[Note: This item comes from friend Robert Berger. DLH]
A New Synthesis
By umair haque
Aug 11 2017
I was talking to someone recently and in the middle of a perfectly civilized conversation about our impending doom by nuclear holocaust they blurted out: “but you’re a leftist!”
Whoa there, pardner. I’m many things, a wastrel, a real life vampire — but I’m assuredly not a leftist. Not that there’s anything wrong with leftists, apart from their nitpicking ways, but liberals share that too I suppose. Here’s what I do think.
Capitalism and socialism might have been, once upon a time, in a mythical fairy tale of empires past, opposites — thesis and antithesis. I say “might” because I think even that is a tale told by wise old fools to keep children afraid of the dark. The genuine opposite of both capitalism and socialism are kleptocracy, oligarchy, authoritarianism — what results when political economies are run by and for tiny elites. We’ll come back to that.
The great lesson of the last century is very simple: first extreme socialism failed, and the Soviet empire fell. Now extreme capitalism is failing, and America is falling. Two great kingdoms — one single lesson: yesterday’s extremes have both failed. Cutthroat competition in every aspect of life soon becomes abuse. Enforced cooperation soon becomes unendurable. So what now? Well, surely not choosing sides in this textbook false dichotomy—which unfortunately is what many still hope to do — but transcending it.
Today capitalism and socialism are not opposites. They are complements. The global economy of this century must and will be built on new synthesis: capitalism and socialism working together, each strengthening the others’ weakness, a kind of yin and yang of human organization.
In what specific way? Well, let’s examine reality for a moment. Capitalism is very, very good at providing people things like iPhones and craptastic summer blockbusters and dating apps and edible deodorant and designer diapers and reality TV. You might call them idle pleasures. Which I might not like, but the average person certainly does. And that’s fine. If.
If they have the basics of a genuinely good life first. What are those basics? The American right and left love to pretend as if there’s some kind of great debate, mystery, about it. There’s not. Aristotle, the Buddha, and Jesus all spelled it out millennia ago. Food, shelter, income, safety, security, opportunity. Today we might update that list with things that didn’t exist in their time, but are clearly in the same spirit: transportation, healthcare, education, environment, relationships, etc. If you think about it, no matter how much money you have, you can’t really buy such things unless a society has invested in them first.
These “things” are what I call “fundamental goods”. They are what makes a life good at its root. Through them, everyone can be happy, and grow into their potential — without them, no one can be, no matter what your latest self-help bestseller says. Without a few meals a day, a little bit of money in the bank, and your health, no amount of positive thinking can get you to happiness — nor should it. Human beings are not all born to be monks — they are born to dare, risk, defy, rebel, imagine, create. And to do all that, they need the basics. Without the basics, democracy can’t survive, society can’t cohere, people can’t flourish, and lives can’t be fully lived.
So. The two great systems of the past, learning to work together. Where do we see it happening? All over Europe and Canada of course. There, capitalism and socialism are being mixed together in sophisticated and bold ways. Those societies are prospering because they are getting the formula of human possibility right: socialism provides the basics, and capitalism offers endless idle pleasures which only really count if you have the basics.