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Essays on Stuff & Things

Capitalism vs. Socialism

This is in response to the November 3, 2017, debate aired by C-SPAN:

"Capitalism and Socialism Debate Editors and academic scholars took part in a debate focusing on the ideologies of capitalism and socialism. Reason.com editor in chief Nick Gillespie and Reason Magazine editor in chief Katherine Mangu-Ward argued in favor of capitalism. In contrast, Jacobin Magazine editor Bhaskar Sunkara and New York University sociology professor Vivek Chibber, argued in favor of socialism. New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg moderated the event held at Cooper Union Great Hall in New York City."

Note that we ain't scholars. We are a group of "students of learning," well versed in science and history, aka. "Intellectuals." OK? OK.

A bit of an editorial preface. There appears to be no transcripts available. That this is so often the case with these things is an affront to journalism and the Internet, but it is wholly within the realm of capitalism. The content is "owned" and you must play or pay by their "rules" - e.g. podcast subscribe on itunes.com, listen on soundcloud.com, view on youtube.com or view/purchase video/audio at C-SPAN. (More, and links, below.)

First, and a bit more editorializing, the "Capitalists" obviously held much contempt for the "Socialists," with Mangu-Ward at times ridiculing her debaters (that was our take; obviously, transcripts...). The socialists remained calm, though at times used terms like, "That is just not true."

The audience - which is why having just transcripts is also a bad idea - responded more often louder to the socialist's arguments.

The Debate Basics

The basic arguments for by the capitalists was "freedom," "private property" and "producing crap" (Gillespie's word for "goods"), which has risen society to such grand heights and standards of living that capitalism is just so obviously the better. (And true, of course, but with caveats described here later.) They held a nearly mythical, worship or capitalism and had nothing but praise for it.

The basic arguments against by the socialists was there is little to no freedom in the workplace, and most people's free time outside of work is spent preparing to go back to work; that poverty and poor health still exists for a large portion of society; that public education and everything else public is being ruined by privatisation. (All true, of course, but with caveats described here later.)

An Historical Perspective

For thousands of years more than most people think, there were vast land-based trade routes, trading in bronze, gold, silver, gems and "spices". Bronze is an alloy of copper and tin. There is some of each in Europe - Cyprus comes from the Latin word for copper - and the Phoenicians sailing to the British Isles to bring tin back to Asia Minor. Julius Cesar built a highway from Rome to the English channel for it. But more of both exist in the Far East. In Thailand is found both together.[2]

Thence on to ever bigger sailing ships, for ever longer trades, ever larger cities, for an ever growing populous, to the ever growing need for more and more resources - especially trees for all these ships and cities and fire for warmth as well as smelting more and more iron-alloyed tools with which to make all this growth possible.

Capitalism started with rulers financing adventurers - with banks and interest and "return on investment" - to sail ever farther for the stuff the rulers wanted and needed. The "rulers/clergy" were the (ahem) wealthy 1% of the population up until the Industrial Revolution enabled by the discovery of coal (sea coal as it was first known, being first found exposed along the cost of England).[3]

These trade routes - land, sea and river - were monopolies, overseen by Kings and Queens and Popes, and with them, as we now know it, came top down "executors/executives" using "laborers/workers" as property to produce "luxury/goods" for their "rulers/government". What goods there were for the majority of the populous was small. A trickle.

The Roots Of Modern Capitalism

After the finding and founding of the Americas, a major difference between the growth of North America and of South America was that the newly created idea of "working a piece of land" for production by ordinary freemen for many years will result in their "ownership" of the land they worked, was put in place in the Northern half and not in the Southern half.

The southern land "owners" were the "ruler/priest" classes, keeping the European style of rule. Not that all of the north was worker-owned land, but enough to make the north more conducive to more and more democratic rule.

There were also great many "land grants" to Dukes, Earls and Barons, who, at the cusp of new worldwide lines of supplies for farther and farther away resources while Europe's resources were being depleted (like trees).

These things prompted so many to emigrate to the New World - all of whom were Immigrants.

At the time of the creation of American Constitutional Government, the Founding Fathers were "sages, scientists, men of broad cultivation, many of them apt in classical learning" who used their knowledge of "history, politics and law to solve the exigent problems of their time."[1]

The Constitution included Article I, Section 8, Clause 8: "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." Which is considered the basis of intellectual property law in the U.S.

Not too long afterwards, Jeffersonian values where upturned by Jacksonian values, and there has been a back and forth battle between the two - politically and literally - ever since.

Of Internet And iPhones

Back to the debate. It is demonstrably true that capitalism produces stuff like iPhones - and malls and fast-food (and orange and blue food and drinks) and locomotives and automobiles and jet airliners, and tanks and ICBMs as well.

