest to be Democrat. If you are upper class, no doubt it is in your interest to vote Republican. Should we go with the best interest of the poor? Well, that’s another issue, I’m only concerned about the greed factor right now.

    “Isn’t socialism about voting to take care of the Others via gov’t assistance using My (taxpayers) money?”

    The thing is, it is usually voting to take care of the Others via Others money? And I’m not talking about the morality of doing things with other people’s money, I am talking about the morality of doing things with other people’s money and not your own (you in the broad sense). Many times when government programs need funding the attitude is to simply tax the rich. It’s not a “let’s all pull together and chip in attitude” it’s a “let’s make all the rich chip in some more, they don’t need that money anyway.” When the rich say no, they are accused of greed. This attitude is what turns me off to liberalism. It’s not the issue of collectivism, it’s the issue of collectivism minus my tax bracket and below.

  8. Dan Trabue said

    I, like the majority of Americans I believe, believe in a progressive tax system. I don’t want those poorer than me paying a larger percentage than I do.

    I believe that, to those who receive much, much is expected. Or, put another way, that those who are benefitting most from the system ought to be obliged (and ought to want) to pay a larger percentage.

    The system is working well for we who are doing better. Why wouldn’t common decency suggest that we pay more than those making less?

    I believe that polls suggest that this is the mindset of a majority of our citizenry – wealthy included. Because, after all, the wealthy aren’t monsters hoping to make a bunch and not contribute back, right?

  9. Michael Westmoreland-White said

    Okay, the internet ate my comment, so I am trying again.

    You say that you are not a fan of the kinds of reasons given for capitalism by Adam Smith, Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman. But these are the reasons listed in most standard economics textbooks, and spouted ad nauseum by economics profs and in business schools. What other kinds of reasons are there? In addition to Florida State University, I went to a Christian liberal arts college (I transferred to FSU and found more real faith there!). At my Christian (evangelical Baptist) college, there was a mandatory course on “The Free Enterprise System,” in which the professor mocked simple living, mocked generosity and claimed that no one ever did anything for reasons other than selfishness! I barely passed that class as you might expect.

    In a public company, it can actually be illegal to care about the common good if it does not maximize profits for shareholders!!

    You say that you support capitalism as a check on selfishness, but how does it do this. Government can put checks on businesses that can lead them to make fairer decisions for the common good and for the environment and worker safety–they seldom do this without such government pressure. If government does something wrong, it can be answerable to the people, but companies are answerable only to shareholders (or no one if private) unless government sets rules.
    Sometimes even business leaders want such rules. Auto companies have just testified to Congress that they know they have to make changes to cut carbon emissions and they WANT govt. regs on this so that they have clear guidance and so that each company has the same regs. Market forces alone are not enough.
    Walter Rauschenbusch, father of the Social Gospel, said that in a bad social system even good people are forced to act worse than they would, but that in a good system even bad people are forced to do better than they would. I want a system where it is easier to care for neighbors. Where all have food, adequate shelter and clothing, healthcare, education, and safety, clean air and water, and animals that are not in zoos alone. If what it takes to get such a society is that no one earns a billion dollars, fine. We don’t need billionaires, but we do need basic life and human flourishing for all.

  10. Chance said

    “If what it takes to get such a society is that no one earns a billion dollars, fine. We don’t need billionaires, but we do need basic life and human flourishing for all.”

    And this is what I will address in my next post. If you have a progressive tax system, isn’t having a few billionaires a good thing?

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