For the past year I keep hearing this word “Socialist” being flung around like a 10lb bag of crap. On the “conservative” channels it seems this is an extremely dirty word and akin to calling someones mother a so on and so forth. In the political blogs there is always some comment or other about socialism and for the few of you that actually do read my blog your feelings are already starting to tilt one way or another.
However, everyone can relax because this isn’t skewed to one side or another and frankly I’ve become bored with the whole political drama scene. It’s like being stuck watching a play that keeps getting more ridiculous and they are just pushing to see how far they can go before people walk out,, but unfortunately half the crowd knows they are locked in and the other half are starting to root for one side or the other!
So back to Socialism, before I studied abroad I really didn’t know what it was. I did know the USA was “Capitalist” and ergo Socialism must not be correct. Then, I met all these Europeans who seemed to be a bit more sophisticated about politics than I and half of them were from Socialist countries! One part of me thought they should be wearing all red with hammers and sickles on their heads trying to get me to join a commune.
But, no, they were wearing normal clothing (even slightly stylish) and did not ask me once to join a revolutionary party. Over time as I became familiar with other countries I thought whatever system they were in must not be all that bad because everyone seemed pretty normal. Granted, I did not study the different systems (except Capitalism because I did go to business school) and therefore did not write a Ph.D thesis on the topic but I felt I knew enough and would learn a sufficient amount through osmosis. The point is, I learned that their countries were pretty cool but did not give any other thought to their economic models.
Fast forward to today I keep hearing people yell and scream about this or that being socialist. So I got to thinking, well, what is Socialism? From my laymans perspective it seems it is a system where the Government puts constraints on people concerning taxes with the aim of leveling out the inequalities to varying degrees. In other words, it gives to people with less and takes from people with more.
Again, I do not have any strong feelings one way or the other because I felt that economic models didn’t really matter in my daily life and were best left to people that want to concern themselves with such matters.
But, as this word kept being tossed about at anything even remotely seen as “liberal” I got to thinking that in some way or another we are all Socialist.
How can this be?!! Certainly, the USA was founded on the entrepreneur by whose sweat, tears and brains the USA has lead the world in so many categories! But then, how many entrepreneurs do I actually know? And, how many people do I know that go to work for some business and expected to be paid accordingly for their work?
In other words is it not true that most people work for some company and expect to be GIVEN a paycheck? The more I thought about it, a true Capitalist starts his/her own business and gives the workers money for their time and effort. But you may say, it’s a fair trade, money for services rendered! This is true, but how many of us could say that another could not do as well or even better than we do? Therefore, we rely on our company and try to hold on as tightly as possible so we are not replaced by another. Is it not true that very few people are so indispensable?
More specifically, could it not be said that employers take care of their employees and in their benevolence not fire and hire so quickly? If we look at Unions which were designed to look out for the easily expendable, would that not be considered a form of Socialism? Surely HR managers are aware of image and lawsuits that could arise should they be so careless with their personnel.
As individuals move out of the blue collar work and to white collar then these hints of socialism do become less as they have to perform quite well to keep their jobs. The sales team has to bring revenue, accountants keep the books and so on. But if we examine a corporation carefully how much “fat” is there in that company?
In this financial crisis we do see a bit of Capitalism at work with so many being laid off from their jobs. Another phrase I’m seeing quite frequently is that “people are looking for jobs.” In other words they need an employer to give them something to do and pay them money for their time. Our economy has become so advanced and diversified that it would be very difficult for any one individual to be completely self sufficient. Instead, we all have to learn skills to function in very specific categories. The workers RELY on the system to pay them a salary.
1. The barber needs people to come to his/her shop so he can cut their hair.
2. People that sell guns and butter (economics 101 anyone?) need people to buy their wares and the purchasers need people/things to shoot or to make confectionery.
3. Lawyers need people to sue.
Therefore, if nobody needed a haircut, there was nobody to shoot, confections were not being baked and there was nobody to sue then the professions above would be worth nothing. Instead, these people rely on others to come give them employment.
Perhaps we all need a haircut now and then so unless we want to cut our own hair barbers are necessary. AND if I want to shoot someone then the gun seller would come in handy and should I want to eat cake then the confectioner would be useful as well. The point of the whole matter is that in such a complex economy we are all relying on each other one way or another. In a way, this could be considered a bit socialist as we all need to be a bit social to buy and sell to each other. If we were not social then perhaps we would be stuck inside all the time with very long hair, not shooting anyone and have nothing nice to eat and nobody to sue!
In it’s most basic form wouldn’t the Capitalist go out into the woods, build his own house, hire lumberjacks to harvest trees, sell the trees to China, buy wooden products from China and sell them to his lumberjacks ensuring a wonderful profit! This man would be a true capitalist and everyone else could be considered socialists because without the capitalist they would have nothing left to do but sit inside their house with long hair!
Now if we multiply this scenario by a million and add other employment besides cutting trees would it not be a similar scenario?
As for fair pay for fair work, well the lumberjack had to learn how to cut down trees somewhere. Isn’t it wonderful that we live in a society where either our parents or the state provides us, nay GIVES US, an education. Sure some of us come out with loans which we have to pay off but would that not require a company to GIVE US a paycheck?
