by Richard Girard
“They contend in favour of their own, that the portion of liberty enjoyed in England is just enough to enslave a country more productively than by despotism, and that as the real object of despotism is revenue, a Government so formed obtains more than it could do either by direct despotism, or in a full state of freedom, and is, therefore, on the ground of interest, opposed to both.”—Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man, Common Sense, Rights of Man, and Other Essential Writings of Thomas Paine, Signet Classics, 2003, p.180
When I was about fifteen years old, I saw a book in the grocery store called None Dare Call It Conspiracy, whose author I no longer remember (the book has long since disappeared from my possession). I do remember that it was published by the publishing arm of the John Birch Society. Intrigued by the title, I bought the book and quickly read it.
About the only thing my memory has retained from that book for the last thirty-plus years, is the idea of a realistic political spectrum. Communism and Fascism—both of which are party driven, oligarchic systems—are not at the opposite ends of a solely political spectrum.
Communism is the control of the means of production, manufacturing, and distribution by the state. Fascism is the control of the state by the entities who provide the means of production, manufacturing, and distribution, i.e., corporations. These are primarily economic, not political definitions. Rather, these two systems are near relatives of each other in the political spectrum. Anarchy (everyone is a sovereign government, a law onto themselves) and Autocracy (one person is the sovereign government, or to quote France's Louis XIV, L'etat c'est moi, I am the State), are the real opposite ends of a purely political spectrum.
There have been several times in my life that I have been called a socialist—as a pejorative—by people who seem to be ignorant of that word's actual meaning. Socialism is defined as a social system in which the means of producing and distributing goods are owned collectively and political power is exercised by the whole community. I do not believe in the collective ownership of the means of production and distribution of goods. I do believe in some greater or lesser degree of regulation of those entities (corporations) who perform the production and distribution of goods, in order to protect the public from fraud or other harm. Corporations and smaller businesses both have consistently demonstrated their willingness to ignore matters of safety, health, and the common good in order to improve their profit margin. Health inspections of restaurants are the best known example of this type of regulation.
I call my economic philosophy “social capitalism.” This is in sharp contrast to the predatory, antisocial capitalism of the free market, laissez-faire variety. One of the pillars upon which I base all of my economic, social, and political philosophy is (to paraphrase James Madison's statement in The Federalist Papers) that if men were angels, any form of government (or human economic or social system) would work. However, since men are not angels, we must institute checks and balances to prevent the concentration and abuse of that power.
Free-market, laissez-faire capitalists, will argue Adam Smith's “invisible hand” is the only check and balance that their economic system requires. This assumption is historically every bit as invalid as Karl Marx's concept of the “history of class struggle,” leading to the seizure of the means of production by the proletariat, and the establishment of a worker's paradise.
The next time free market capitalism provides any long term improvement—twenty-plus years—to the economic well-being of all of the people of a nation, will also be the first. Historically, what it creates is a powerful economic elite, a small middle class of professionals and managers, a petite bourgeoisie of shop keepers and tradespeople, and a vast pool (fifty percent plus) of impoverished farmers and workers suffering through a roller coaster economy that further depresses their pitiable incomes. This economic system leads to such classic abominations as child labor, economic depressions, company stores, shortened life spans, and police riots against striking or organizing workers. If you don't believe this, read the history of Charles Dickens' England, the United States in the Gilded Age or the Roaring Twenties, or Chile under Pinochet. You can probably add to that list the current situation in the increasingly capitalist People's Republic of China.
Both laissez-faire capitalism and Marxist socialism are anchored to two of the extreme poles of group and individual sociology; selfish individualism for laissez-faire capitalism, and altruistic collectivism for Marxism. In reality, all human institutions are precariously balanced between these four sociological opposites, and human civilization's progress occurs because of the give-and-take between them. Much of the history of human civilization is encapsulated in the interaction between these extremes, with one or more dominating the others at various times.
The American people have been wallowing in this morass of feel good, selfish individualism for the last twenty-five years. This emotional morass has led the American people to feelings of alienation, nihilism, and self-loathing not seen since the Great Depression. This way of thinking has also helped facilitate disasters ranging from the savings and loan debacle, to the corporate crimes revolving around Enron and WorldCom (among others), to mass murders like Columbine and Virginia Tech.
Millions of high-paying industrial jobs have been shipped overseas in the name of ever burgeoning corporate profits. Government oversight for standards of quality in our food, our water, our medicines (and a multitude of other consumer goods) have been steadily declining when our ever increasing dependence on imports screams for stronger oversight. We have increasingly seen many of the hardest won protections of our individual rights, eviscerated by these plutocratic oligarchs. These aristocratic wannabes, who equate freedom only with their ability to make as much money as they can and the public be damned, care nothing for any right other than fleecing the sheep.
Americans are increasingly destitute of hope for our future, in a way we have not been for seventy-five years. A human being's value in our society is measured solely by his material wealth, not whether or not he is a good person. The United States may have the highest overall worker productivity in the world, but we are not even in the top ten when productivity per hour worked is considered. The American worker works more hours than the workers of any other industrialized nation, while our incomes—after taxes and inflation—have been steadily declining for twenty-five years. What John Calvin would have considered a paradise for the elect, is also what Jesus of Nazareth would have considered hell on Earth.
The key to America's success as a nation is our ability to, over time, become increasingly inclusive to a myriad of nationalities, religions, races, and philosophies. Every group who has immigrated to this country has, in the process of their assimilation into the American dream, left their distinct imprint on American culture. Irish, Italians, Greeks, Germans, Poles, Russians, Chinese, Japanese, Arabs, Catholics, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Africans, Asians, Europeans, Latin Americans, the devout, free thinkers, socialists, and so many other groups have given us their food, customs, music, holidays, and alternative viewpoints. Our nation would be both weaker and far poorer without these groups' contributions to the fabric of American life The only real difference between these disparate groups, within two generations, revolves around matters of individual choice, especially that of religion.
This is not to say there is not bigotry: there is, and far more of it than I care to consider. That bigotry is encouraged by our quasi-aristocracy, using mistrust and fear of the “other,” while attacking as “class warfare” any complaints about the average Americans declining economic position. This power elite uses lies, half-truths, and propaganda to keep the poor, working, and middle classes from joining together and throwing down these “wanna be” aristocrats. For most of these plutocrats, like the Bush family, their sole accomplishment is being a member of the lucky sperm club; one or more ancestors having stolen and defrauded money from the nation's people and commonwealth to make themselves rich.
It is time for Americans to recognize that the white auto mechanic in Denver has far more in common with the black auto mechanic in Harlem, than he does with the white auto executive in Detroit. It is time for us to realize that if we are to love our neighbor, we must also love the stranger that we meet, for he may become our neighbor tomorrow.