Capitalism Pigs or Socialist Scum?

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Dear Edahn,

Recently I've been reading a lot about capitalism and socialism. In a way they both have their good points and bad, but I just get so confused. It seems me that everyone has a right to make a profit and do well for themselves and their families; if capitalism is an economic system in which things are produced by private corporations and generate a profit, isn't that a good thing? Don't we need this in order for our country to be stable?

I read all these articles about our president being a socialist, and how that will end up destroying our society and way of life, but think that the way of life for most American's is not so good, and if socialism means sharing the wealth and things being equal for all, then, how can that be a bad thing? You always seem to write your responses with an undiluted edge so I am interested in what you think on this topic. Maybe you can help me clear some of the confusion in my head.

LET ME START OFF by saying that (a) I have never taken an economics class in my life, but (b) I have excellent Googling skills.

To my understanding, capitalism was actually a disparaging term coined by Marx to describe a system where production and property were controlled by the capitalists, i.e., non-laborers. In socialism, on the other hand, the means of production and property were controlled by the laborers themselves. In capitalism, the effort you put in is directly rewarded whereas in socialism (at least, the way it’s currently understood) you have to share your earnings. Socialism doesn’t have classes, whereas capitalism obviously does.

I happen to think socialism is a beautiful ideal to aspire to, but I don’t think it’s practical given where we are right now. For socialism to work, people need to be responsible and have a profound sense of work ethic, honesty, and honor. Those are values that Western society pays lip service to, but for the most part doesn’t take very seriously. We say honesty is important, but we bend the truth and spin facts constantly in law, politics, relationships, and in our jobs. The word honor is barely in our vernacular. Simply put, we don’t cherish these values and we don’t get a proper moral education from our parents or teachers anymore (with notable exceptions).

That moral education is necessary to temper our greedy, lazy nature. Without it, people try to make others do their work for them while they reap the benefits (“cheat”), and when enough people cheat, the system breaks down. That’s true for both socialism and capitalism. Right now in the U.S. we’re witnessing the breakdown of capitalism: greed and a lack of moral education have led to the horrific exploitation of the working class and a severe curtailment of their right to justice and dignity. But the people in power have managed to confuse the public by associating what they practice (exploitation, greed, dishonesty) with capitalism and with freedom. The laborers continue to hold onto the system that slowly screws them over. It's WTFcrazy. We see the same patterns on global, national, municipal, and local levels.

About a year ago I started advocating what I call Conscientious Capitalism, where we still work and keep the fruits of our labors, but do so without taking advantage of people and being greedy and living beyond our means. We give when we can and are guided by our conscience. A system like that could preserve the benefits of socialism (it's humanity) while still maintaining incentive. It’s how I try to live and how I encourage others to live with my words and disapproving glare. ಠ_ಠ

Back to your question, I don’t think either system is inherently good or bad. Their merit depends on the values of their constituents: corrupt people => corrupt system; noble people => noble system. The important fight right now isn’t so much about what economic system we pick, but how we act and what kind of example we set for others.