If/when Bernie Sanders becomes the Democratic nominee, his biggest obstacle to overcome won’t be the accusations that he’s a socialist or communist. To be sure, those will be the primary lines of attack against him from the Trump campaign (and has already been from the Democrats). But those relentless accusations wouldn’t carry any weight if not for the woefully misinformed, miseducated, and misguided ignorance of the average American voter. That’s the real problem. (No offense).
Forget the false narratives and propaganda peddled by the corporate media and the severe deficits of the American education system. Let’s start from scratch and break down exactly what these systems actually are, what it means to be a democratic-socialist, and why it isn’t something to be afraid of.
CAPITALISM: An economic and political theory in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.
One of the chief benefits of capitalism is competition, which in turn breeds more innovation. If you have dozens of cell phone companies they all have to fight to earn your business. If Verizon offers $50 monthly plans, for example, then T-Mobile has to offer an equivalent or even better deal. Or maybe monthly T-Mobile plans still cost more but their customer service is superior enough to still attract a comparable number of customers. Meanwhile Sprint might have poor customer service but $40 monthly plans to compensate. And so on. The more companies the more variety the offerings to attract a consumer niche. Essentially they are all fighting to offer the best overall service because that’s what is required to make any profit. That sounds like a win-win, right?
The problem that invariably arises under capitalism comes when a company becomes rapidly more successful than the rest and becomes increasingly impossible to compete with. If Verizon had enough profit to buy T-Mobile and Sprint outright to eliminate the competition, they would. Why compete when you can just buy them? From a strictly business perspective this is more cost-effective in the long-term, which is why industry consolidation is inevitable under a purely capitalistic system. Suddenly dozens of cell phone companies can turn into ten, then five, then three, then only one.
But what happens to the consumer?
If Verizon charges too much but Sprint isn’t there to offer cheaper plans, if Verizon’s customer service is shitty but T-Mobile isn’t there to provide better assistance, what then? If there isn’t an alternative to turn to then consumers are stuck with Verizon or are forced to forgo having a cell phone at all. But since having a cell phone is an essential service in the modern era, so the majority would be forced to buy their service. Without competition there’s no need for Verizon to improve their offerings, which would mean more investment, which requires digging into their profits, so why would Verizon bother to improve? That’s a monopoly.
You might be thinking, “Yeah, well, that’s why we have anti-trust laws to prevent monopolies!” Good point. Except if a company grows wealthy enough they can simply pay lobbyists to bribe politicians to loosen those anti-trust laws, allowing for greater consolidation. As of 2015, the only four Tier 1 wireless carriers in the United States were Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint. Combined they controlled roughly 90% of the industry. Having only 4 companies controlling the vast majority of the cell carrier industry already seems dangerously close to a monopoly, doesn’t it? And yet:
Once the Sprint/T-Mobile merger has been completed consumers will be down to only three cell phone carriers to choose from. One more merger like that and we’ll be down to two, which would be like choosing Coke or Pepsi. Is that really a choice? Is there really much motivation to provide great customer service or lower prices? Is there really much incentive left to innovate? Not really.
Now expand this problem to every single industry in a capitalistic society. Media, food products, cosmetics, etc.
Increasingly at the mercy of corporate giants, it’s not surprising that the American middle-class continues to feel like they’re getting screwed. Because they are. Under late-stage capitalism the benefits of the system decline while negative consequences for consumers are increasing. As the rich get richer the poor becoming poorer as a result, causing income inequality to gradually and eventually starkly increase.
Today, the U.S. Government itself is largely controlled by corporate money to such an extent that some of the largest companies are required to be pay zero in taxes. This is directly due to a select few companies being permitted to amass tremendous levels of obscene wealth to the point that they have enough profits to buy off politicians and change the laws themselves to allow for even more financial gains. If this cycle continues unabated we arrive at end-stage capitalism (kleptocracy, which is currently what we have in the United States).
KLEPTOCRACY: A government with corrupt leaders that use their power to exploit the people and natural resources of their own territory in order to extend their personal wealth and political powers.
Corporations use lobbyists to bribe politicians to reduce corporate taxes, giving corporations even more money to spend on lobbyists for even more bribes and even lower taxes, and so on and so forth.
And that is how capitalism devolves into fascism, or more specifically corporate fascism, by default.
Competition and innovation are strong foundations for any developing economy, but how can we maintain those positive attributes of capitalism without destroying our society? The answer is the second half of the equation, the system that the corporate media and profit-driven education system doesn’t dare to address.
SOCIALISM: A political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.
The dangers of capitalism only exist when too much wealth exists in too few hands. Socialism addresses this problem by acting as a stop-gap, keeping the People in the driver’s seat, ergo preventing massive power grabs.
There are certain industries in which capitalism is simply not a viable option, economically or morally, because by design it harms rather than helps the consumer. In the previous discussed example, competition amongst cell phone carriers (ideally) leads to lower prices and better services. But who benefits from, say, the health insurance industry? None of those insurance companies actually provide a service to anyone. They merely exist as middle-men between doctors and patients, pencil-pushers soaking up profits that would otherwise be spent on actual healthcare. They are a by-product of unfettered capitalism.
Note that neither of these systems, socialism and capitalism, are inherently wrong. Or communism for that matter. But when one system is left in place for too long it will invariably devolve after the benefits have piqued and spiral into some form of fascism (far-right, authoritarian ultranationalism characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition, and strong regimentation of society). History has shown us that the answer is never a singular system because every economic theory carries rewards and consequences that vary based on the length of time that system has been left alone to fester.
The answer is an all-of-the-above approach, each of which acts as a check-and-balance to the others. The idea that these systems must be in conflict rather than working in tandem is utterly absurd, naive, and demonstrates a severe lack of understanding on the subject of economics. And that’s what the Establishment is counting on, the ignorance of American voters, in order for the wealthiest among us to continue robbing the majority, to continue driving capitalism straight over the cliff into the fascist abyss.
Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard are the only two 2020 candidates that can swing that pendulum the other way. But first Americans must resist their blind-devotion to capitalism and recognize that socialism isn’t a threat to capitalism at all. Socialism is the key to regulating capitalism, to iron out the wrinkles, and ultimately strengthen and preserve competition and innovation, the tentpole benefits of capitalism.
Either we accept the need to balance both or we’ll be left with neither, leaving only fascism left standing when the dust settles.
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