Yesterday, I drafted some musings on the false dichotomy of the two-party political system we have in the U.S. And that prompted me to think about other false dichotomies we have in our society— or, within our “collective conscious,” if you will. And one false dichotomy we’ve been hearing about, in the midst of the two-party bickering (or perhaps at the heart of it?) as of late, and over the course of the past half-century, is the false dichotomy of capitalism vs socialism. 

Since the Cold War and the permeation of socialist and communist agendas in governments across the globe, the term “socialism” has been practically barred from everyday political discourse in the U.S. and is repeatedly used in rallying cries of more conservative politicians and critics. They often use an unspoken and uncritical definition of what socialism really is to assert claims that more socialist policies and practices will lead to a U.S. government that will control citizens’ everyday lives, while simultaneously punishing those who work hard and rewarding those who are lazy and less productive. 

Likewise, we’ve seen the term “capitalism” used in rallying cries of more liberal politicians and critics. They often use an unspoken and uncritical definition of what capitalism really is to assert claims that capitalists want to exploit and control citizens’ everyday lives, as well as all facets and goings-on of government, by controlling all means of production in society and unapologetically lining their overstuffed pockets at the same time. 

The real-world and reactive stereotypes (which are most likely subconsciously held by most Americans at this point) that accompany the terms above are serious. And a critical view of this dichotomy is necessary, as this dichotomy within the U.S. is indeed having dire and serious consequences in modern-day political discourse (or lack of political discourse, really). They are also certainly having a profound impact on how we understand our economic situation on a day-to-day basis, influence how Americans vote, and are certainly guiding policy across private and public organizations. So, I will attempt to explore such a critique of said stereotypes and the terms they are attached to in earnest at a later date or over the course of many blog posts or articles because honestly, a single blog post (this one) can only cover so much at a time and this topic needs a lot of diligent care and attention. These terms should not be taken for granted or used recklessly when they hold such significant weight. 

For now, to get the dialogue about this crucial topic going, here are a few examples that illustrate how this widely believed dichotomy of capitalism vs socialism is indeed false in the real world outside of political punditry— or at least, that it is losing steam more and more every day in the post-Information Age of the post-dawn of the twenty-first century: 

  • Conscious Capitalism, or conscious business enterprises and people, involves those who choose to follow a business strategy, in which they seek to benefit both human beings and the environment.
  • Crowdsourcing is a sourcing model in which individuals or organizations obtain goods and services, including ideas, voting, micro-tasks, and finances from a large, relatively open, and often rapidly evolving group of participants.
  • The Sharing Economy or Crowd-Based Capitalism holds wide-ranging implications of the shift to a sharing economy, a new model of organizing economic activity that may supplant traditional corporations. Real-world examples include Airbnb, Lyft, Uber, Etsy, TaskRabbit, France’s BlaBlaCar, China’s Didi Kuaidi, and India’s Ola. 
  • The Purpose Economy holds purpose as the new business imperative. At its foundation, the Purpose Economy creates purpose for people. It serves the critical need for people to develop themselves, be part of a community, and affect something greater than themselves.
  • Democratic Socialism is a political philosophy supporting political democracy within a socially owned economy, with a particular emphasis on economic democracy, workplace democracy, and workers’ self-management within a market socialist economy or some form of a decentralized planned socialist economy. Democratic socialists believe that democracy and socialism go hand in hand, that both the economy and society should be run democratically—to meet public needs, not to make profits for a few. 
  • Patriotic Millionaires is an organization of Americans with high net worth who promote the restructuring of the American tax system so that wealthy people pay a greater share of their income in taxes. 

The above list is not exhaustive, simply those examples that came to mind first. I am open and eager to learn about more examples and ways in which the false dichotomy of socialism vs capitalism is at least being questioned, or reimagined in some way. 

At the heart, and beginning, of this critique I ask the following questions to start a critical discussion and meaningful dialogue: 

  • If a group of government officials wants to enact a policy that is aligned with values that consider the majority of people in society (especially a policy that benefits a majority of tax-paying citizens) are they really intending the government to have ultimate control over every citizen’s private life… really? Even if that policy places regulations on companies that are polluting said citizens’ water, food, or air, for example?  
  • Is there a way for a version of socialism to exist outside the confines of a governmental administration so that a government isn’t necessarily overseeing it? What would a crowd-sourced government, or a type of government following a purpose within a Purpose Economy look like? Would it be possible one day? How could this be imagined? 
  • If capitalism is unfettered and has no limitations (whether legally or socially), is it really all that competitive and ultimately capitalistic in nature? For example, there is a reason why we have laws to prevent monopolies and antitrust laws. Do such laws and regulations mean we aren’t actually living in a capitalistic society? Or that capitalism isn’t what some of us think it is, as it exists in the real world? 
  • What exactly makes someone a capitalist? What exactly makes someone a socialist? And where along the ideological spectrum does someone who adheres to the principles and ideals of the Purpose Economy or Sharing Economy fall? 
  • Is it only unfettered capitalism that makes things seem dire and inequitable, socio-economically speaking? Would socialism really make things more equitable, socio-economically?  

This dialogue will continue at some point. Stay tuned… 

ADDITIONAL READING: 

Daily Drafts & Dialogues: The Possible Impossibilities of Utopia in 2020

The Guardian: Yes, there is an alternative to capitalism

centerforneweconomics.orgIf You Don’t Like Capitalism or Socialism, What Do You Want?

Bloomberg: Opinion: The Choice Isn’t Between Capitalism or Socialism

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