The System: Collapse, Overthrow, or Reform?

Another Smithsonian Winner, some upcoming appearances, and a new photo of Rockefeller center
Stuck in Customs / / CC BY-NC-SA

I do not support capitalism as-we-know-it, or crony capitalism. Nor do I support free-market fundamentalism.

I affirm the restructuring of our social system to make it more compassionate and more democratic, so that it better enables everyone to be true to who they really are and to become who they really want to become.

This fundamental reform would involve insisting that our society live up to its ideals. We must “promote the general welfare,” as stated in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, especially by assuring that everyone has a living-wage job opportunity. We must maximize democracy throughout society so that everyone has a real voice in affairs that affect them. And we must enrich our culture, cultivate caring communities, and engage in ongoing self-development in order to promote those values.

At the same time, I support the right of individuals and workers to start their own businesses and establish their own prices – if they do so in a way that does not damage the common good. So I support some forms of capitalism. Talking about “overthrowing capitalism” and identifying oneself as “anti-capitalist” therefore strikes me as imprecise and counter-productive.

Those who want conditions to worsen so “the system” will collapse might do well to read “Is the Safety Net Just Masking Tape?” in the December 17 New York Times. As the author, Thomas B. Edsall points out, worsening conditions can lead societies to or toward fascism. On the other hand, steadily improving economic conditions can lead to a “revolution of rising expectations.”

Edsall also points out that liberals have neglected the need for structural reforms that empower workers and increase economic opportunity, such as higher taxes on the wealthy to fund public investment and full employment. Breaking up the big banks is another needed structural reform. Instead, liberals have promoted means-tested “pity-charity” liberalism. Due to an excessive reliance on those programs, Edsall argues, “The state has become the resource of last resort, consigning just the people progressives would like to turn into a powerful force for reform to a condition of subjugation — living out their lives on government subsidies like Medicaid, the Earned Income Tax Credit and now Obamacare.”

How to build a popular movement for empowerment through economic-security measures already supported by a strong majority of the American people is no easy question to answer. But surely not talking about the issue is no way to begin.