In fact, thinking like a Capitalist, it would be much better to bring in workers from another country who demand much less of a wage to cut down the trees and then the Capitalist could make even more money! BUT Wait, THERE’S MORE! (R.I.P. Billy Mays). It would seem that we have laws limiting immigration so the Capitalist cannot bring in cheaper workers and therefore must hire the more expensive lumberjacks here locally.
Well, that to me doesn’t seem very Capitalistic at all. The Capitalist has a right to make as much money as possible and shouldn’t be forced to use local labor. Tree cutting doesn’t take that much expertise now does it? So there we have it! People having their jobs protected to a varying degree from Unions, to immigration laws. So how can these so called CINO (Capitalists in Name Only) be for immigration laws? Don’t they want to make more money? How absurd!
Now changing gears and arriving to the opinion if someone is against or for Capitalism and or Socialism. (It would seem to me that one could be both – I am depending on the day and my mood.) All these people spewing one opinion or another seem to have recently obtained them from these national Media types. They watch their show (On Fox or MSNBC ,,choose your poison) get all fired up, and then go onto the comment pages and cause a raucous! But the little devil on their shoulder should constantly be whispering “These opinions were GIVEN to you……..”
Therefore, could there not be such a thing as an intellectual socialist who listens to opinions in the media, chooses which side he/she agrees with then gets up on the soap box and starts singing the praises of either idea!
I can’t imagine that these ideas have come spontaneously into their heads without some assistance. If we imagine a person in the woods who has never had human contact, do we really think they would be considering which is better, Socialism or Capitalism? How about the super professor who has written a lot of books on the subject. Has not the professor spent countless hours in the library studying up on the matter and would it be inconceivable that his/her opinions are derived from the books they have read? How many of the talking heads came up with truly unique ideas to these competing ideologies?? AND how many have stitched together the ideas of others to formulate something they believe might be unique, but in reality is just an accumulation of other peoples ideas!? I suspect that those talking heads are in reality “intellectual socialists” as they borrowed (or stole) from the ideas of someone else.
If we were truly Capitalist would it not be prudent to take this idea of Capitalism, break it down to its individual parts and pay the creators of these ideas accordingly? Perhaps everyone would have to pay royalties to Adam Smith (or his descendants since he is dead.) MAN, what a cluster that would be. Every time the talking head said something their bank account amount would become less! And where did Adam Smith get his ideas from? Perhaps some investigative work into antiquity would be required and soon enough we would perhaps find ourselves back with the Greeks!
In conclusion, could it not be possible that everyone with a job and or an idea, has been given such, and could be regarded a socialist unless of course the individual in question was the outright owner or came up with the idea with absolutely no academic inputs!
As a last thought, and breaking my previous statement that I had “concluded,” I also hear this word called “freedom” being tossed about quite randomly. To be honest, every time I hear that word I can’t help but imagining the commenter as some renegade with a bandanna tied around his head with a gun in hand running around the words yelling “Freeeeedoommm” as Mel Gibson did in Braveheart.
Now I’m not against freedom at all and am actually quite for it. But again, if we are going to go for something lets go all the way and not take half measures. It would seem that in the USA I have to carry a passport and cannot get in our out of the country without one. Did you know that it wasn’t until WWI that people were actually saddled with these things? When I come into the country I also have to answer a series of questions which not answered correctly could put me in the slammer.
Furthermore, I am not allowed to drive my car at 150 miles per hour.
Ok,, forget that last one, I understand that the law is there and in it’s essence says I’m free to “swing my fist as long as it does not hit anothers nose.” Well, what if I want to smoke a pound of crack? I’m not allowed to do that either and I’m not hitting anyone in the nose. I’m also only allowed to have one wife! Who was smoking the crack when they made that law eh?
Now, back to seriousness, it would seem that laws are made to keep society functioning well based on the principles of some party-poopers called the Puritans! And these Puritans came from England! Thus it just goes to show we can blame all the worlds problems on the English. AND these ideas about Capitalism apparently came from some bloke named Adam Smith who was also ENGLISH!!! Man, for such a small country they certainly cause a lot of trouble.
But getting back to Freedom, it would seem there are all sorts of laws derived from England which do not allow me to be free. So what is all this hooting and hollering about freedom? It would seem we are already compromised and just begging for more yard time even though we are mostly stuck in our cell at the jail. If I were completely free then I think I would move to Japan and become a ninja but unfortunately I could only stay for three months without a work permit and the USA would try to take my yen in taxes. So I’m not exactly free with these yokes around my neck am I?
In conclusion (part deux) it seems that we are not completely Capitalist nor completely free at the moment. It would also appear that we all have to compromise a little to keep society functioning and it all just comes down to arguments about how much. Uncle Sam already takes an obscene of our money so why is everyone just complaining about it now? I believe that before and after the Civil War there were no taxes (or very little). Shouldn’t that be the true aim rather then complaining about healthcare??? My healthcare plan is to not get sick, not take any drugs and go to the gym. Yet those complaining on both sides either want it from the Government or from their employer. Either way, to a purist like me, both sides want to be GIVEN it one way or another. Some just put a bit too much worth in their skills which could most likely be outsourced to India so it would probably be wise to not be so pompous. The entire system is taking care of people one way or another.
