Socialist governments vs capitalist markets, left vs right. These obscure the point: the only true American ideology should be pragmatism.
It would seem that socialist governments seek to escape capitalist markets. My old American Heritage Dictionary (the 1978 edition!) defines socialism as a “system in which the producers [i.e., the workers] possess both political power and the means of producing and distributing goods.” In effect, the workers, or in a democracy the citizens, own and control an industry.
But this political equality produces economic inequality. For instance, in socialized medicine the wealthy pay more than the poor, but everyone receives the same benefits. This is also true of public education, libraries, national and municipal parks, the arts, and the social safety net.
Some conservatives argue—with logic—that this is unfair. We should each only obtain what we pay for ourselves. Capitalist markets are always superior. The government should strictly limit itself to the minimum: roads and infrastructure, the courts, and military, police and fire protection. From this approach, socialist governments are a fatal strategy.
Rots o’ ruck. It is an overly conservative approach, because those minimalist protections and services are the epitome of socialism. The government controls them. We all pay into them differently, but access them freely and equally.
There is no way to avoid socialist governments, for a simple reason. By nature, all effective government is socialist. Eliminating socialist government means eliminating government itself. The point isn’t whether we should be socialist. We already are.
On the other hand, there is no way to escape capitalist markets. The modern world would not be possible without capitalism. Without capitalism, there is no way to pay for social programs.
Should we eliminate socialist government, or capitalist markets? Either is a path to ruin. We should be neither socialist nor capitalist, we should be both.
The only real American philosophy is pragmatism. American genius isn’t the purity of science, but the messiness of engineering; it isn’t the simplicity of philosophy, but the crazy quilt of application. Pragmatism argues that there is no one solution. And so the skill of government, and by default the craft of the citizen, should be to make reasonable determination of, not whether we should be socialist or capitalist, but when we should be socialist or capitalist.
On the other hand, there are those who argue for pure socialism, or even communism. It’s nice work if you can get it. The problem is, outside of very small systems—the family is the best working example—Marxist approaches have not worked. The modern world is built around the economic and intellectual dynamo of free markets, of capitalist markets.
So there is no escaping socialist government. And capitalist markets built the modern world. Both are essential for progress and civilization.
We nevertheless get whipsawed by partisan media, we get played by the kleptoplutocrats on both sides (who, BTW, own all of the partisan media). By infuriating us, by inflaming our passions, Big Money gets us to stop looking for pragmatic solutions, and fight with each other instead. As the country decays, the wealthy pick our pockets and erode our autonomy.
We should not be liberal, we should not be conservative. We should be both. The challenge is figuring out when to be which.
This post is based on concepts in my book, Kings, Conquerors, Psychopaths: From Alexander to Hitler to the Corporation.