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Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Evil Capitalist?

That is certainly the picture always painted by the news media, especially the 'public service' broadcaster and media. Over the last sixty or seventy years in particular we have been fed a constant diet of negative imagery of the entire concept of individuals competing in a free market allowing them to choose goods, services and even employment is always painted as 'bad' or 'selfish' and 'corrupt.' But the alternative is to have everything planned, managed and provided with complete disregard of individual needs or ambitions. Socialists set themselves up as the arbiters of 'fair' distributuion and provision of everything from health care, through housing and education, to employment. One of the tennets of any socialist society is 'jobs for all.' What no one seems to ask, is this. Where is there a single example of a socialist system which is "fair" and treats everyone equally? Where is there a socialist state that has succeeded in "redistributing wealth? Where is there a socialist state that has succeeded economically?

The excuse is always that they cannot be expected to succeed unless all "Capitalists" are compelled to give up their "greed" and "acquisitive activity" and surrender it to the faceless bureaucrats and politicians who will decide who gets what and when. Or, to put it in the words penned by George Orwell in "Animal Farm," which animals are more equal than the rest.

It is often said now, that in the days of the nasty industrialists and capitalist rule of the 19th Century,  there was no provision for worker housing or welfare. That isn't actually true. There are more examples of factory owners making provision for good quality housing, health care and even pensions for their workers than there are of the 'Scrooges' Dickens wrote of. Look around at the rural housing, as long as a farmer employed large numbers of workers, he also provided housing. So did most of the "great estates" with housing for the married staff, access to health care and pensions and housing when they reached retirement. All of this is a matter of record, but it is seldom mentioned in the school "history" lessons today, which seem to be more about promoting socialist ideas than acknowledging the best examples of the alternative system.

When I look at the regimes built on "socialist principles" and supposedly on "equality" and "democracy" what comes to light is economies controlled with no regard to supply and demand, little, if any actual understanding of value, and, as Orwell noted, members of the ruling elites being "more equal" than anyone else. I also see, in state owned and run industries, massive wastage, inefficiency and a complete contempt for the end user of whatever is produced. There lies the second part of the problem, where personal ownership exists, there is an incentive to maintain it and develop it, keeping it up to date and efficient. Where the "state" owns it, there is no "ownership" by the occupier/user. The "state" never makes provision for renewal or modernisation and the result is stagnation, decay and eventually failure. Those who have worked in service delivery of statutory training at a centre that was once the envy of the world, will recognise what I am describing. There are plenty more examples I could give, including British Rail, state "owned" for over 40 years and still using the trains it inherited when it was finally broken up and sold off. As someone who "enjoyed" commuting on a "slam door" train daily for four and a half years, I can tell you they hadn't spent anything on maintaining them either!

Capitalism does have its abuses, but then, show me a system that doesn't. What it does do is allow the "buyer" a freedom of choice that socialism doesn't. I can work all the hours in the day to amass more of the trappings of wealth, and I can pass those on to my heirs. In a socialist system I can't. In a capitalist system, I have to compete, I have to deliver what I have contracted to do and I can expect a share of the rewards, but in a socialist system, I can coast along and share the rewards of everyone else's labour - except, of course, when everyone else is doing the same thing. After all, what incentive is there to do better?

I think a part of this problem lies in the fact that as Capitalism has to follow the market or go out of business, it necessarily requires flexibility in the workforce. It also means that we cannot all expect the salary drawn by the CEO, but we can and should expect a reasonable return for our efforts. I can sympathise with the labourers in the parable of the owner of the vineyard who hires labourers at different times of the day - and at the end of it pays all of them exactly the same, whether they works the full day or just the last hour. That is classic socialism.

One thing I am fairly sure of, is this. Socialism stifles economies, it breeds envy of those with either more accumen or a slightly better lifestyle. Capitalism has its problems, but it at least offers a wider choice to work for a reward - or not. But the choice is up to the individual, and not in the hands of some faceless bureaucrat or down to the patronage of some venal politicians.

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