Capitalism and Socialism: Two wrong approaches to economic morality

There are two strains which are not merely frequent but rather ubiquitous in society and business today. Both are largely similar in their effects, and fit neatly into right wing and left wing ideologies.

In the first place, it is incumbent to focus on the faults of business, since leftist views are in reaction to it, while right wing views are in spite of it. The first is the immoral practices of businesses which are technically "legal". They hit a wide variety of issues, from advertising to payment. Advertising is perhaps the most immoral and the greatest corrupter of social morals and practices. An example which sticks out in my mind clearly is that of Axe body spray. I doubt I have ever met a woman who liked the smell, yet every adolescent of today's generation wears it, because several years ago they came out with a commercial where a man wearing that spray is riding in the elevator and has women jumping all over him. The message is clear. The use of sex in general, and the pornographic nature of advertising in particular has done more to promote promiscuity amongst the youth than Kinsey could have hoped to do with the publication of his two books on sexuality. This is an example of where "market forces" promote immorality for the sake of selling a product. This is an area where the market has failed morally while succeeding materially. It sold the product, but to do it engendered sins against the 6th and 9th commandments.

Another area where advertising promotes immorality is a lack of thrift through social obsolescence. Peer pressure is a powerful tool, created by advertising, that forces people through fear of being blackballed to buy a given product, even though they don't need it, even though their money could be used for the benefit of their families elsewhere, or for suffering members of society. Examples could be multiplied ad nauseam, but to stray too deep into an analysis of advertising will take us away from our overall point.

Businesses also use a tactic which is called planned obsolescence, by which products are made either defective or poorly so that they will break down within a short time in order that you will need to buy another one. They might also be made so that successive upgrades will require you to replace entirely an otherwise usable product. The immorality here is both a lack of thrift (as with social obsolescence) and also a devaluation of human work and of wealth. The things we have no longer have value in as much as they are made by ourselves, our neighbor, they are not heirlooms to be passed to the next generation but rather to the landfill or the ocean.

Another area is the concentration of the majority of wealth into a limited number of hands. This has been decried since Capitalism's inception, and is usually countered with the rhetoric that the wealthy pay most of the taxes. Yet, if more people produced their own wealth not only would there be less need for burdensome and expensive government social structures, but the populace as a whole would have the ability to shoulder a just tax that could cover the legitimate expenses of government. What occurs as a consequence is the wealthy wield an inordinate amount of power within a polity, and create laws to their own benefit. So much of environmental and social regulation for example is sponsored by big business because while they can shoulder the costs of higher inspection fees, the smaller entity, the family owned business can not and that form of government regulation allows the capitalist to eliminate competition he doesn't want to deal with.

Another area where the inordinate power of wealth creates unjust competition is in underselling and unlimited advertising. Through this vehicle the family owned entity doesn't stand a chance, even though it can provide in most cases better services or produce better products. Lastly, since wages are the most controllable expense in business, the push is always for minimizing wages not increasing them, and as such the wages of the average worker do not rise at a rate consummate with inflation, while wages of CEO's and those who don't create the wealth rise to a level 30 times that of those who do create the wealth.

The reaction of the left on the other hand, doesn't seek in the slightest to amend these evils. Instead, it seeks to assuage the symptoms of the problem. So when the worker is paid badly, the left proposes continuing to pay the worker badly, but give him money to go on vacation, or to give the worker so much paid sick time. The left says we will make the employer pay for your health care. All of these things would be anathema in an ownership society, because they represent payment for work not rendered.

The left promotes unions as the answer to big business, but these unions impart no skills to the workers to increase either their abilities, or to advance them in any means of ownership. Rather, unions are a vehicle for social discord, advocating strikes and lawsuits to pursue what are ultimately its own interests, while workers' money taken for dues is sent to their favorite political guru. At the end of the day big business remains big business, while the plight of the worker might improve marginally, after attorney's fees and political contributions have been paid out.

The left also promotes programs which pay the worker (again for work he did not do) as a means of helping the little guy. The right does the same thing but does so as a boost to big business. The left suggest taxing the public to give to the less well off, the right proposes it to build a stadium, or a Home Depot, in order to bring tax revenue into the city's coffers.

