In previous posts we have been looking at functional definitions of liberal and conservative: not which is right or wrong, but when they are right or wrong. Part of our problem is hammer thinking: when you’re a hammer the whole world looks like a nail or worse, it looks like a game of ideological Whack-A-Mole.
From that starting point, we have also been looking at different constraints on the human ability to think, and as I pointed out in a previous post, the puzzle is that we have great ability, but we choose not to exercise it. We simply refuse to consider some approaches. If a topic or approach has a label that we have been taught is bad, or that we have decided is bad, we simply stop listening.
Worse, we stop thinking.
I have been considering this in terms of the labels we give different ideologies. In the United States, the topics of communism, socialism and welfare are largely anathema. And just as with concepts such as equality and fairness and democracy, we best learn communism in the home.
But only in the best homes. Let me explain.
The aphorism for communism is Marx’s quote, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” Which may not work in the public arena, but it certainly describes how most of us approach our families. Who among us would not sell everything we have and become homeless, to care for one of our children, or our spouse? How many of us wouldn’t think twice before giving our lives to protect them?
Communism is what St. Peter prescribed when he said “Own all things in common.” As I explained, I think that in its origins Christianity was immaterialist, that Jesus didn’t care about things one way or the other.
That’s ‘evil’ communism. It isn’t evil; or rather, what’s evil about it is that it just doesn’t work much beyond the family. Communism is not scalable, because when it grows large it is easy prey to abuse and corruption.
Thank goodness. Consider a truly communist nation, where everyone contributed the most they could, and only took out the very minimum in payment. Where would all of the excess go? Think schools that blow away our ideas about learning. Think NASA, NSF, NIH each a thousand times over. Think of a commercial sector with maximum efficiency, minuscule overhead, and technology decades ahead of everyone else. Then think of a military, with all of that efficiency and technology, and where every soldier was an unflinching kamikaze. The United States could not compete with such a country. No existing nation could.
But you can see my point, the problem isn’t communism per se, it’s that communism never looks like that, it doesn’t work beyond small groups. And face it, we prefer the system we have, the one we are comfortable with. I certainly am.
Similarly, look at socialism. Many people think of socialism as the evil little brother of communism, but socialism is where the community, or government, own an asset, and everyone enjoys it freely. That describes the most basic tasks of government: national defense, police, firefighting, courts, schools, and roads. It also explains services beyond the basic, those that help us remain competitive and which contribute to our quality of life: public libraries and museums, research funding, public parks, public art and performances. We all own these things together, and even though we pay for them unequally, we equally and freely enjoy the services.
Government, at least in democracy, is a form of socialism. We all own it, we are all benefited.
That brings up welfare/social programs. The GI Bill was a welfare program that we instituted to reward our WWII veterans. It was brilliant, it changed the country. I think all historians and economists who agree that a large part of the economic dominance of the USA since the end of WWII is largely a result of the GI Bill. I don’t know how we could envision that economic and technological dominance without all of those college degrees.
Then there was the Marshall Plan. The rebuilding of western Europe and Japan after WWII was not conceived primarily as a welfare program, but largely as a way to contain the ambitions of Josef Stalin. Nevertheless, the US gave $13B dollars – about $130B in today’s money – to help our former allies as well and our former enemies to rebuild their countries. It was an enormous success. It was humanitarian, it staved off hunger and ruin in Europe; it was economic, it rebuilt markets and created trading partners for our American industry; it was geopolitical, it stabilized Europe, created allies for us, limited Soviet expansion, and spread democracy in Europe and Japan.
Much of the Pax Americana, the unprecedented world stability since 1945, was probably more the result of the Marshall Plan than any other single factor. As I noted above, I have suggested functional definitions for conservative and liberal, that both approaches are simply tools that are useful in different situations.
In the same way, I am arguing that it is not capitalism vs communism, private sector vs socialism, self-reliance vs welfare. These polarizing approaches are unhelpful.
Just as with the labels ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’, ‘capitalism’, ‘socialism’, ‘free markets’ and ‘welfare’ are simply tools, and our hammer thinking just limits our capabilities.
‘Labels’ adapted from Lil Pick Me Up.