"Capital as such is not evil; it is its wrong use that is evil. Capital in some form or other will always be needed."
Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869--1948), Indian political and spiritual leader. Harijan (28 July 1940).
"Real socialism is inside man. It wasn't born with Marx. It was in the communes of Italy in the Middle Ages. You can't say it is finished."
Dario Fo (b. 1926), Italian playwright, actor. Times (London, 6 April 1992).
"History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce."
Karl Marx (1818--83), German political theorist, social philosopher. Paraphrase of the opening sentences of Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852; reproduced in Karl Marx: Selected Works, volume 2, 1942)
My brother-in-law Tim was visiting his sister (my brother's wife) from St. Louis a few months back, with his friend and fellow retired firefighter Fran (short for Francis) in tow. These are good guys, what they use to call "the salt of the earth." I am certain that in the encyclopedia under the heading of "representing middle class, Midwest America," there has to be a picture of these two men, a beer in their hands, watching a Cardinals' baseball game.
We were drinking (ice tea for myself; alcohol is not a good idea for people with bipolar disorder), eating pizza, discussing the politics of the world, and the nation. This included our mutual disappointment that President Obama had not done anything to curb the excesses of Wall Street and the banks. Then Fran made a statement that nearly knocked me off my chair, given the source: that considering the recent actions of the major capitalist institutions, he was willing to try socialism as an alternative. And Tim voiced his agreement.
This made up my mind that I should write down my ideas on the concept of Social Capitalism as quickly as possible, as soon as I had time to organize my notes; without discovering every possible contingency for my system.
Like laissez faire, or anti-social capitalism--or as Marx named it "political economy"--Social Capitalism is a moral system, having its own inherent system of penalties and rewards. Unlike anti-social capitalism, Social Capitalism is a socially positive and humane system; a system whose ultimate goal is to (within the limits of human ability) promote the development and maximize the potential of all humans.
The primary underlying principle of Social Capitalism is that of fairness. It is an ideal that we can never perfectly achieve, because humans are not perfect. One of the first things we must set aside under the concept of Social Capitalism is the false dichotomy of selfishness and altruism, and replace it with the correct dichotomy of selfishness and fairness. The false dichotomy has, in my opinion, represented a roadblock to the cause of human social justice for centuries.
So what are the differences between Social Capitalism, and anti-social capitalism, or as Marx called it, political economy. I will start by giving Marx's description of what he called political economy, from his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (p.p. 120-121; 1844), serving it up in easy to digest pieces: "(1) By reducing the worker's need to the barest and most miserable level of physical subsistence, and by reducing his activity to the most abstract mechanical movement; thus he [the capitalist] says: Man has no other need either of activity or of enjoyment. For he declares that this life, too, is human life and existence. (2) By counting the most meagre form of life (existence) as the standard, indeed, as the general standard--general because it is applicable to the mass of men. He turns the worker into an insensible being lacking all needs, just as he changes his activity into a pure abstraction from all activity. To him, therefore, every luxury of the worker seems to be reprehensible, and everything that goes beyond the most abstract need--be it in the realm of passive enjoyment, or a manifestation of activity--seems to him a luxury."
What Marx is saying here is that for anti-social or laissez faire capitalism, at least in its origins, the economic philosophy of Ebenezer Scrooge at the beginning of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is the working model. If you listen to many conservatives today, they argue that you cannot possibly be poor if you have a car, a television, a VCR or DVD player, or anyone of a number of other items that the average American takes for granted. Essentially, the anti-social capitalist system says that if you are poor, you should give up every human comfort and convenience until you are no longer poor, which reduces the poor to a group of mindless robots whose sole purposes are working and hoarding capital, spending the bare minimum for survival, until they are no longer poor.
Let us continue with Marx's exposition on the subject; "Political economy, this science of wealth, is therefore simultaneously the science of renunciation, of want, of saving and it actually reaches the point where it spares man the need of either fresh air or physical exercise. This science of marvelous industry is simultaneously the science of asceticism, and its true ideal is the ascetic but extortionate miser and the ascetic but productive slave. Its moral ideal is the worker who takes part of his wages to the savings-bank, and it has even found ready-made a servile art which embodies this pet idea: it has been presented, bathed in sentimentality, on the stage."
How often do we see variations of the Horatio Alger story, the person who starts with nothing and makes himself a success, presented to us in the movies, television, magazines and popular literature. There are self-help books extolling the virtues of those who have accomplished this very feat. There is even a system of so-called philosophy, Ayn Rand's Objectivism, whose basis is that those with talent will get ahead, regardless of any obstacles, simply because of their superior ability. I would argue that most of these individuals get ahead because they are amoral--like the philosophy's founder--without any compunction concerning the human cost of getting ahead. We have seen the effects of sociopaths on our society over the last thirty years, I do not believe it is a path that we should either exalt or repeat. The followers of Ayn Rand forget that, as Colin Greer put it, she was a writer of fiction ("Right-Wingers Believe Ayn Rand's Every Word, But They Forget She Wrote Fiction," AlterNet.org, October 10, 2009). Her philosophy has no rigor, no substantial objective economic or social examination of society, and no moral basis other than "do what you damn well please," just like Aleister Crowley, but without the honesty. She is a philosopher for the lazy and those who like simplistic answers, who are seeking justification for their narcissism and selfishness, rather than philosophy's true purpose: discovering the deeper meaning of ourselves.
Marx finishes his description of political economy, or as I call it, anti-social capitalism; "Thus political economy--despite its worldly and voluptuous appearance--is a true moral science, the most moral of all the sciences. Self-renunciation, the renunciation of life and of all human needs, is its principal thesis. The less you eat, drink and buy books; the less you go to the theatre, the dance hall, the public house; the less you think, love, theorise, sing, paint, fence, etc., the more you save--the greater becomes your treasure which neither moths nor rust will devour--your capital. The less you are, the less you express your own life, the more you have, i.e., the greater is your alienated life, the greater is the store of your estranged being. Everything which the political economist takes from you in life and in humanity, he replaces for you in money and in wealth; and all the things which you cannot do, your money can do. It can eat and, drink, go to the dance hall and the theatre; it can travel, it can appropriate art, learning, the treasures of the past, political power--all this it can appropriate for you--it can buy all this: it is true endowment. Yet being all this, it wants to do nothing but create itself, buy itself; for everything else is after all its servant, and when I have the master I have the servant and do not need his servant. All passions and all activity must therefore be submerged in avarice. The worker may only have enough for him to want to live, and may only want to live in order to have that."