Friday, July 26, 2013

"The 'Down Side' Of The Indisputably Superior Option"

Can I come up with crowd-pleasing blog post titles, or what? 

Winston Churchill famously said,

“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried.”

It is worth noticing that Churchill never said democracy was any good.  He just said that compared to, say, totalitarianism where they kill of lot of people (many of them their own), or Communism, where they kill a lot of people (many of them their own) and promise to share things equally but they don’t, though often messy and disappointing – Churchill also famously said, “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter” – when “marking on the curve” democracy looks pretty darn good.

As with democracy, I would suggest, so with capitalism.  Communism (or Socialism, I am embarrassed to say I am fuzzy on the difference) looks pretty appealing, especially in excruciatingly poor countries, since a shared, albeit miniscule, amount of something is better than an individualized portion or nothing. 

But in practice, Communism seems to inevitably lead to corruption, shortages, a “Black Market” and a lack of individual incentive, which, projected over an entire nation, means that productivity is debilitatingly low.  (Unless there’s one Commie guy picking up the slack by working really, really hard.)

So instead we’ve got capitalism, where everyone goes for themselves and somehow, collectively, it’s better for the country – productivity, innovation, opportunity and overall wealth.  A person invents a better take-home container for Chinese food that won’t accidentally spill orange chicken all over the front seat – that’s good for everybody.  The better-container inventor cashes in, and your car doesn’t smell like Chinese food.

Capitalism.  It’s good.  It’s nice.  People come here to enjoy the advantages of it.  Sure, they also come for the democracy.  But you can get democracy in Luxembourg.  (I think.)  But where in Luxembourg is there a Mark Cuban character who will put money into your better Chinese food container idea?  Or a country where Mark Cuban can get rich enough to do that.

And yet…  And with me, there is always an “And yet…” Without those “And yets”, I’d have nothing to write about.  Well, I would, but it would all be positive.  And who wants to read upbeat crap?

What is the qualifying “And yet” about capitalism?  The accompanying “down side” of the Free Enterprise system?

Winners and losers. 

In an arrangement where everybody is economically equal, there are no winners and losers, because everybody is economically the same. 

“How many things have you got?”


“So do I.”

You see what I mean?

But in a capitalistic country when there is (theoretically) no external impediment to “making it”, how is it going to feel when you don’t?

And by the way, how many of us – not by anyone else’s standard, but by our own definition of “making it” – actually do?

The result of a free and open capitalistic economy is a potential – and recently, it’s being growing – inequality of assets.

“How much money do you have?”

“Four billion dollars.  And you?”

“Eight dollars.”

“Is that on you, or all together?”

“All together.”

“Really?  In the Land of Unlimited Opportunity?”

Triggering the follow-up sentence, either spoken or understood:

“What a loser.”

One person has four billion dollars.  The other person has eight dollars.  In the same country.  A country that allows everyone a (theoretically) equal chance to make as much money as you can.  Somewhere in your brain, do you not have to wonder, whether it is nice to wonder it or not –

“What is that ‘eight dollar’ person doing wrong?

They’ve got eight dollars!  And nobody stopped them from getting more!

“I enjoy spending time with my family.”

Sorry, no!  “Quality of Life.”  I get it.  It’s admirable.  But, Dude, come on!

You’ve got eight dollars!

Capitalism inevitably means competition. 

“Look at this.  I invented…”

“I invented that yesterday.  And I sold it, and there’s my big house.”

Competition in everything. 

“I can spit twenty feet.”

“I can spit twenty-two and change.”

And what does competition inevitably produce?

Winners and losers.

America didn’t invent capitalism – or democracy for that matter – but they Supersized it, culturally encoding this hyper-competitivism into what I have colorfully labeled, “The Gunfighter Mentality”, the original prototype offering two cowboys facing off in the middle of the street, they draw and fire, the survivor’s the winner, and the loser ends up face down in the dust.   

It’s exciting.  Unless you’re the guy lying face down in the dust.  And before that, it was probably even exciting for them.

“Look at me!  I’m in a gunfight!”

And now you’re dead.  Making you worse off even than the person who has eight dollars.

We know that, statistically, in the capitalist system, there are only a handful of unqualified winners.  Which, by definition, makes the hundreds of millions that make up “the rest of us”…


There’s gotta be a better way of looking at things, don’t you think?

“I enjoy spending time with me family.”

I know.  But it’s not quite it.


Mac said...

I love these two Churchill quotes, but as much as you can (legitimately) criticize democracy, and should criticize it - and criticizing it is a factor in what makes it democracy - until we get a better system, it's the best one we've got, or the least-worst one we've got.

Likewise capitalism, which beats the options, but should also be criticized and constantly improved upon. It was after all, supposed to be the way of lifting people out of poverty, giving them a chance to succeed if they were prepared to work hard - and it did that for many people - but it hasn't been doing that lately. Isn't that the big question of our time? We know we want capitalism, but what sort of capitalism do we want?

JED said...

I remember taking a class in high school called "Problems of Democracy". I'm not sure how widespread it was to have that type of class around the country but now that I look back on it, I'm pretty proud of our old steel town high school to have something so bold. Especially back in the 60's when there were Communist conspiracies around every corner. Wouldn't the Commies use any acknowledgement of problems as a way of attacking our system?

But that course had been taught for a long time and I guess everyone realized that it was not meant as a "let's tear down our democracy" but as a "nothing is perfect - let's find the problems and fix them" type of class.

These days, I think, a class of that type would draw the ire of anyone who feels that Democracy or Capitalism are beyond reproach. That's one of the things leading to the polarization of our country (and perhaps the world). It's hard to have a discussion about ways to fix problems if someone jumps down your throat just for mentioning that there might be a problem.

Canda said...

But who in the political world is offering a fix for capitalism, a way to raise all boats? I see politicians on the left pointing out that some people have a lot of money, and others do not, and they're fighting for the middle class. But that's not an economic agenda, or a solution to get people working, so they can improve their situation

On the right, I only see people talking about improving the profits of businesses, not the employees of the businesses.

So, who will have the courage to ask all people to sacrifice for the common good, instead of finger pointing at people who have more?

Anonymous said...

I want to know how long it took Earl to decide thirteen was the funniest number :)