Jamestown. Founded by an inspired England for the sole purpose of engaging in business and turning a profit for the crown. Founded on capitalistic ideals that business is a sacred endeavor and supply and demand would guide the market religiously. The humble beginnings of our nation are forged in free market fires, refined by the invisible hand, and hard-set by centuries of prosperity. We made the crown proud, sent back loads of money, and flourished under the system to become a world economic leader ourselves…well done.
I am grateful for the economic genealogy of our nation. Because of our capitalistic roots I have the ability to choose which car I want, what color I want it in, and whether or not to accept the Sirius (TM) package. I have my choice of five kinds of spaghetti sauce. I can decide between shopping at Macy’s, Kohls, or TJ Maxx (my actual shopping is confined to Target’s clearance racks – such is the romantic life of a starving writer). Capitalism enables me the freedom of choice and gives me opportunities that I would have in very few places. I am proud of its function in our society.
Jamestown. Founded by an inspired England for the sole purpose of engaging in business and turning a profit for the crown. Founded on capitalistic ideals that business is a sacred endeavor and supply and demand would guide the market religiously. But we found out that having a free market wasn’t the answer after all. Regulations had to be thrown in the mix; as well as government provision for things like roads, electricity, and national defense because, dang it, turns out the free market doesn’t provide those things as uniformly or with as much quality as the government does. This is socialism.
Even at the inception of our capitalistic beginnings, governing bodies were forced to intervene with regulations in certain situations. Some tobacco farmers planted all their arable land with the crop, which meant little or no food was being produced to sustain the population; it became compulsory to reserve some land for food cultivation. In instances where people were planting there were some that did not contribute their share of work, regulations were enforced to level the workload. From the very birth of our nation, we learned that the free market doesn’t keep things even and balanced at all times, however a few well placed regulations go a long ways to ensure economic stability.
Socialism (regulations) plays an imperative role in today’s world. Some of them keep us healthy by prohibiting ways of processing food or banning harmful chemicals from the farming process. Some of them ensure that we fly safely from one destination to another. Some of them provide boundaries in the way we do business since we have a propensity to be selfish bastards (see: rigged markets and housing bubbles). I am a socialist because I see the positive effects of some government interference by enforcing well placed regulations to various industries, they level the playing field for everyone and keep the economy, and our bodies, healthy.
I know that socialism gets a bad rap, I understand the angst because I grew up in the Cold War era as well and we associate the word with a failed USSR and communism – but I’ll let you in on a secret: There’s a ginormous difference between a system where government provides goods (cars, spaghetti sauce, and clothes) and a system where government provides services (electricity, water, national defense). When the USSR decided to experiment with communism, it took control of goods production rather than letting the free market determine how much bread to make and what to charge for it. The results were disastrous and those who stood in line for hours for a costly loaf of bread became the poster children of a failed system. In the US our government keeps its hands off the free market with regards to the output of goods because well, that’s our foundation by god, and its enabled us to become a leading force in the world. Our government does control national social services by way of our taxes. We pay our taxes, the government uses those monies to pay our soldiers and navy to protect our borders, create infrastructures, and pay our teachers (and even our lawmakers, many of whom denounce socialism with a vengeance yet collect a government paycheck for serving in the hallowed halls of legislation). Socializing national services has a proven success, not just here but across the world. I am a socialist because I can see the benefits of having some regulations in place and government provided services instead of privately provided services.
History demonstrates repeatedly that a mixed economy of capitalism and socialism tends to be best for a nation that wants to sustain economic growth, balance, and subsequent health.
History is also the reason I can claim to be a Marxist. Marxism is merely a historical viewpoint of economics, a perception, a way of looking at socioeconomic structures. It is not an economic system itself like capitalism or socialism (or even communism). Marx was one of the first to point out that economic systems have a history within the human timeline. Initially there was serfdom, then industrialism with its capitalistic ideals, now we are in the era of financialization according to many economists. (An era where corporations make their money from paper transactions associated with the stock market instead of making their money with actual production and sale of goods.) As a historian, I am somewhat bound to acknowledge the Marxist viewpoint that we can understand our economic progression through the lens of history – it is as valid a perception as any. (As a historian, I am also bound to acknowledge that the economic system of communism, Marx’ utopian ideal for a nation, has proven itself implausible as a viable economic system.) A Marxist view simply correlates our history as a growing social animal with the economic systems we employ along the way. To that end, I am a Marxist as well. It’s really not as scary as it sounds, which is the whole point of this exercise.
Much is lost in our national conversation because we are unaware of our economic history and have accepted a certain amount of fear with some of the words we use to describe it. We lose sight of the fact that we’ve been a capitalist AND socialist nation since our inception. We lose sight of the fact that both systems work well to compliment each other. We lose sight of the fact that we are a world leader because of the mix.
Words are only as powerful as the meanings we attribute to them, and in the case of economic systems where we are required to make educated decisions as voters, it is imperative to have a clear understanding of definitions and the history of their employed success- or failure.
Only then can we separate the voices of fear-mongering from the voices of logic. Thanks for participating in this exercise.