The Other I

June 20, 2013

Thinking about it out loud

I’ve just finished reading What Then Must We Do? by Gar Alperovitz, a political economist with extensive political experience in Washington, and now a professor at the University of Maryland.

Fundamentally the book addresses the question:  if you think capitalism as it has evolved is not the answer to the needs of the majority, but if you are equally not enamored with the various versions of socialism which have been tried, what are our options?

Despite its drawbacks, I have long thought that capitalism operating within the context of a democracy was the least worst option.  But I am no longer convinced that this is still the case.  Today in America, 400 people at the top of the income scale possess more wealth than the bottom 180 million people put together.  It doesn’t bother me in principle that some people have a great deal more money than others.  But what does bother me is that these numbers suggest that a very small number — that famous 1% — have a great deal more political power than millions of people each with our famous “one vote.”  Just as worrisome, fewer and fewer people are able, in practice, to improve their standard of living by working hard, by creativity, ingenuity and saving.

I think that fundamentally this gigantic income, power, and opportunity gap is undermining democracy.

But most versions of socialism with which I am acquainted make me just as concerned.  Socialism might in theory mean power to the people, but in practice it seems has too often meant power to the politically elites in government.  At the same time, unearned benefits paid to the poor  too often risk creating people who expect a free ride, who do not feel they owe anything to anybody, that they don’t have any obligation to pay anything back.  This isn’t good for the economy, it isn’t fair to the taxpayer, and above all it is an unfulfilling, even destructive, way to live.  Because we all need to be needed.  We all need to make a contribution to the community.

What Then Must We Do? offers a fascinating series of analyses and suggestions, which over the next few weeks I hope to summarize.   I’m not trying to convince anybody.   It’s my way of  clarifying what I think myself.  It’s a kind of thinking out loud, which often provides me with the same return that preparing a class lecture used to do.



  1. Redistribution of wealth IS Socialism. In around 1776, 99% of Great Britains wealth belonged to 1% of the population. Washington’s solution was to declare unilateral independence. In 1886 that % was almost the same so as to make little difference to the Mill workers ect. The famous son of a wealthy European industrialist came up with a revolutionary idea! The British National Health Service would work if at its inception it had not been ‘universally’ available to every rich, American, African and Asian and Australian. National Insurance is a tax on residents therefore only residents should be able to use the service. Welfare benefits are an aid to the less fortunate but can remove some of the corporate consciousness when dismissing staff instead of reducing dividends! The history, some would say myth, of ‘unemployment’ becoming a ‘job for life’ would be a fascinating subject for both historian and economist when looking at the downfall of a major industrial nation!!


    Comment by lairdglencairn — June 21, 2013 @ 8:19 am | Reply

    • Yes, redistribution of wealth is socialism, but the structure within which it may take place varies drastically. And the irony of the last thirty years in America is that the redistribution of wealth has gone in the wrong direction. There is once again a concentration of wealth in the top 1% that I think is extremely dangerous, for reasons I know you don’t need me to explain.

      As far as Britain’s National Health Service goes, I did not arrive in Britain convinced that it was preferable. But despite its problems, I’m impressed. And unemployment, disability, and welfare benefits are clearly safety nets that a responsible government should provide. That they are all subject to abuse in whatever country one may live is, I think, simply the human condition. And it is just as obvious that when the worker has no defense through unionization, and indeed state benefits, that the opposite abuse by corporations is just as great or worse.

      In America, as you probably appreciate, “socialism” tends to sound like “communism” to a lot of people. The question I’m exploring is how America might get from uncontrolled, unbridled capitalism with what I fear is increasing injustice and inequality to systems that provide far more equality of opportunity, and as much emphasis on quality of life as there is on making money.

      I will be interested in your thoughts on the subject as I think out loud during the next weeks about this challenge. No system is perfect, but I think America’s present system needs some fundamental change – and not in the direction suggested by the Tea Party.


      Comment by Terry Sissons — June 21, 2013 @ 9:55 am | Reply

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