Exclusive: Capitalist Truths and Capitalist Labels

by LESLIE SACKS October 22, 2009
It is unfortunate that in media saturated America – with its sound bite obsessed spinmeisters and its attention deficit consumers – the truth behind our ever-present labels is everywhere perverted. "Capitalism," for example, is condemned by (self-described) socialist-leaning leftists. Yet many on the American left have little in common with authentic Marxism or European Socialism. In fact, like the media buffoon Michael Moore, they are often closet capitalists who make a fortune out of exposing selective ills of the society and system from which they benefit. "Capitalism" has been twisted and turned by more prosaic figures as well, first by the Wandering Republicans and now by the Sputtering Democrats. A basic tenet of a mature and evolved capitalism is that the pricing of goods is not artificial and that it incorporates the true costs of production, use and disposal, as well as the true demand for and costs/benefits of their use. In our allegedly hyper-capitalist country, however, subsidies for farmers, trade union pressures for increased salary and benefits, and arbitrary import taxes – among other politically-driven distortions – are all designed explicitly to exaggerate or undercut prices.        
 
More egregious examples come from our (ever-shrinking) energy pot. We charge less than $3 per gallon of gasoline while Europe charges more than double that (around $7). Why? While the Europeans themselves may be motivated by funds for their bloated bureaucracies, in fact their pricing of oil reveals a stronger dose of reality than our "free-er" economy. We spend hundreds of billions of dollars protecting the supply of oil in Iraq, in the wider Middle East and in large swathes of the world. We do not spend the billions needed to reverse and compensate for the often hidden environmental (and thus also social) costs arising out of the production, shipping, processing and use of oil. Either way, these costs need to be factored into the price of gas in order for the price to be authentically capitalist; a capitalism that is defined not by its generally rapacious origins, but rather by its emphasis on cost-driven prices and market solutions to social problems. As in the energy market, we fool ourselves with unrealistically low cost consumables from China, where proliferating pollution is often ignored and the health of the population and environment is deteriorating at an irresponsible rate. China's "capitalist" coffers are overflowing whilst its peoples are accruing birth defects and terminal diseases, suffering from dying rivers and the most rancid urban air in the world. America, by contrast, has the opportunity to show the world what a mature and civilized capitalism could look like.
 
In the same vein of this cost-focused capitalism, every citizen should accept his or her responsibilities vis-à-vis society, achieving a balance between limited government and a participatory society and, importantly, helping to achieve an equality of opportunity. Currently, America is in the midst of acquiring the socialized opposite thereof, as our politicians shape a bastardized capitalism where every person has seemingly boundless rights to share in the largess of big bureaucratic government without any corresponding obligations to give back to society. We are mostly about what society owes us by virtue of merely being born, and very little about what we need to give to our future, to our children and their enduring freedom.
 
Is it conceivable that a compulsory (with reasonable exceptions) national service be implemented after high school or university, whereby every young citizen gives a year of service to his or her country? Potential sectors include health care, education, philanthropy, substance abuse rehabilitation, family and children's services, geriatric support, and support for military, police, and fire forces. Capitalism need not be incompatible with acknowledging a higher order, a deeper meaningfulness about life. Freedom and democracy come at a price. We pay taxes – we need also to give time; and time is of the essence, it is the ultimate service as our soldiers keep proving again and again. In fact, perhaps we can substitute one for the other, leading to better outcomes for all. Call this commitment "big community.”
 
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor Leslie Sacks is an art dealer and gallerist in Los Angeles. Feedback: editorialdirector@familysecuritymatters.org.

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