RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment

writing for godot

US, the book, installment: Breaking Out of the Patch-It Mindset Toward Deeper Solutions

Written by Tom Cantlon   
Friday, 07 May 2021 08:26

This is a section of the book:


Everything is Done By US

We Can Make it For US

by Tom Cantlon


The list of links to chapters can be found at:


This time: The people calling for Socialism have serious significant concerns but are using language that doesn't help. And, if this book is confusing, unclear what side it's on, that's an indication it's helping you break out of a narrow mindset of poor options. Options that are weak responses to serious problems. Options we have come to settle on. Moving beyond those toward even bigger change that would help people much more.



There's a lot of talk about socialism and about whether we should find some alternative to capitalism, and it's almost all wrong on both sides. That's unfortunate because it hides some underlying issues we really do need to consider.

First is a look at how the words socialism and capitalism are often misunderstood. Then, a look at those important underlying issues that are really what make people concerned.

There's a lot of misuse of those words because people rarely know what those words really mean. Is that even important? Yes, because it leads to two sides arguing in ways that totally miss the valid part that each side has to offer. This is kind of a nit-picking topic, focusing on the meaning of words, but it's included because it's important for understanding what's being suggested in this book and for US all to be able to debate such issues clearly. Otherwise, instead of making progress, we tie ourselves up in off-point arguments that only waste our time while we continue to slip ever lower in our place in the economy.

Anyone who simply wants more social programs, say free college or subsidized childcare, is not seeking socialism. They may not know it or say it right, but what they're suggesting would simply lead to continuing with capitalism but with some added social programs.

People who say capitalism is horrible or that it's the cause of so much of our problems are almost always just as far off base. We may consume too much, using up too much of the world's resources and creating too much pollution, we may flood ourselves with too much advertising which makes US want ever more stuff, but that's not strictly connected just to capitalism.

Real socialism means the government owns all or a great deal of private industry. Some South American countries have tried this when their government would take over a lot of private industry and finance. In the United States it is only in a very few special cases that we have government owned or controlled industries, like power utilities. They are often owned or contracted by the government because it's such an essential service that we want everyone to have it and at the lowest price possible. Other than those few cases, we don't do that here.

There is no notable push by any groups in the United States to do anything like large-scale government takeover of industry. Some of those people who don't really know what the word means say they want to be socialists or want the country to become socialist, though really they just see social programs as solutions to some problems. But their using that word scares the hell out of people who hear it and take it as meaning they want some radical change of a kind the United States has never had before. It's an unfortunate confusion of words and of ideas that sets people against one another.

The same is true of people who think we should end capitalism. They may very well wish we consumed less; they might wish everything wasn't so much about money; they might wish for a system where there isn't such a super-wealthy group who have too much power and warp everything to their advantage, leaving working people short of what they should be getting. They might want all of that, but odds are they are not against capitalism if they knew what it actually means.

For one thing, capitalism and the free market are often confused. The free market simply means you can start a business if you want, you can charge what you want, and you can operate within the economy any way you want, limited only by your resources and staying within the laws. Capitalism is another layer on top of the free market. It simply means one person investing in another. If the teenager next door is starting a lawn-mowing business and wants you to buy the lawn mower in return for a small portion of the profits, that's capitalism. You've just invested your money, for someone else to use, with the expectation you'll make a little profit in the process.

If you have some money saved up toward retirement and you want to do anything better with it than stuffing it under the mattress, if you want to put it in an interest-bearing savings account or invest it in a 401(k) plan or put a little in the stock market, that's capitalism.

So let's be clear about what most people do and don't want. Almost no one wants to end the free market. We all want to be able to work where and how we want or have a little side business. And almost no one really wants to end capitalism. We all want to hang onto our savings in some way that grows it a little bit, either by that savings account or with a little investment. Those savings and investments are good for the economy. People put their money into the bank savings accounts and then the bank lends it out to businesses that can put it to good use and grow. Almost no one wants real socialism either, as in the government taking over a lot of private industry.

So what is all the fuss about? Two things. Two legitimate concerns we can all understand.

