A number of things have spurred me to discuss what I’m going to cover in this post. The economy, for one. It’s completely in the crapper. We’re seriously in debt as a country, and even deeper now with the bailout. Conservative politicians yelling, “No new taxes! No taxes, ever!”, don’t exactly help the situation. Apparently, we’re supposed to get a whole lot of something for a whole lot of nothing. If only that were the case . . .
For another, I’m reading A People’s History of American Empire, by Howard Zinn, Mike Konopacki, and Paul Buhle. It discusses the United States of America’s imperialistic designs on other countries and their resources and how this attitude is woven into the fabric of our history, going back to the wresting of U.S. lands from the American Indians. The book is a graphic adaptation and includes reproductions of photographs, along with Konopacki’s illustrations. It shows the reader how often the U.S. government has duped the American people into going to war in order to enrich capitalists. And, frankly, that pisses me off. Of course, the book also points out that whoever disagrees with the government’s desire to go to war will be branded unpatriotic, or thrown into jail, or worse. Patriotism is actually used as a weapon against the people, when, indeed, the most patriotic are those who recognize the government’s faults and speak out about them in order to improve this democratic republic.
Third, I witnessed my husband discussing the Biblical passage concerning Jesus’ miraculous multiplication of the fishes and loaves in an online forum and his interpretation of said passage.
I’m going to start with the Bible passage (from the New Revised Standard Version) – Matthew 14: 15-21:
When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to the heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Now, the really obvious interpretation is to say that this was a miracle performed by Jesus. He multiplied the fish and loaves until there was enough for everyone. But Jesus was known for his parables, for sharing stories with multiple meanings. If we look at the story behind the story (and I’m stealing my husband’s interpretation here), Jesus asks the few who have resources to share what they have with the multitudes who have none. Indeed, the sharing of resources actually produced more than what was needed by the people. I’m sure I’ll get blasted for blasphemy here, but it appears that Jesus was a socialist.
A definition of socialism: An “economic, social and political doctrine which expresses the struggle for the equal distribution of wealth by eliminating private property and the exploitative ruling class. In practice, such a distribution of wealth is achieved by social ownership of the means of production, exchange and diffusion.”(10)
As I said in a previous post, I think socialism is just a fancy term for sharing. What people don’t like about socialism is that it is forced sharing. A particularly rabid form of capitalist, the free market fundamentalist, finds even the mildest form of socialism to be distasteful.
A definition of capitalism: “An economic system based on the private ownership of the means of production and distribution of goods. Also promotes a free market regulated by supply and demand.”
To free market fundamentalists, capitalism is the best thing since sliced bread. Heck, capitalism invented sliced bread. Capitalism can do no wrong. Capitalism will solve all the world’s problems.
After watching the economy collapse and reading A People’s History of American Empire, it is apparent to me that capitalism is not all that it’s cracked up to be. In fact, it can be very good at cracking up the poor masses at the bottom when the upper level capitalists get too grabby. Zinn’s book includes a great term for this upper echelon capitalist: Profiteer.
The galling thing about Profiteers and free market fundamentalists is that they take full credit for their elevated positions, often saying that they got to where they are all by themselves. They don’t stop to think about the employees they have working for them, the education they received, the support of their families, and any other breaks they got. Many of them are quick to denounce taxes because they feel that no one should be able to take away what they worked so hard to earn. They forget that taxes are the means by which they have roads to drive on, bridges for crossing rivers, public schools by which they have an educated workforce, fire and police departments which protect their assets, and a military that gets sent on their behalf to take control of resources to supply their capitalistic enterprises.
Lest you think I’m going to spin off into some full-fledged anti-capitalist rant, what I’m actually trying to point out is that the United States is operating under a blend of socialism and capitalism. No one economic philosophy seems to be able to be maintained for any length of time because time tends to bring out the worst in any system. Why then, do we insist on dichotomizing socialism and capitalism? Why not consciously apply the ideas of socialism to those parts of American society that call for them, and apply the best of capitalism to those things for which it is suited? (As far as I’m concerned, war is capitalism at its worst and we can do away with that.)