Capitalism, Communism, Democracy: Words Losing Their Meanings

For some people regulations on banking, on business, are “a stage of Communism”. They have a fuzzy idea, of course, as to what Communism is, and they have an equally fuzzy idea as to what regulations are. They seem to believe that regulations disallow capitalism from being capitalism, prevent a market from being a market. Next time I encounter someone with the view that regulations mean that we’re not longer in a capitalistic market place, I’ll resort to the overused but often handy sports metaphor: “Do you like baseball or football or basketball?” They do. “Do you regard them as healthy competition, as really as tough struggling for a win?” Yes. “So how would your favorite sport work out without any rules? If you removed the rules, would baseball be as much fun? Or would it be a chaotic muddle, possibly including violence?” Probably it would be a mess. “Capitalism with regulation is like sports with rules. It makes the game possible. Many rules are about fairness, so it arranges a fair playing field. Competition, marketing, striving to win, are all still part of a regulated capitalism.”

A good many people extolling the new left, the youth-left, and even some older people who should know the definitions of things better, suppose that “capitalism” must always mean an unfair crushing of all underdogs; must mean a flawed system in which the poor always lose. Then you say to some of these very people, (for example),”But you  own a coffee house. You’ve innovated a brand of coffee you sell. Isn’t that capitalism?” “No,” they say, “I’m fair to employees and to consumers. I don’t pollute. I don’t discriminate racially.” “That doesn’t keep it from being capitalism. You’re using capital to invest, to make a profit. Only, you’re doing it with a conscience. That’s the best capitalism.  Not only is it capitalism–it’s the ideal capitalism.” Again and again I encounter people who sell things–their own books for example–saying that “capitalism” is bad. And they are not selling editions of Das Kapital. They do not know what capitalism actually is–it’s just making a living investing time, labor and resources, to over-simplify. It can be done responsibly or irresponsibly. Good capitalism is carried out responsibly.  Talk to them, you find out  that many people really, truly, don’t know that.

There is a new phenomenon, shown by recent polls: young people who (seemingly) do not think “Democracy” is a good idea. It turns out they have mixed up the idea of democracy with “government as it is now” and “elections at their worst”, with big money taking over elections and government. That takeover–something we’re struggling to stop now–is partly a consequence of predatory individuals mis-using democracy. But this particular group of young people think that Democracy is only that. It’s synonymous in their minds with bought elections and bad government. They are unaware that it means: “government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.” (Random House Dictionary.) So when they say “not a good thing” in polls, they are not saying what we think they’re saying. They are not actually saying “Dictatorship is better”. They’re not being asked to address the question of what would be better than the damaged Democracy we’re burdened with in the era of big-money campaign financing.

In parallel, the alt-right and their libertarian friends who say “regulation is Communism” are unaware that Communism is: “a theory or system of social organization based on the holding of all property in common, actual ownership being ascribed to the community as a whole or to the state.” They think the word applies to regulations in general.

The very meanings of these powerful words are being lost. Clearly the answer to this muddling of terminology is education. Civics is scarcely in evidence in schools now. That needs to be changed. And a campaign to explain these concepts to those who don’t grasp them should be undertaken.

 

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