One is those social programs. People advocating for them think they would help people, and in some cases they might be right. The people who feel this way would just like to see the lowest-income people and ordinary people generally get a better deal out of the economy and they think this is a way to do it. Whether you agree with social programs as the way to do it or not, we can pretty much all agree that many of the lowest-income people get a really lousy deal out of the economy, working hard and still being poor. And we can probably all agree that middle-income people, while they're not poor, are probably not getting the full value their work should bring them, and it would be good to find ways to make that right.

Some people think social programs would help these problems, and sometimes they're right. Other people are very wary of social programs, and sometime they're right too. But in both cases the general goals—the goals of the least among US not doing so poorly and the bulk of US getting a fairer deal for our work—are things we can all agree on. It's just a matter of how. And no one is really talking about ending capitalism or having real socialism. They're just using the terms wrong, and that gets the discussion all mixed up.

The second fuss is about excess: excessive consumerism, excessive concentration of wealth, excessive power and influence in the hands of a few, excessive focus on the money aspect of any issue when often it's other values that ought to be the focus (quality of life, health, evenhanded fairness to all, care of the environment, etc.). These are things we can probably all agree are problems and we would like to see improvement on them, but talk of ending capitalism or turning to real socialism just confuses the debate. Even in countries that have had real socialism it can still be the case that an upper-crust few have much more power and much more wealth and luxurious lifestyles. And it can still be the case that there's a lot of advertising which helps to drive excessive consumption.

That shows that it's really more of a human problem. It's always the case in any system, the problem of whether power accumulates in the hands of a few and whether those with that power unfairly cheat the bulk of the people. What's needed is not a radical change in what kind of system we have, but a radical change in how much it's focused on working out well for the bulk of US. We had something close to that in the New Deal era from after World War II up through the 1970s. As noted elsewhere, it primarily helped white men, but at least for a while, for that group, we showed we could have a system that focused on them doing well, and they did. We need that same kind of thing again, only this time applying it to everyone.

It's clear that oftentimes when people use the term socialism what they're really talking about is a matter of emphasis. They want a system that focuses more on the well-being of all, less on the absolute through-the-roof absurd wealth of a few, more on other values like care of the environment and fairness to all, and less on maximum wealth at the top at any cost. Use of the term socialism to signal desire for significant change toward that kind of shift in priorities is entirely understandable, and they are goals we can probably all understand. Still, use of the term has two problems. One, it makes it easy for those who want to divide US to create horror stories about socialism being the end of the things we love about America though that's not what people using the term generally mean at all. Two, it distracts from the real problem. No matter what system, we have to take hold of the power to make it work for US. As things are, the system works more for the top and only works enough for US to keep us going along with the lousy deal.

We may need more social programs. We may not. But what we do need, in any case, is a radical change in power, in the leverage of ordinary people. Once we have achieved that, then it's up to US if we want to find ways to make our economy one that consumes less or that focuses more on other values.

We need to avoid getting caught up in arguments that are off target and only get US fighting with one another while wealth and power continues to accumulate at the top. It only distracts US with arguments about radical change of the system and therefore distracts US from the truly radical change that we do need, and that is the degree to which the system focuses on working for US.


Confusion, or Exactly Where Does This Book Fit In?

It's possible that as you read this book it will seem confusing in a specific way. That is, which side is this book on? In some places it's critical of using the word socialism. It's critical of relying too much on social programs in cases where those programs are just a patch over the problem and don't get at the underlying issue. But it's open to social programs where they are best. It's open to them but takes no stand on which problems should get social programs, though a problem like healthcare, for instance, seems destined to be dealt with through a social program. It's fiercely against prejudice but it takes no stand on immigration issues. It's for radical change that would reinstate the focus on people in ways that would help everyone, including the middle-income working people in the middle of the country. But it wants the same radical change for everyone, rural and urban, of every category, and it claims that failure to have it apply to all would be failure, period. It wants to shift how much of the nation's wealth ends up with the people doing the work versus those at the top, but it's for the free market and even capitalism (as long as it works to the benefit of the people). It even wants to use the free market as the tool with which to shift income more in favor of the working people. That last part may seem head-spinningly contrary since free market advocates are usually trying to help investors, not workers.