Yes, America and Europe produced "technical revolutions" hundreds of years, then decades, and then generations apart. Till we got to the iPhone.

But the Internet we got from socialism. I knew people involved and knew of the development of the Internet protocols out of ARPANET. The Internet was developed by what is now known as "open software." It was open, as in the design was free for anyone to access and to tinker with and for anyone to collaborate with the developers to add to it.

It was an "everyone working together for the common good with everything open for access and use by all" process. And that is what has enabled the Amazon to Xfinity "Capitalists."

Other socialist (but-do-not-tell-anyone) projects for us were roads, sidewalks, highways, interstates and freeways, airways and the radio spectrum, and weighing and measuring systems and other standards, and of course mathematics from calculus and trigonometry to string theory.

Oh yeah, can't forget public schools, national parks, forests, recreation areas and wildernesses, like Grand Canyon National Park and the Appalachian Trail.

And who can forget, Social Security, which enables at least a minimal degree of safety for everyone beyond working age. Which was, by design, a "those who work, pay into the system for those retiring," system. When you retire there will still be money being paid in for you. That is how it works. That is the only way it can work.

(And it is "funded" by employee payroll taxes - up to a cap - and the employer matches the 6.2%. It's a payroll tax. So income like capital gains, etc. have nothing to do with it. The saying, "the rich pay for poor people's welfare," is a damned lie.)

What They Do Not Tell You

Here are some of the "caveats" of capitalism, they would be widely known and understood but for... well, capitalism.

Capitalism is:

From mountains of trash, to massive pit mines, to mountain top removal, to million gallon pits of hog waste, to millions of acres of old growth forests being replaced by cattle ranches so that millions of McDonalds can serve billions hamburgers a year, to more plastic in the ocean than fish, to dying coral reefs and lakes and gulfs filling with algae plumes. (And that is just part of the overall destructions; it's just not "Breaking News.")

Of course, tobacco, drugs and alcohol are just some of the "freedoms" that capitalism provides. But the denial of smoking's harm by the tobacco companies was part of capitalism too. So too did capitalism bring us radium for health potions and for illuminated dials for watches and clocks; asbestos for fire suppression; leaded gasoline for automobile "knock" elimination; polychlorinated biphenyl and dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (or PCB and DDT) and millions of tons of other harmful chemicals. All of those too came with denials by their capitalist producers that they were (or are) harmful.

All major food suppliers, restaurant chains, "fast" or otherwise, produce ever increasingly addictive foods based on the high "sugar, salt, glutamate" formula, proven to be addictive, and worse, unhealthy to the body and mind in too much quantities. All created upon an infrastructure that is using more and more land and water, more and more pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.

Pharmaceutical companies are called the shining examples of capitalism.

But all the well-known medicines like Penicillin, vaccines for rabies, polio and measles; the understanding of cholera, diphtheria and typhoid; pasteurization; all were created by pioneering scientists and researchers, freely giving their work to the world. The figuring out that mosquitoes were carriers of malaria and the process of sanitizing water and cleaning up water sources that made the finishing of the Panama Canal possible and the worldwide eradication of smallpox, were accomplished as socialistic endeavors. Indeed, they could not have been achieved by the capitalistic method of "only in it for the money."

So, some more history got in here, but to lead in to: Pharmaceutical companies push drugs. OxyContin is a pill containing oxycodone, which was first synthesized in 1916 and is molecularly similar to heroin. OxyContin came out in 1996, at a time when medicine considered pain a vital sign that should be treated. Aggressively. OxyContin is a large dose, time-released (continuous, hence "Contin") formula, theoretically preventing "highs and lows." The FDA allowed it to be claimed that it had a "lower potential for abuse."

OxyContin was aggressively lobbied and advertised to doctors, promoted as "virtually risk free and the solution to the problems patients presented to doctors every day." It was the drug to "start and stay with." That is capitalism at it's best - down play any product's risks and push it's value, hard. By 2005, Perdue had a record 110,000 sales representatives with sales quotas needed to make their bonuses.

OxyContin prescriptions went from 670,000 in 1997, to 6,200,000 in 2002, eventually getting named "hillbilly heroin," with doctors selling them at "pill mills," some reportedly with "lines out the door."[4]

The rest is history, though not really. None of this is "Breaking News" so never made nor will ever make it into the "Mainstream News."

Cure the common cold? Capitalism will never allow that to happen as sales of cold products are... (Aren't we capitalists, though! Try searching for sales data. They have to be purchased.) One website I did find, was that it is an $8,000,000,000 a year business, with bullet points like, "Due to its necessary nature, demand for cough and cold medicine will grow steadily," and "Due to its necessary nature, demand for cough and cold medicine will grow steadily." And the link, "Purchase to learn more."

