Monday, July 17, 2006

The Difference Between Capitalism and Socialism.

Capitalism regulates greed.
Socialism prohibits greed.

The difference between capitalism and socialism is often, if not usually, presented in terms of ownership with the political and economic homilies that capitalism is private ownership (and thereby control) of the means of production and socialism is the state or collective ownership of the means of production. However, such rubrics do not address the real issues at the root of the capitalism-socialism debate such as the nature of greed and its place in human consciousness. By focusing on the status of ownership, the capitalists have succeeded in framing the debate in a manner that ensures its outcome in their favor.

The fundamental question about any society's economic system must address its relation to greed as a basic aspect of human consciousness. When I look at capitalism and socialism in this light it seems obvious that the basic goal of capitalism is to regulate greed while the aim of socialism is to prohibit greed.

Capitalism thus approves, authorizes, sanctions, and regulates greed in what it's proponents see as socially acceptable ways. Capitalism says that greed as a motivator is a social utility and without it there would be no "progress" in human development.

Socialism, on the other hand, views greed as fundamentally flawed and denies any inherent social utility of greed. Instead of merely regulating greed so that the greedy can have free competition to acquire as much as possible, socialism sees that the desire, attempt, and actions to acquire property beyond what is actually needed for health and comfort are all causes of a multitude of social problems, not the least of which is the basic fact that, when property is finite, the more one person has the less is available to others.

In Buddhism, greed is one of the three basic "poisons" of life, along with delusion and hate. Thus, if taken on the basis of doctrine alone, the outlook of Buddhism toward economics is basically socialist in orientation. However, such things are not quite so simple; since in Buddhism, as with all religions, there has been a distinct and inherent problem when the separation of religion and the state is lost and Buddhism becomes a supporter and rationalizer of the state rather than a teaching for the enlightening of people.

Like socialism, Buddhism teaches the renunciation of greed for its followers, but unlike socialism, Buddhism in itself does not seek to impose its beliefs on non-followers. This short essay is not intended to delve into the deep concerns of what has happened to the Buddha Dharma where it has sought some form of state sanction, but like Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Judaism, it doesn't take much analytical ability to see that the basic tenets of the religion quickly become perverted when it conjoins with state power.

The obvious reason for this is that the desire for state power is itself a form of greed. Where socialism or Buddhism seeks state power beyond what is necessary, even for the "good intention" of prohibiting greed, then that desire too falls into greed. No state power, whether held in the hands of a king or emperor or in the arms of a political party, will give over that power selflessly. The only result of active collaboration with that state power will be a subtle co-optation into justifying and enhancing that power.

The highest ideals of socialism and Buddhism to overcome greed can themselves become perverted by the state powers-that-be when brought into the tent of power. The adage that power corrupts is true, especially when that power is based on the threat of violence for its enforcement (whether by police or the military). It is an oxymoron to have a Buddhist army, yet in history we have witnessed Buddhist monks, such as in Tibet and Japan, supporting nationalistic and military endeavors even to the extent of personally taking up weapons on the front lines.

Democracy, as the dispersal of power among a sovereign people, attempts to manage this problem of the power of power to corrupt. Unfortunately, political parties such as the Democrats and Republicans demonstrate how easily democracy can be undermined by vested interests becoming political intermediaries selling legislative favors much like the medieval Roman Church selling indulgences for the remission of sins. The two political parties who share control have brainwashed the citizens of the USA into believing that democracy and capitalism are synonymous. The reason for this is obvious: both parties are controlled by capitalists who pay for their political expenses and thus for their ability to secure political power.

The hope for human kind is to find a way to inform and educate the populace to individually renounce greed and then to democratically realize and manifest that personal renunciation in political forms and structures that prohibit greed in society using the most nonviolent forms of enforcement.

Returning to the theme of ownership, the central avenue for this change is the revisioning of the role of corporations in democratic societies. The corporation as originally conceived was a collective form of ownership that bridged the gap between private enterprise and public good works. The various original and historical restrictions on corporations up until the mid-nineteenth century all recognized this unique function of a collective ownership in society along with the concomitant unique hazards of such collectivization of wealth and power.

Since the time after the US Civil War, the people behind business corporations have succeeded in eroding every major limitation on corporate wealth and power and have used corporations as the economic vehicle to amass wealth and control society hiding the damaging corporate greed behind spin control and capitalis propaganda. Today, a corporation may engage in any capitalist business it desires without having to demonstrate, as in the past, that the purpose of the corporation is a benefit to society. Today, the people behind the business corporations use the corporations as vehicle of greed and the driving force behind the arms race at all levels, from large space based missile programs to small weapons manufacture and sale throughout the world. The giant transnational corporations prevent local democracy from limiting their power through the use of international monetary funds and bye supporting and equipping standing armies of intervention.

We can transform society by returning to the original limitations on corporations and requiring that corporate charters be given only for specifically recognized purposes that benefit the public and that no corporate licence will be extended to any organization that violates its charter's commitments.

This short presentation only scratches the surface of the deep interplay of economics and greed, but hopefully it will contribute to understanding and bring some small light on the process of greed in human consciousness as it manifests in social interactions.


Anonymous said...

great article! thank you for sharing. I was wondering what the difference between socialism and capitalism was, and I found it here. good read.

Anonymous said...

Nice article...


Robert Stone said...

Interesting article, but I don't think it's really possible to "prohibit greed." In fact, in places where greed has been "prohibited" it seems to me that people are even more greedy than they were before.

I think it's pretty obvious that greed can be "channeled" into both skillful and unskillful activities. For example, one person may be greedy for some item and decide to steal it, whereas another person has the same level of greed for the same item, and instead elects to work overtime or something so he can buy the item honestly.

I really don't think that capitalism by itself says that greed is good, even though it might try to channel greed into skillful means of "expression." The idea that greed is good because it motivates people is consumerism which is not the same thing as capitalism.

BTW, I also have a blog devoted to the subjects of politics and Buddhism. Let me know what you think.

Anonymous said...

Where socialism or Buddhism seeks state power beyond what is necessary, even for the "good intention" of prohibiting greed, then that desire too falls into greed
Don't confuse state capitalism, which existed/exists in ussr, china or north korea with socialism, which is a form of anarchy. In anarchy, people voluntarily remove greed from their lives.