Sunday, January 30, 2011

Socialism and free-enterprise compared

A few weeks back at the Seattle Transpartisan meetup I was asked to compare life under the now-defunct socialist system in Poland and the capitalism of the United States. My speech was quite lucid and here it is more or less from memory.

First let me clarify the terminology. The term capitalism is rather outdated and would rather characterize the US system as free-enterprise market system. Capitalism refers to accumulation of capital occurring in the 19-th century that had produced rapid and disruptive industrialization in Europe and the US.

Let me begin with the political dimension, the dimension of the source of coercive authority. In socialism we are owned by the government, gov grants us our rights and nominates itself as their protector. We are subjects for the government which is taking care of the direction of the nation. The government arrogates to itself the right to determine our future as a nation and we are just the matter from which the nation is shaped. In the US we have rights which are inalienable - the government is owned by us in order to protect our rights. We are active constituents of the nation and decide to create the government as a common system of protection for us individuals and our goals. The government has no other independent goal than that. The way that it is implemented looks like execution of authority in situations requiring administration of justice, use of common resources, for example, while the source of the authority is the people.

As for the economic dimension, in free-enterprise system the individuals are free agents who conduct independent economic activity. The government is to ensure the honesty of economic relations and the market is the system of exchange of goods and work. The government is supposed to define and protect the markets for various types of exchanges. The individuals are the principal economic agents and are free to create associations dedicated to economic activity known as corporations. Internally such corporations can be organized in any way they wish as they are private entities and express the individual rights. However, they have a goal - typically economic and their employees and resources are subordinated to this goal unlike the citizens of a nation. In socialism the state is the principal economic agent and individuals in it are like employees of a huge corporation. The socialist state typically has a complex goal set somewhat arbitrarily by the government and its realization is subject to planning. The state is operating like a huge and complex corporation. As a kind of employees the individuals are a liability and cost of this corporation. They have to justify what they earn by arguing up the size of their contribution to the common goal. This creates a privilege distribution system with various trades getting their special favors - e.g. coal miners in Poland. Socialism gravitates to a feudal system while in practice it often looks that we must kiss up to or bribe someone higher up to grant us privileges.

Atomization of society

Seattle Transpartisan Alliance is developing quite nicely now running several interest groups. It is great to see people concerned about the future not only of themselves but of their country. There has been a Chautauqua style meet a few months ago and recently I managed to get involved in the Changing the Game/System group. Sadly I must say I have not been involved as much as I would wish - principally because of being occupied with my own life. This leads to the subject of this post.

People in the interest group on Changing the Game/System met up in a coffee shop a few Sundays ago and had a bunch of lively and friendly exchanges not very coherently leading in a direction but intending to work it out. So the task is to post some ideas and meet up again - I suppose two weeks from now. However the exchange of ideas has been reduced much to the discussion about where and how to meet - if we are going to use a library, sadly they are not open very late, a noisy coffee shop with or without a conference room, with ample parking, whether people will be able to get there by bus or car? In short the group has been swamped with consideration of various technical difficulties and inconveniences of getting together. There are forces and influences that may keep us from organizing. This was called back in my days in communist Poland - atomization of society. Keeping everybody separate so that their power is diminished with respect to the power of the state. Atomized people have little in terms of support network should they become targets of some government inquiry, and have no sense that there might be others who would back them in a difficult situation. Atomized people have no sense of a social backbone supporting their political grievance.

Of course the Transpartisan Alliance is trying to precisely develop this sort of social support network for politically engaged citizens. Engaged beyond the fixed political constellation of power in the US. The forces to keep us atomized are not necessarily coming from the government - probably not at all. They are in ourselves and in the individualist nature of Americans. We have our goals, jobs and careers and our homes and private lives. We cannot devote a lot of time and energy to banding together with others, spending a lot of hours debating. The effort might claim too much of our energy or it might be just inconvenient. Parking might be difficult or bus ride too long. Don't you feel a pang of shame when it is not dangerous but inconvenient to gather and talk and listen and support each other, when it is not dangerous but inconvenient to dig for the truth in independent media.