Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Socialism, Capitalism, Altruism, and Selfishness

I found these two articles illuminating of some of today's challenges...

Watch and Learn from Hugo Chavez

Washington, D.C.--Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez has halted construction of a private shopping mall in downtown Caracas as a first step toward confiscation. "We're going to expropriate that and turn it into a hospital--I don't know--a school, a university," said Chavez on his weekly radio show.

"Americans can learn an important lesson from the spread of socialism in Venezuela," said Thomas Bowden, an analyst at the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights. "What is Chavez counting on when he grabs a private building and vows to make it into a hospital, school, or university? He's counting on his listeners to excuse the seizure of private property because a higher moral purpose is supposedly being served.

"Chavez is relying on the fact that socialism embodies the world's moral ideal of individual sacrifice for the 'common good.' History has taught him that no opponent will denounce that ideal. And so he climbs to the moral high ground, turning his back on socialism's dismal historical record of economic decline, lost freedoms, and human misery.

A flaw of socialism is that it often involves theft, when the government confiscates formerly private property for the public good. A flaw of capitalism is that it often involves theft, when the government confiscates formerly private property because it would be more profitable for some other purpose. In other words, people tend to be greedy, and no matter what system they are placed in, they will find some way of ripping off other people. Conversely, there is also an altruistic force in humanity, which can be a good thing when properly channeled, and a disaster when used to encourage martyrdom. Unbridled socialism tends to wreak havoc by removing people's ability to benefit from their own hard work, which leads to laziness; it's support of the group over the individual until the system collapses. Unbridled capitalism tends to wreak havoc by removing people's obligation to give a fig about the effects of their profitable actions, which encourages people to seek wealth regardless of harm done to people, animals, the environment, and even themselves; it's support of the individual over the group until the system collapses. So far, we have yet to come up with a system that doesn't generate problems shortly after the addition of people.

A healthy society and economy would balance the needs of the individual and the group. It would reward hard work, but not so much as to encourage people to work themselves to death. It would reward altrusim, but not so much as to create hordes of miserable martyrs. It would relegate large-scale and vital things -- such as infrastructure and health care -- to the public sphere, making sure that basic needs could be met readily. It would leave plenty of room for smaller local ventures, creative cultural content, innovations and research, and other opportunities for private development. People who prefer working in a team on projects that benefit society could thus serve in the public sector; people who prefer working alone or in adventurous projects could thus serve in the private sector. A composite system combining features of several different socioeconomic models seems like a better idea than a single unbuffered system.

Pain of Recession Foretells Agony of Green Economy

Washington, D.C.--For the first time in 25 years, global demand for oil is expected to decline two years in a row. The decline is an effect of the global economic recession, which has dramatically reduced production and trade worldwide.

"This recession, with all its grim news of job loss and economic hardship, should be seen as a cautionary tale against coercive energy and climate policies," said Keith Lockitch, fellow of the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights.

"Energy is the motive power that fuels production and trade. When economic activity slows, so does energy demand. But it goes the other way too. Imposing restrictions on the use of energy--as would occur under a system of carbon regulation--would choke off the economy's fuel and shut down productive activity. The economic pain we're all feeling in this recession is nothing compared to the pain we would feel if we adopt green policies that cut off fossil fuel consumption.

Here we have a different iteration of the same underlying concept: individual benefit without adequate consideration of the consequences. Yes, changing from fossil fuels to alternative fuels will be difficult and expensive. But fossil fuels are finite and running out; they're also harming the biosphere in general and human health in particular. The fundamental law of nature, which is not subject to appeal, is this: Adapt or die. Homo sapiens may be the most adaptable species ever begotten by Earth, but can also be more stubborn than a badger and more pig-headed than a wild boar. We could adapt, but we could also choose not to do so. History is littered with the ruins of civilizations that failed this test in one way or another. We are no different.

Growth without limitation or consideration of consequences is the philosophy of the cancer cell. It works splendidly -- until the host dies, taking the throng of cancer cells with it. This, too, is the philosophy of lessez-faire capitalism -- until the economy crashes like an egg impacting a brick wall.

Look to nature for proven examples of success and the cycles that bound them. The tide rises and falls; it doesn't flood the land forever, nor does it retreat forever. Predators and prey control each other's populations in a paced sine wave, much like supply and demand. They go up, and then they go down; they will always cycle like that unless something shatters the relationship beyond recovery. We have built an economy that demands constant growth, in an environment where constant growth is not possible. We need to find a better model; nature has some suggestions. We also tend towards monocropping -- in agriculture, in religion, in economics, in all walks of life. But monocropping doesn't work very well. It can only be maintained with massive effort. Nature demonstrates that a diverse system is more robust than a homogenous one: more fault tolerance, more flexibility, more able to adapt to changing circumstances. We need to find ways of organizing civilization along more effective lines, using the kinds of system structure that demonstrably work.
Tags: community, economics, environment, history

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