Everyone is a socialist.
It is baffling to us Europeans why some Americans think that socialism is “evil”. Although the founding fathers of the U.S. were, I believe, keen to keep government secular, it is becoming increasingly obvious that many U.S. politicians on both sides play the religion card to gain votes. So it is hard to understand why socialism – which is so obviously influenced by Christian principles along with those propagated by Karl Marx, Fred Engels and others such as Robert Burns, wouldn’t stike a chord with the American public. Surely the re-disribution of wealth, unions, healthcare etc would benefit the majority of American citizens? As Marx predicted, capitalism has proven to be inherently self-destructive and only with the nationalising of some banks and the part nationalisation of others has the current economic system survived. However, whether the “proletariat” will seize the means of production of even have the inclination to do so remains to be seen. Celebrity gossip, football and such like are much more capitivating for the majority of the British working class and even if they did manage to control production, who knows what they would produce??? And certainly the final stage of socialism – communism – has never really been seen. The Soviet system acheived many great things despite the negative propaganda but alas much of the propaganda such as the insane dictator liquidating anyone and everyone and the price paid was much too high for anyone to seriously will for again. And North Korea is hardly a beacon of socialist/communist democracy despite the irony of it’s title.
I do find this bit you wrote to be questionable: “As individuals move out of the blue collar work and to white collar then these hints of socialism do become less as they have to perform quite well to keep their jobs.”
Blue collar workers, skilled, semi-skilled or unskilled surely work as hard as them middle-class, probably even harder. They are squeezed of the surplus value and probably contribute a lot more to society via worthiness of occupation, for example the chaps who collect the rubbish or the nurses that sew people up. They contribute much more than, say, footballers, journalists or movie stars. The working class have to work much harder because they are easily replaced by, in Marx’s terms, the reserve army of labour which capitalism ensures is always there, made up of immigrants, the unemployed, non-unionised workers, those on termporary contracts etc.
Thank you for your thoughts! I liked the part about celebrity gossip and football being more important and interesting to the “proletariat” than matters of national production or politics. The Conservatives in America have done a novel thing which is to dumb down the course of debate and inject a sort of tabloid media style to get people to start watching. I was listening to one of the shows today and they used the words “nutjob,” “crackpot,” and “idiot,” in pretty quick succession when referring to national politicians. So much for the seriousness of debate and people like Glenn Beck resort almost to puppet shows to entertain his audience.
As for the left, their shows are boring and not even really worth watching (except for the Daily Show). It is either that the listeners are too intelligent to get all fired up over nonsense or the snide, sarcastic tone is a turn off. In fact, a major liberal radio program (Air America) just went out of business.
Regarding your comments about Blue Collar workers I completely agree with you. My meaning was that in the blue collar segment they have unions to offer them some sort of job protection. If an employer wants to fire them, they have to deal with the union. For white collar, no unions exist and they’re on their own. I do agree that the blue collar workers work very hard and especially in the manual labor field. I also agree that they contribute more to society than the examples you mentioned. We have a show here in America called “Dirty Jobs” with the theme being that these jobs actually keep America running which is true.
With the American brand of Capitalism it seems as though the unions are getting weaker with the influx of foreign labor and so their jobs might be a little less protected now. However, here in SF there are often strikes (almost like France) so it would seem they are not out of the game just yet.
In Britain, dumbing down has become an art in itself. I don’t know which particular series we are up to but Big Brother is coming to it’s final year after a long run and reality TV programming is at a peak level. The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent have so much influence over TV programming and music that everything is affected. I would suspect that more people would have an opinion on who should have won the last series of X Factor than who should be running the country and certainly personality politics matter more than the actual policies for a lot of voters.
Going back to blue vs white collar professions, it is important to remember that although white collar professions may be seen as “middle-class” or “respectable” those with professional jobs can earn a lot less than some blue collar workers. For example in Britain a plumber can easily earn much more than a teacher. So I wonder why it is more difficult for the middle-class to organise. It could be a lack of will or a perceived lack of need for organisation that stops them from doing so – many people perhaps think when the going gets tough it is the working class to suffer the most and certain trades are protected which has proven not to be the case with the current recession. I don’t know what the case is in America but in Britain there are myriad of unions for all social classes. For example we have Unison which generally protects the likes of nurses, police staff, teaching assistants and the like, then we have Unite which is perhaps more for manual workers and then we have smaller groups such as the Association for Educational Psychologists or the Chartered Society for Physiotherapy. (Full list at http://www.tuc.org.uk/tuc/unions_main.cfm) if you are interested.
I know in Britain unions are trying to educate their members about immigration and other issues in order to highlight the fact that it is imperative for the working class to organise. Immigrants and non-unionised workers need to be brought into the fold and not seen as a potential threat because it is not individuals that are the problem, rather unscrupulous – or some would say sensible – businesses that use cheaper labour.
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