America: Half Capitalist, Half Socialist

The Biden infrastructure plan is already raising cries of “socialism”, and accusations of attacks on capitalism. But the United States is not a purely capitalist country; it is about 50-50 capitalist-socialist. In other words, America, like all other countries in the world, has a mixed economy.

It is capitalist because we allow commodities to be bought and sold, even though commodity sales are based on speculation that results in inflation. Inflation means rising prices which capitalism thrives on. It is also capitalist because it allows unlimited accumulation of wealth.

Capitalism also allows stockholders to buy permanent shares of a company and receive quarterly dividends from the gross profit of that company ad infinitum. So, gross profits are split three ways: management, shareholders, and workers. Since corporations are run by shareholders themselves, they see workers as competition for gross profits, hence the antipathy between these two factions. Given the relative power of these two forces, you can guess which gets the lion’s share of gross profits

It is capitalist in that it has a market economy, but one that is regulated by the EPA, OSHA, CDC, the Labor Department. These are based on socialist ideas; that’s why the Republican Party, the party of capitalism, opposes these regulators and their regulations.

We are socialist to the extent that several of the 10 principles of the most extreme expression of socialism, Karl Marx’s “Communist Manifesto” (1848) have already been adopted in the United States: (1) a progressive graduated income tax, (2) a “national bank” (although an independent one) that centralizes credit (the Federal Reserve System), (3) free education for all children in public schools, and (4) the abolition of child factory labor.

We also have unions in America, the heart and soul of socialism. Their purpose is to even the playing field in the struggle between workers and management. Social security, state healthcare insurance for poor children under 19 (CHIP) and everyone over 65 (Medicare), the 40-hour work week and eight-hour workday are socialist ideas already come to fruition in the United States.

When Joseph McCarthy, senator from Wisconsin and the House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC) forced communists and socialists out of U.S. unions, criminal syndicates filled the vacuum they left. Not so in Europe. That is why education is practically free in Europe, healthcare is free, and social security is free to taxpayers.

The Soviet Union was held up to us as a typical socialist country, so Americans have the notion that socialism involved tyranny and autocracy. Europeans understand that those who were called “partisans” and “the underground” in WWII movies and TV episodes were, in fact, socialists fighting against the tyranny of fascism.

The U.S. view of socialism, that it is a political system where individual choice is not allowed, has been fostered by the media corporations for decades. Remember, though, ABC, CBS, CNN, and NBC are corporations. They have the same prejudice as other corporations against labor organizations as do other U.S. corporations. That is why we rarely see or hear union leaders or news on national commercial TV or radio or read about them in national newspapers and news magazines.

Unions once represented 35 percent of the working people of American; now they represent about 10 percent. In fact, unions represented all U.S. workers to the extent that corporations found that the best way to fight unions was to raise the salaries and improve working conditions for their own workers.

Socialism favors democracy; corporations prefer autocracy. Company presidents are not elected by employees. They are appointed by capitalist boards of directors and they rule their companies like kings. Since workers far outnumber managers and owners, socialists thrive in democracies, except in weaker democracies that allow the superwealthy to become oligarchs.

So, America is a battleground between capitalism and socialism. It is a struggle between the superrich and their corporations, and the working men and women and their unions. Neither are bad, but capitalism has a flaw that needs regulation: it allows the infinite accumulation of wealth among a few owner families to the detriment of their employees.

The resulting disparity of wealth between the vast majority, the working and professional classes, and the tiny owner class is not only unfair, but it undercuts capitalism itself. The less wealth middle- and lower-class consumers have, the less they buy, hence the less profits for companies and their owners.

The Biden administration needs to restore the balance between these two forces that existed before the 1970s. That means strengthening unions and tightening regulations on corporations and asking the megawealthy to pay their fair share of taxes.

(Williamsport Sun-Gazette, April 13, 2021)
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