Dogma Premise # 43

Poor people are better off economically than they would be under any alternative system.

Beleaguered supporters of capitalism will eventually turn to Dogma Premise #43, their ultimate trump card. No matter what faults capitalism has, no matter what injustices it perpetrates, not matter the suffering of those harmed by capitalism's machinations, they will insist that it there is nothing to be done, because there is no better alternative. This is as good as it gets.

Frequently they will misquote Winston Churchill as purportedly saying that "Capitalism is the worst system, except for all the rest." What Winston Churchill actually said was that, "Democracy is the worst form of government, except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." In other words, Churchill was talking about democracy, not capitalism. (Churchill compared capitalism to socialism like this: "The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings. The inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.")

But Capitalism proponents do not need for Churchill to have said it; they believe it anyway, and tend to marshal evidence such as:

1. Communism was tried in the Soviet Union and it failed.

2. Life was miserable in socialist countries, such as X former Soviet satellite country

3. In socialist countries, they don't have X that we have here where I live.

It is not obvious that the Soviet Union's failure means that no one could succeed. The proper response to all of these arguments, though, is the same. Just because Socialism did not work in a handful of historical attempts within a single century, does not mean that it could not be accomplished somewhere, under some circumstance. Is there evidence, for example, that any particular failure was a well-thought-out, well-funded, honest attempts to create a communist or socialist society, or were these not really socialist/communist regimes at all, but merely various forms of tyranny or state capitalism claiming to be something else? Or  were there external forces at work trying to prevent success?

The Soviet Union, of course, was not a serious attempt at communism. It has variously been characterized as a police state, a bureaucratic state, and state capitalism.

Moreover, the United States has aggressively attempted to destroy anything that purported to be a communist regime (see, e.g., Domino Theory, and obvious examples such as North Korea, Nicaragua, Cuba, and Grenada). Without evaluating what was actually going on in any specific country, it is a fair question whether any country could set up a successful economic democracy while being pounded economically and militarily by the United States. It is widely believed, for example, that the fall of the Soviet Union resulted not from internal contradictions in its economics, but from its inability to sustain an arms race against the US.

So the fact that no successful model of communism has emerged would not by itself defeat the theory.

Capitalist proponents will frequently argue that economic democracy in any form (e.g., socialism, communism, anarchism) is intrinsically impossible because human nature prevents it. They then cite the Dogma Premises relating to Individualism (1-4) and Government (22-31). These, however, are Dogma Premises, not facts, and as we have seen there is nothing in human nature that intrinsically prevents cooperative endeavors, and indeed there is much that encourages it.

And the death of Socialism may have been announced prematurely, because the Scandinavian countries, such as Sweden and Finland, have long had in place social programs and high tax rates that would terrify a capitalist, and yet the social results have been extremely good.

For example, Finland's schools are among the best in the world, which they accomplished not through a system of private incentive, by through a governemnt-run system that attempts to ensure a similar quality education for all children, regardless of race, geography, or wealth.

Similarly, Sweden uses high tax rates to guarantee health care and education to all citizens. Swedish citizens are rated among the happiest in the world, their cities are relatively crime-free, and their economy generates world-class innovative companies like Volvo, Saab, Ikea, H&M, and Ericsson. Skype was founded in Sweden, too.

Norway uses its ample oil money to provide every kind of social benefit to its citizens, including health care and education, twelve-month paid maternity leaves, and plenty of paid vacation -- all this with a budget surplus, and a higher per capita gross domestic product than the United States.

Venezuela has nationalized industries and used its oil money to dramatically improve literacy rates and begin to build social infrastructure in a previously impoverished country.

Even a non-socialist state like Canada provides socialist-style single-payer universal health care that delivers far better results than what US citizens receive.

Instead of saying that socialism is a proven failure, it would be more accurate to say that elements of socialism have succeeded around the globe, and there has been no serious effort to implement an even more socialist economy that did not face destructive military opposition from capitalist countries. Indeed, socialism and communism may not yet have been tried at all.

But the actual mechanics of a successful socialist state have been worked out in meticulous detail, more than a century ago by Edward Bellamy in Looking Backward and Equality, and more recently by Michael Albert in Parecon.

The claim that Capitalism is better than any alternative system is not supported by the history of governments or the psychology of people. Indeed, the evidence that socialist institutions are both workable and effective is growing.

In the face of serious concerns about the effects of capitalism, a knee-jerk denial of alternatives makes no sense. The only reasonable response is to put our best minds to work and seriously investigate the workability of alternatives, and to design some experimental alternatives in what Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis referred to as the Laboratories of Democracy.

All Dogma Premises