Socialism and Capitalism in the Election Wars

None of the candidates for president can use either of these words as anything but an insult.  And they are right.  Pure capitalism or pure socialism would be a horror for people living under either one.  But purity is overrated.  I alwahs  return to Aristotle, the virtue always residing in the center of the fulcrum between its extreme and its opposite. Capitalism champions freedom, socialism champions equality.  But none of us want to live in a society of total freedom.  Remember the four freedoms? Freedom of speech and religion, freedom from want and fear? Both capitalists and socialists pay lip service to the first two.  In order to sort out the conflict,  we need to add another pair, because there are not just freedoms of and freedoms from but also freedoms to–freedom to succeed, freedom to fail.

Capitalism in its purest form adds the last two freedoms while dropping the freedoms from. We all want the freedom to succeed.  The freedom to fail, maybe not so much, although it is inherent in pure capitalism.  Without the freedom to fail, there are no consequences to mistakes, excessive risk-taking, or bad judgment. The discipline of the marketplace is essential to capitalism, which is why a real capitalist doesn’t endorse freedom from want and fear.

Socialism has the opposite problem. Socialism protects us from want and fear by guaranteeing equality independent of effort.  We lose the incentives which are a key aspect of the success of capitalism.  Without incentives to work, to try, to succeed, there will be less innovation, less productivity, and a lower standard of living for everyone.

So in the real world of the muddled middle in which we live, we cobble together a blend of capitalism and socialism.  We provide a floor, a social safety net offering a minimally adequate access to housing, food, and health care, but if you want more than the bare minimum, you have to earn it.  The debate going on not just this year but for my entire lifetime (which has been pretty long) is not between the extremes but exactly where we think that muddled middle should be..  The much-maligned moderate is the one who is willing to tweak, to compromise, to realize that sometimes the best is the enemy of the good enough.  That’s what I want in a presidential candidate, and for the most part, that is what we have elected in the last 70 years. Let’s hope we can find that candidate again.




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