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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Socialism doesn't much work

By Josh Schukman

Last week, Andrew Ancheta wrote a great critique of an article published by Jeremiah Reedy, and Andrew, I greatly appreciate your opinion, and I thank you for framing it in such a way that allows ongoing discussion on the topic (because I really enjoy discussing this issue). Despite this, you made several points that I respectfully disagree with. I must say that I remain very skeptical of the arguments against capitalism-at least the arguments for a systemic shift (to something like socialism or nationalism). Yes, I agree (and I think we can all agree) that capitalism certainly has its disadvantages, but I do not agree that those disadvantages necessitate radical change. With that in mind, I’d like to critique several of the points made in your article.First, to your point about the “vast concentrations of poverty” created by capitalism-agreed. There are vast concentrations of poverty under capitalism and I will not trivialize that. The fact that the U.S. can be so economically successful and still have such large concentrations of poverty is absolutely inexcusable. Despite this, I do not think that pooling all of our resources into a central body is the way to resolve this issue. Someone once said, “Capitalism is the unequal distribution of prosperity whereas socialism is the equal distribution of misery.” For me, this is a fundamental point. Again, I do not want to trivialize poverty in the United States. It is indeed a pressing issue, but the majority of people who are impoverished by American standards still have cars, have electricity, have refrigerators, and have food-this is a totally different standard of poverty than that held by much of the rest of the world.

I think this is, in large part, due to advances that at this point only capitalism affords. If people and businesses are not provided incentives to grow, they will only do what is asked of them, nothing more. Thus, they do not prosper in such a way that they provide benefits for the whole of society. For example, the tremendous capital Apple has gained from iPod sales has allowed them to invest enormous sums of money into development of more powerful and advanced computing systems. These new technologies not only make computing more accessible to a greater number of people (by reducing the prices of “outdated” computers) but provide the technologies needed to conduct high level research and create powerful media. And why? Because they proved themselves the most capable and productive group of people for the job, not because some governmental agency assigned them to the task. This is just one example, but the point here is, the drive for capital is oftentimes the most effective way to force collective organizations and people to perform at a level that maximizes their contributions to society. Consequently, I believe we must do the work needed to alleviate and eventually eliminate poverty without sacrificing the prosperity afforded by capitalism.

Second, your point about charity. Charity will always be necessary and we should always encourage it-with or without capitalism. Let us not forget that not all charity necessarily goes to helping alleviate economic injustice. Oftentimes it goes to helping individuals who are mentally or physically disabled, children of dysfunctional families, or faith-based organizations who conduct humanitarian work all over the world. Capitalism did not create the need for charity. Regardless of what system is in place there will always be people less fortunate than us. Those who can MUST contribute their gifts and skills to help. Furthermore, charity is far more effective and sustainable when people do it by choice and in a way that matches their particular talents.

I think you provided several effective examples from Cuba, but I would argue that you cannot use principles from a country of under 12,000,000 people and apply them to this country-over 300,000,000 strong. I think a more effective comparison is that of the United States and the Soviet Union (293,000,000 people at the end of 1991) during the time of the Cold War. During virtually all of the Cold War, the United States was far more prosperous economically and politically than the Soviet Union. It was, I believe, the Union’s lack of prosperity that led to its downfall. It spread misery equally-not only in terms of money, but also in terms of the repression of rights that has accompanied all the socialist regimes that have ever existed. Interestingly, you pointed out the same issue about your trip to Cuba, saying “in spite of the inexcusable abuses of the governing authorities.” Do you think that these “inexcusable abuses of governing authorities” are just isolated incidents? Of course they aren’t. Rather, they are a necessary component of socialism. And I would argue that this is because socialism discourages the creativity, ingenuity, and drive inherent in all humans. The fact is, political freedom is nothing without economic freedom. Socialism robs us of our economic freedom and sucks away our power to influence the system.

Now to your point on conflict. I would argue that conflict is in fact more inherent (and with the potential to be far more deadly) in a socialist system than in a capitalist one, although I don’t wish to trivialize war-it’s terrible no matter when, where, or how it happens. One need only look to history to see this. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan plunged that country into decades of civil war and eventually allowed the Taliban to rise to power. Additionally, the Soviets occupied, oppressed, and destroyed several European nations (Hungary, Georgia, and Ukraine for example) in order to see the dream of a unified socialist republic fulfilled. All former Soviet bloc nations will undoubtedly be feeling the effects of Soviet aggression for years to come.

Additionally, Cuba and the Soviet Union, during the Cuban missile crisis, brought the world closer to total annihilation than it ever has been. And let us not forget that in a socialist system, where economic freedom does not exist, the government has the power to direct all of its resources and manpower into a war effort. At least in the United States, we have the power to move our investments out of companies that support the war effort or those that do not support human rights. Of course, the United States is not innocent. We have had our share of similar conflicts, but the point is that conflict has been inherent in nearly every society-no matter its economic system. The claim that capitalism tends more toward conflict than any other system seems unfounded to me.

Capitalism is imperfect, but it is better than any other system we have yet tried. That’s not an excuse to simply sit back and accept its problems. Rather, it is a call to solve those problems by employing the advantages inherent in the system.

Thanks again, Andrew and Jeremiah, for your comments. I hope this discussion will be an ongoing one. I should conclude by saying that Jeremiah made a great challenge last week that I would really like to hear someone answer. If you believe capitalism must be totally replaced-what system do you propose to take its place? I have yet to hear an effective answer to this question.

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