Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Cold War Re-examined

Since the end of the cold war between Russia and the US, we don’t hear much about the capitalism vs. communism debate any more. This past week I have had 3 such conversations, first the 9 year old I babysit suggested that Fidel Castro is a “bad guy”. Of course I had to explain that although the Americans (who had a lot of financial interests in Cuba pre-Castro) think he is a bad guy; many of the Cuban peasant population loved him. No one holds onto power for decades without the support of most of the people. Then I was talking with my daughter about capitalism (surprise I am not opposed to capitalism) and just a couple of days later I was discussing the nature of capitalism, limited vs. generated resources with my son. As an antipoverty activist it is for me to ponder, what the best is for people (particularly North American people) as a community. While no one should be without the basic necessities of life…neither should anyone be denied the opportunity to move forward with their life.
The problem I have with both communism and capitalism is the assumption that every person has the same needs and the same mindset and the same ability and the same opportunity and the same temperament. We view the world from our perspective and expect others to be like us… which would be great if we then treated everyone one else the way we wish to be treated.
Communism in principle allows for the collective wealth to be shared equally among the citizens. Everyone’s basic needs are provided for… while ignoring the fact that not everyone shares the same needs. Some people need a 3000 sq ft house to be comfortable while some of us only need a 300 sq ft apartment. There is no incentive under communism to be productive or innovative, which causes the population to stagnate.
Capitalism has become a dirty word probably because of its history, centuries of personal and corporate empires built on the exploitation of people and resources. In time, all such empires topple to revolution… in the olden days these men and their wealth fell to the sword and even today corrupt empires fall to unionization and public scrutiny. As with communism... capitalism fails to accept the many differences between individuals, (talents and limitations). It is a system which punishes people for being poor, and assigns worth to society based on personal wealth and property.
It is not the wealth (or the wealthy) which is bad… it is only the blind irresponsible pursuit of money for money’s sake which is unhealthy. I personally know many wonderful people who are extremely well off, they spend their much time and resources to bettering their communities. I also know many poor people who are of great value to our society, giving of time, energy and talent to make a difference in the lives of others. Knowing that wealth is power and with power comes responsibility makes for good capitalism. Capitalists produce needed (or indulgent) goods and services, which through free market enterprise provide the means to comfortably support themselves and their families. The good capitalist pays a fair wage to employees so they can also provide for their families. Good capitalists, provide their service or product, at a reasonable and justifiable cost to the consumer.
I guess the message here is that Capitalism can evolve into something truly good when everyone acts with responsibility and compassion. Creating a community where everyone has enough of the material world to be safe and comfortable… (whatever that means to each person).  Have a joyous day my friends and we will talk again soon.