I’m just going to start calling it “democratic capitalism.”
Welcome to the post-meaning era. I don’t have an identity. You don’t have an identity. Our jobs are virtual. Our friends our virtual. We’re not sure if movie theaters still exist. Nothing is real. Meaning doesn’t matter. And if there’s one thing the whole GameStop situation proved, it’s that the economy is just plain made up.
So my question is: if we can make up the economy, why can’t we just make up definitions of economic structures too?
As a socialist, I have noticed that conversations with capitalists about the benefits and drawbacks of capitalism never seem to get anywhere useful. As soon as one starts criticizing “capitalism,” let alone mentioning the word “socialism,” tempers instantly flare, like waving a red (hammer and sickle) flag in front of a (Wall Street) bull.
I can say with complete certainty that I’ve encountered far more people who tell me that capitalism is good than can define what capitalism is. I don’t just mean slightly more people; I mean a difference in orders of magnitude. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the only people I’ve ever met beyond economics professors who can actually give capitalism a correct, comprehensive definition are anticapitalists. When asked about the virtues of capitalism, lovers of capitalism almost invariably just talk about the virtues of the market. More often than that, the just say that socialism is worse. But — Venezuela!
To clear things up very quickly, these are the defining features of capitalism: 1) Property is held privately. 2) The owners of an enterprise buy labor from workers in exchange for wages. 3) Enterprises exist to make a profit. 4) Enterprises compete with one another for consumers’ business. 5) Consumers can choose which enterprise to buy from.
On the other hand, socialism is an economic system in which enterprises are owned socially and managed democratically by their owners. Government ownership is one possible form of social ownership. Cooperative, collective and community ownership are other forms. I will also say here that I believe government ownership, when that government is anything other than a direct democracy, cannot be real socialism because it does not meet the condition of true democratic management. I digress.
The point is that across the board, nearly all (…maybe just all?) of the self-professed capitalists I have encountered cannot list the two preceding definitions. Rather than taking more time out of my day to keep explaining what defines capitalism and socialism to anyone, I’m just going to stop telling them that capitalism is problematic whatsoever.
Instead, I’m going to profess that I’m a capitalist too, but that I believe in “democratic capitalism.”
What’s that, Anna? I’m so glad you asked:
In democratic capitalism, individuals can own and manage the resources and property they depend on and use regularly, but not property they don’t. If lots of people depend on that resource or property, then all of those people get to own and manage it together, democratically.
In democratic capitalism, workers are the owners of their enterprises, and all of them have some role in management. There can still be divisions of labor, but not a division of control between owner and employee.
In democratic capitalism, enterprises exist to meet the needs of their consumers.
In democratic capitalism, enterprises engage in “cooperatition,” competing and cooperating with one another, as needed, towards the shared goal of creating the best possible market for their consumers.
In democratic capitalism, consumers can still choose what enterprise to buy from, but the primary goal of the market is to ensure that everyone has access to what they need, and that the people who are in the best positions to make decisions are the ones making them.
Doesn’t that sound nice? It’s democratic capitalism, guys! It’s totally still capitalism. Capitalism is still the best. America, fuck yeah! Dicks out for Harambe!
The sad thing is, I’ve had so many conversations with “capitalists” who say that cooperative ownership is the future, but socialism is the devil. I’ve decided that it’s a far better use of my time to just say I agree with them until they realize they agree with me.
“You’re right, Kevin, the market is important. Silly me. You’ve convinced me. I’m not a socialist anymore, because I don’t like tyrannical control of the market by a small group of people. The market belongs to everyone. Let’s try democratic capitalism together.”