While the right promotes a social Darwinist model for business, the left promotes what amounts to a promotion of theft by another name. In both cases, work in and of itself is devalued, and what fails to impart value avails little for man's ultimate end, which is not a 401k retirement plan but the heavenly 401k promised in the Bible: salvation.

Thus helping people stay in their houses, or redistributing the wealth, is not sufficient to create morality in the business world. Increased stock options and dental plans impart no more value to the goods proposed for our consumption or the work we do marketing them. Rather, the vehicle to promote increased morality in society is increased ownership of the means of production.

This should be a common sense approach. People take better care of their homes than rented ones, they take better care of their gardens than they do the gardens in a public park, and for good reason. They do not own them. People look after their own. Thus, if a man's livelihood was dependent upon a certain trade, he is going to do more to satisfy his customer than the large corporation whose bosses are more interested in their time share sin Tahiti than helping those who buy from them.

However creating an ownership society is more difficult than merely establishing new government policy, or expanding co-ownership model cooperatives. It is establishing a conversion of society back to the idea of work, of true work and its benefits, as well as its worth. Secondly, people need to recognize the freedom which comes from owning their own work and their own production. Then with those factors in place can a situation where conditions favorable to Distributist ideals can take root. Principally, we need to convert people away from the idea that our Economy needs to double and triple in order to be prosperous. Our opponents are replete with charts and mathematical concepts showing how many "results" (hoarded up in New York and LA) result from Capitalism, in an effort to strong arm the critic into submission. However, it is shifting the burden of proof. Capitalism's claims to success are based on mere production and wealth. The results have no relation to people, to society, to cultural morals or revealed religion. The economy does not need to grow significantly every year and hit targets pre-set by market gurus (all of whom have been wrong recently) in order for wealth to be created. A sufficient amount of wealth can be created to support the needs of society if it were marked by the characteristic of ownership of private productive property.

The goal of any healthy society should be faith, family and the common good, not net worth points or the extreme individualism promoted by the market. This is why I consider the activism and energy spent by pro-family advocates in National elections to be rather vain and worthless. At the end of the day anti-family initiatives live on stronger than ever and will continue to do so until the social roots by which moral evils are fought have been replanted, and a healthy society of family life through ownership and private production of wealth by small units comes again to predominate the scene. Social conservatives who embrace libertarianism are kidding themselves just as much as left wing activists for the poor or the worker are kidding themselves if they think socialism will protect the worker.

4 comments:

Anonymous,  Monday, November 17, 2008 at 5:09:00 PM CST  

Good post, but I caught a misprint in the next-to-last paragraph:

Distributsit ideals

Anonymous,  Tuesday, November 18, 2008 at 5:42:00 AM CST  

I don't agree with this view of unions at all. I would agree that the modern unions are not unions but corporate vehicles to promote dog-eat-dog and the "necessity" (as a cost of Capitalism) of a massive underclass.

A better view of Trade Unionism would be Chesterton's. G.K. saw the Trade Unions as a link to the Guilds.

- Tom Laney

Athanasius Tuesday, November 18, 2008 at 3:20:00 PM CST  

Yes but do the modern unions bare any resemblance to the Trade Unions of old? No they do not, with rare exceptions. You do seem to agree with my characterization of the union, which is drawn largely out of my own multiple experiences in Unions, and admittedly it is the modern union that I am criticizing, given that my post is focused on the present.

A traditional union on the other hand that actually represented its members would be a positive thing. Instead, it is owned by a board of trustees who take the money from dues and invest it, and send the returns to the democratic party or themselves in the form of higher wages.

RP Thursday, November 20, 2008 at 11:30:00 AM CST  

No economic or social organization can ensure equality among the lower middle and upper class. Power can corrupt the most honest man, are we not all sinners? The heads of any organization with the power to make decisions for the benifit of those whome he or she represents. Injustice and unfairness are inevitable unless we lose our human inhibition to increase our own wealth, or all 6 billion of us agree on the same policies of governemt economic and social rights.

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