Is this book taking a stand in the middle just to be in the middle, as some politicians do? No. The middle can be correct sometimes, but often it's just where it's safe and nothing much happens. This book is for radical change in specific ways.

Some people go to great lengths to take an unusual mix of positions just so they won't fit into any typical category. They might care more about pride in their independent positions than in whether their positions make sense taken together. Is that what this is? Just intentionally trying not to fit any pigeon hole? No. If you consider the rest of the book, there is a consistent thought line that runs through it.

The fact that it might strike US as confusing is a red flag that we've become locked into set ways of thinking. Those ways may not be doing US the most good. We've been gradually herded into a few typical positions.

Sometimes we've been herded in one direction by those who have something to gain. Either they can stir US up to become their big audience, which makes them rich and famous, or we become their supporters and voters. Other times we've been herded by people with the best of intentions who really feel for those in need, whether they're trying to help the least fortunate or trying to help average people who aren't getting what they should. They feel for them but can't envision a solution big enough to really solve things, so they push little fixes that would help a little. But those little fixes just end up being part of the pile of bandages on top of bandages that never really fix the underlying gaping wound.

We've also been herded by groups who take up the banner of their being our champions and who get themselves elected, but then they are so timid about it that things just get worse. That in turn leads to our being herded by leaders and groups who are the more violent or destructive or bigoted or self-centered, who prey on those of US who are frustrated, and they manage to gain ground because of the vacuum of progress.

We end up herded into one of a couple of typical paths. Some get on a self-centered course of thinking we need to make the entire system run of, by, and for just people like ourselves and drive everyone else out or push them down. They think that's the way they can get theirs. The other path is thinking of ourselves as almost powerless except for the ability to harass the government into fixing things for US. The government should fix many things, but not by just piling on more bandages.

Both of the standard options are weak positions. Positions we have chosen over time out of being desperate for some approach that will make things better. But the proper solution is bigger and deeper and more radical, so much so that it's hard to imagine. That it is hard to imagine is part of the reason we've gotten herded into these lesser positions. Leaders and media and our own thinking have a hard time picturing the larger solution or imagining that it could actually happen, and so we end up with these lesser positions that only allow things to continue to slip ever worse.

The proper solution doesn't feel like it fits into any of the common pigeon holes. It doesn't fit because it's large enough to do well by all of US and doesn't need to be limited to just helping people like ourselves. And it's large enough that it gets rid of the need for many of the government bandages. So, if reading about this doesn't fit with our pigeon holes then you might end up scratching your head and wondering, where does this fit in?

If you've been focused on just helping people like yourself, then time to broaden your thinking, because the only solution that will really help you is one big enough to help everyone, even those you think of as "others". On the other hand, if you've gotten so used to assuming that any position that doesn't support this or that social program can't truly be interested in what's best for people, then time to broaden your thinking too. Consider that the very ideas for those programs you want are just the result of our underpowered position and the underpowered ideas we grab hold of for little improvements.

This is not about being different for the sake of being contrary. It's not about middle ground. And yet the radical change proposed isn't anything contrary to American experience either. It's change that's bigger than we have allowed ourselves to think but in ways that we already know how to do from past American experience (which we can improve on). It's about change that's big enough that it ends the need for the pigeon holes we've created and would result in all of US better off than anything that ever came out of any pigeon-hole idea. Confusing? That might be good. That might mean your head is letting go of more limited ideas and taking steps toward looking at a bigger picture than we've considered. A bigger picture that would do very well for all of US.



But the robots are coming. What then? Automation and artificial intelligence will eliminate much work and could result in many more people needing a paycheck than there is work for them to do. It's going to mean that our regaining the power to make the country operate for the benefit of all of its people, that is US, even more important. But it has to start with a change in our own head. Consider, if a business owner uses automation that cuts worker hours that owner will have reduced payroll and become wealthier, right? Why did you think that? Why didn't your mind immediately jump to, wow, those employees will get the same pay for less work, great for them? Your mind is captured by their way of thinking.


Tom Cantlon is a business owner and writer in a small western town. This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it your social media marketing partner
Email This Page


THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.