Those Pesky Political Economy isms

This post was sparked by an exchange on Facebook about communism, socialism and capitalism. At one point the following argument was made:

“Communism or socialism has never worked, anywhere. Human nature will not permit it. As to whether socialism can ever really work, I wholly doubt it. Give me one real example that has worked. And you can’t suggest anywhere in Europe, as none of those countries are truly socialist, and are partially supported by us here in the USA.”

I find these types of arguments odd. Not because there’s anything inherently wrong with the point of view being expressed, although I don’t think I agree with it. Rather, it’s the structure of the argument I take issue with. Because it’s trying to force into quantized bins — the nature of a political economy — something which I’d argue exists on a spectrum.

You can see the problems this leads to in the tautology being created by defining “socialism” as “any thing which others might define as socialism but doesn’t work”. The resulting argument is of course true — that’s what tautologies are all about 🙂 — but it consequently contains little or no meaning.

All forms of political economy exist somewhere on a range between “totally individualistic” and “totally communal”. The question at issue shouldn’t be “what bin does a particular form of political economy fall into?” but rather “to what extent does this particular form of political economy serve the needs of the individuals who make up the community in which it operates?”

It’s an important distinction, IMHO. Because political economies don’t exist as independent entities; they’re choices communities make. And I’d argue the goal of choosing one is both critical for any community and can change over time as circumstances change.

For example, a highly individualistically focused choice, like the one currently in use in the United States, seems to have as its goal “create as many wealthy individuals as possible”. The current political debate over “hey, maybe we should make a different choice?” could be translated to “We want a different goal”.

What might that be? How about “as many individuals as possible should have at least enough wealth and income to be able to lead an enjoyable life”. That’s a very different goal…but isn’t inconsistent with either individualism or communalism. It’s just saying we want each other to be able to enjoy life, even as we, as individuals, enjoy it to differing degrees.

For me the goal of having an economy isn’t to mint as many billionaires as possible. That’s merely a side-effect of having made a good choice. I want an economy which pursues the alternative goal I outlined above. Nothing against billionaires, mind you; I wouldn’t mind being one myself ????. But, ideally, I want everyone to have “enough”.

I think the US was closer to that goal before we embarked on the uber Libertarianism we began embracing back in the 1980s. Time for a change.

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