Monday, May 4, 2009

On Not Getting It

In a recent column in my local newspaper, the writer cites a national telephone poll's findings that “only 53 percent of adults surveyed 'believe that capitalism is better than socialism'”, and that “twenty percent say 'socialism is better'”, and “27 percent are not sure which is better”. He then comments, “More than one-in-four Americans don't know if capitalism is better than socialism? Egads, what are we teaching in schools these days? Apparently, not much.”

Actually, I beg to differ. Given the public school curricula these days, it's amazing that as _many_ as 53% of adults still believe that capitalism is better. When's the last time any public school, or public school reading material, or public school teacher, had anything good to say about capitalism? I'm not sure if it was even brought up that often when _I_ was in school... but since the 1960s? Please. The columnist apparently thinks that the current situation represents some kind of failure on the part of the schools... and in a sense, he's right, but not for the reasons he thinks. You can be sure that that disturbing 53% figure will spur the public eduction conglomerate on to ever-greater heights of criticizing capitalism, in order to lower the percentage even more. When _nobody_ believes in it any longer, then they will have succeeded.

And actually, current events are on their side. The columnist doesn't mention when the poll was taken -- i.e. before or during the current round of economic melt-downs. And he also doesn't mention whether the pollsters actually defined “capitalism” before they asked the question. The chances are they didn't... because if they had, the people taking the poll might have realized that we haven't seen true capitalism in this country for decades... not in the lifetime of anyone taking the poll, I daresay. What we have seen is an unholy alliance of business and government _masquerading_ as capitalism, which is not at all the same thing. And this was done... why? I mean, why wasn't the transition to socialism that we are now undergoing completed 70 years ago? What was stopping them? And in particular, since socialism of some sort (either communism or fascism, of which national socialism was a sub-type) was the latest thing at that point, and no one had any doubts but what the idea was destined to take over the world in short order. People were writing epitaphs for capitalism in the 1930s simply because socialism seemed so new, so energetic, so powerful... so _right_. And who could argue with the remarkable results in Germany and Italy? A few people tried arguing with the “remarkable” results in Russia, but they were drowned out by the New Dealers, economists, folk singers, etc. Clearly, socialism in the most general sense had already won the war of ideas, and all that was left was policing up the battlefield. So why didn't we join the throng, since capitalism had been disgraced once and for all by the stock market crash of 1929 and by the Great Depression? In other words, why didn't FDR go all the way, the way Obama seems determined to go now?

The only thing I can imagine is that, despite the juggernaut of FDR's New Deal – which makes Obama's “100 days” look positively anemic by comparison – business interests were still somewhat powerful in those days. I'm talking about the business interests that were still interested in some level of free enterprise, competition, and autonomy, of course... not the bed-wetters that are running our major corporations today. Plus, there was the question of how to motivate the great American middle class. The unions were triumphant back then, and the “working man” might be perfectly satisfied with socialism, but the middle class, in order to be kept on the job and functioning, had to be maintained in their illusions about things like education, "good citizenship", hard work, opportunity, advancement, progress, growth, and so on. Plus, they -- as now -- were the cash cows of the economic system.

Of course, once you answer the question about the New Deal that way, you then have to deal with the opposite question about the present day, namely: Why is it no longer considered necessary to maintain the middle class in its illusions about things like education, opportunity, advancement, progress, growth, and so on? But the answer – or part of it – is that those illusions _are_ being maintained, and they will continue to be maintained, even once the reality is long gone. And they are maintained by some of the same tools FDR used, like fear and insecurity... but also by some new tools, like guilt and deracination (loss of one's racial/ethnic/religious/cultural roots). And let's not forget that, at the time of the New Deal, most middle-class Americans had living memory of a time (before the income tax!) when opportunities for individual advancement, unfettered by the government, were, for all intents and purposes, unlimited. The same cannot be said of the middle class (or any other class) of today; as the survey said, only slightly over half believe capitalism is better than socialism – and little wonder, since the only “capitalism” they have ever known is this grotesque, corrupt hybrid that survives on a diet of government contracts, grants, and subsidies on the one hand, and oppressive laws and regulations on the other. The capitalism we know is like a well-fed prisoner; it survives, and even prospers, but in a totally disreputable and shameful way. And with the extent of blatant government involvement in the economy that we have seen over the past few decades, how many Americans could even tell you how socialism would differ from what we already have? If you asked them, they might mumble something about “free health care”... but then they'd be stumped, and rightly so. The more radical might mention the absurd levels of compensation for corporate executives, and that socialism would do away with all that. Well, frankly, it depends on the type of socialism; the Krupp family didn't do at all badly under the Nazis, for instance. So really, if the schools have “failed” to teach people the difference between so-called capitalism and socialism, it's because they don't _know_ the difference, because, in most respects, there _is_ no difference – at least, as far as they can tell from observing the scene in this country.

I point out again that Ayn Rand wrote “Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal” in 1966. That was just after the modern conservative movement had nearly been strangled in the cradle by Goldwater's loss in the 1964 election. The New Dealers were again triumphant after having had only a brief “time out” during the Eisenhower administration. And – the consequences of liberal meddling on an international level, namely Vietnam, hadn't quite reached the level of total debacle. So a worse time to come out with a book advocating capitalism could hardly have been imagined – especially a brand of capitalism that required not a “return” so much as a “discovery”. But never one to be daunted by popular trends, Rand forged ahead, and... maybe it's just as well she's not around to witness the current catastrophe, and in particular the ragged, maggot-infested thing that the liberals are holding up, at arm's length, and calling “capitalism” before throwing it in the trash can. And yet – maybe if this fake, this forgery, can be done away with and replaced by unabashed socialism... and that socialism does what socialism always does eventually, and fails miserably... maybe then people will start getting interested in the real thing. But in the meantime, it doesn't worry me in the least that only half the populace believes in “capitalism”.

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