There has been a lot of talk lately about Socialists, Socialism and whether the U.S. is becoming a Socialist country. It seems like whatever Socialism is, it is something that everyone understands, or pretends to, without ever actually defining it. Mostly it seems to revolve around the fear that the government is going to control the private sector too much, including the private lives of citizens. Free market capitalism is the right answer to our problems and the sure path to well being. Isn’t that right?
Whatever form of capitalism we have had, it has never been free and it has always been in transition. Consider that the modern public corporation is hardly over a hundred years old. From the colonial period through the Civil War corporations were businesses chartered by governments, state governments for the most part, to achieve a specific public good with private investors putting up the money, taking the risks, and reaping the rewards, if any. The birth of the modern public corporation, broadly owned by many shareholders and in business for its own private purposes, did not come over night but evolved over a long time right into the 20th century.
These, and other businesses such as sole proprietorships, partnerships and limited liability corporations, have never really been free to do whatever they want. Laws and regulations have always given them a range of opportunities, limitations and protections. In other words, something of a government crafted system has arisen that establishes the framework within which private enterprise can work, and for most of our lifetimes that framework has been systematically manipulated to create what can only be called Corporate Socialism.
It has become a framework that leaves ordinary citizens, even business owners, as mere pawns. Certainly we Americans have a tremendous amount of freedom, and we treasure that, but it’s also true that some of that freedom is illusory. A good example is the health care system. Some would have you believe that a national single payer system of health care would “put the government in control of your lives” removing individual choice, creating huge bureaucracies of uncaring clerks, and giving up the many advantages of competition. I’m not sold on a single payer system either, but what makes anyone think we have control or choice now? Huge bureaucracies of uncaring clerks already control our health care destinies, and competition is not about providing the best care at the lowest price, but about out foxing the other company to produce the highest yield for corporate salaries and the annual report to investors.
Some have accused me of being a left wing, pinko, liberal but I think of myself as a classical conservative. I hope that the next president and congress will move to turn corporate and other business regulation to focus more on the public good, and that they will be courageous enough to recognize what it is that government can and should be doing because it can do it better than the private sector. I recognize that the likelihood of that is minimal, but it’s worth a shot.