Pharmaceutical companies are big on "We need mega dollars for research." Well, duh! More pills to push means more revenue. They do not seem to be in the cure business - with flu-shots as a preventative business, as a bad flu epidemic can actually kill many people. (I have not investigated any government or insurance company roles in this.)

Pharmaceutical companies are all about treatment - monthly, highest dollar amount they can get away with treatment. Sickness, ill-health and disease are big business in the U.S.

War has, except for perhaps some religious wars, always been about economics. The America Civil War? The South saw that with emancipation their slave-labor based economy would dissolve. Liberty, "state rights" and "way of life" were cover words then as now.

World War II had a madman at it's start, but still, was about conquer and control. War is to conquer and to control "lines of supplies" to the raw materials that too often were under lands far away and populated by others who always seemed to be "savages", so that the conquering nations cannot be held hostage or blackmailed or have to pay "tribute/toll/tariff/reparation" to any other conquest nation.

And capitalism is very, very good for weapons manufacturers. More so in the U.S. than all the other large capitalist nations combined. U.S. Senators love going back home, a contract in raised hand, saying that he had secured "jobs in our time."

That private corporations can do a better job than government has been the holy grail, not really of Capitalists, but of Conservatives (often of the Evangelical kind). Education being the most obvious, with their assaults on teachers unions (as all unions) and curriculum - science and evolution being taught and the bible not.

How is our "infrastructure" these days? And the gasoline tax that's supposed to pay for it? Or are privately run toll road revenues going to maintain our highways? How can a corporation profit off of that?

(More questions than answers there... but, ah, what news coverage of that has there been? Oh, I know the answer to that one! Zero.)

The absolute worst of privatizations in the U.S. are our prisons. It's bad enough that local, city and state court systems are now run like revenue making operations through fines and court fees. (Which disproportionately targets the poor, making them poorer still.)

But prisons? This is where capitalism loses any claim of morality. First, a corporation's duty under capitalism is to maximize profits. Part of the equation is assets vs. liabilities, more of the first, less of the second. What could a private prison's assets be? Prisoners. Liabilities? Expenditures. It does not take a "best colleges educated, billionaire, who's really, like a smart genius" to see how that business will be run.


OK, so this was a critique of capitalism.

But there are, as I hinted, caveats to the points the socialist debaters raised. Workers losing their "freedom" in the workplace is true - watch or listen to get more about that. But there is a difference between working for a hardware store and a WalMart - the latter is the example the supports the debaters argument of workers losing freedom in the workplace.

The huge numbers of sweatshops around the world making clothes for Americans are other examples, though they only become "News" when they collapse or burn down and kill people. There still is slave-labor and slave-like working conditions to make "crap" for us capitalists.

As pointed out by the socialists, socialists were always on the front lines of women's rights, civil rights, worker's right to a forty hour week, a minimum wage, safe working conditions and the right to unionize, as well as the right to vote. They fought the capitalists who wanted none of those reforms.

Today still it seems that capitalist reforms come only after a tragic workplace fire or explosion has exposed the horrific conditions within. Capitalists had to be legislated to provide the minimum standards we have now, though some are still being withheld.

Yes, capitalism gave us New York and it's Times Square. But capitalism also gave us Flint, Michigan (and many, many other similar poisoned towns and neighborhoods - another of capitalism's moral failures based on maximizing profit and minimizing costs).

It is only the socialist's cause for the common good of all that keeps the capitalist's in check. Otherwise, the capitalists will take away whatever they can get away with.

The Worst May Be Yet To Come

The Earth has finite resources, and they are being dug up, cut down and sucked up with abandon, all in order to make "crap" for people to spend their earned dollars on - essentially using their work generated income to support the corporations that they and their families and friends work for...

Capitalism is consumption. Consuming the Earth to make "crap" for people to buy and use only to dispose of them for the next model. (Of course, all the packaging for their "crap" is disposed of immediately.) And almost all of what people dispose of ends up in landfills, the oceans or burned to generate energy to enable the capitalists to make more "crap"... It's a never ending cycle...

Only it must end or the Earth will be "used up" and perhaps turn into a place not healthy enough to support it's major parasitic life form - Homo sapiens.



  1. "Anti-Intellectualism in American Life"; Hofstadter, Richard.
  2. "Critical Path"; Fuller, R. Buckminster.
  3. "Coal: A Human History"; Freese, Barbara.
  4. "Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic"; Quinones, Sam.

Publisher: John Gwot Gordon Geck: Editor

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