We are all looking for more perfect democracy

May 16, 2013

A recent letter to the editor from Reid K. Beveridge on the subject “There is a big difference between capitalism and socialism” started out very clearly and succinctly pointing out what capitalism and the free market have to offer.  The main point he was making, that in a competitive marketplace consumers benefit, is absolutely correct. Initially I thought I was reading a letter from a kindred spirit, having spent my entireworking life in the international oil industry and in senior management positions in the U.S., Middle East, and Russia.

It was when he decided to describe the difference between “a progressive and a conservative,” ending his letter, after a very self-serving set of definitions, by stating: “This is the difference between capitalism and socialism.”

He was not far off in defining a “conservative,” although I would have called his definition one of a “fiscal conservative” because today there are many self-described “conservatives” who wish to impose their conservative values of religion and lifestyle on the rest of the population (effectively pushing for a totalitarian state).

When he defined a “progressive”  as one who “believes the purpose of a business is to provide jobs for workers and tax revenue for the government” he ignored the fact that, while a progressive does not support unfettered capitalism (of the laissez-faire type), a “progressive” believes that the free market needs to exist and to be regulated to avoid the sort of instability that is caused by monopolies and market crashes (vide the Great Depression, the Bush Recession, and the recent Bangladesh factory collapse, to name but three).  A progressive also happens to believe in the dignity of the human being.

Mr. Beveridge’s definition of a “liberal” as one who “believes that if the business owner gets rich, that the 'excess' should be taxed away and given so the government to put it to a more beneficial use” is so far off base as to be laughable.

“Liberals” like “progressives” want business owners to be responsible for their workers and the population in general (e.g., clean air, clean water, etc.) and that whatever tax revenues the government receives should be put to the good use of the general population, among other things (such as education, defence, etc.) to help the less fortunate members of society.  Government’s responsibility is to create a business and a living environment where workers can employ their talents for the benefit of the businesses for which they work and business owners, in return, look to the welfare of their workers.

Defining traditional social labels, along the lines that Mr. Beveridge did, sets up a straw man only in order to knock him down.  For example, his definition of a progressive as one who: believes that most profits are sinful, especially if they enrich the owner. They also believe that providing a product or service that is useful or wanted by the public is a false premise, is a laughable twisting of what a true progressive stands for and a complete misunderstanding of economics.  Without profits there would be no businesses and no investment in the future. Mr. Beveridge is almost as out of touch with reality on one end of the spectrum as those on the other end of the spectrum who claim that profits are bad and should be done away with.

It is an easier task first, to define extremes and second, to understand that these extremes are not the norm.  The main difference between “extreme capitalism/conservatism” and “extreme liberalism/socialism” is that the former seeks to squeeze everything out of workers without regard for the workers’ lives, while the latter focuses more on workers’ welfare than the business owners’ bottom line.  In a well-balanced (i.e.,properly regulated) society, we get the benefit of capitalism without the extremes of the Robber Baron days on the one side or a Communist state on the other.

Mr. Beveridge should remember that democracy per se is the absolute rule of the majority:  the party with 50 percent plus one vote gets to call all the shots.  However, in an ideal democracy (to which we aspire) the majority rules with protection for the minority. In America we are still trying to find a happy medium.  We are still not in the forefront of world democracies due to the belief in this country that the health of its citizens is not a human right but a profit-making business and those who can’t pay for healthcare should die or go bankrupt.  With the advent of Obamacare we are at least not in the very bottom of world democracies, but we still have a long way to go.

Communism is the extreme face of socialism, and that is what Mr. Beveridge was effectively contrasting with his definitions, and that is what many so-called conservatives today confuse with socialism.  As I said above, you can define your straw man and then strike him down, but you have not added to the general conversation about the choices facing America, merely adding to the confusion which the so-called “conservatives” are trying to sow in the current political climate.

What Mr. Beveridge should have said is that he was defining the difference between capitalism and communism.  No one could argue with that!

I believe that, in the main, most Americans are looking for a more perfect democracy than the one we currently have.

Richard Freeman

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