Coming Out of the Economic Closet
Ethical Humanist Society of Philadelphia
After all these years it is time for me to escape the confines of the closet. I am a Social Democrat! There I said it and I am glad. While there can be disagreement as to what that means, there can be no argument that it excludes what is the abysmal state of our current economic and political affairs. I confess that with much trepidation, because I am aware that Capitalism, as a moral value in America, is on par with baseball, motherhood, and apple pie.
Let's talk first about Capitalism. The mantra of market driven laissez-faire Capitalism is: "Price is determined in the market place through the interaction of supply and demand." The validity of that axiom is dependant upon the existence of three unstated preconditions. They are: 1) an infinite number of sellers; 2) an infinite number of buyers; and 3) perfect knowledge. The unlimited number of sellers is required to prevent a situation, like the DeBeers diamond cartel, where a group of sellers collaborate to control the supply in order to artificially inflate the cost. The unlimited number of buyers is required to prevent a giant buyer like Wal-Mart from dragooning sellers in order to unnaturally drive down the price. And the perfect knowledge prerequisite is obligatory to insure that the parties on both sides of the transaction are bargaining over the same thing. With all these requirements on the table, it becomes clear that laissez-faire Capitalism exists only as an ideal.
Not only does laissez-faire Capitalism exist only in our imagination, but let us not overlook the role that government plays in our lives. While in one sense it is true that I have built my business, in another sense government has been my partner. The roads that my clients drive on to get to my office, the police and firefighters that protect that office, and the zoning enforcement that permits my use and excludes incompatible neighbors are all taxpayer-supported emoluments of my success. From the grid that delivers the electricity to the person who delivers the mail, coordinated collective action is required. And where would we lawyers be without the courts?
Less obvious, but even more important, are the strategic decisions made at each level of political authority. Tax and trade policies as well as a myriad of other laws, resolutions, ordinances, regulations, and executive orders have a pervasive impact on all economic activity. Whole industries and even entire segments of our economy come and go at the pleasure and whim of our elected and appointed officials.
Now let's turn to Democratic Socialism. I believe in a well-regulated market economy with a robust public sector and a government responsive to the aspirations of its citizens in its commitment to policies that would: 1) foster personal freedom and the inviolability of human rights as a means toward, rather than an obstacle against, achieving a pervasive climate of individual and collective security in an atmosphere of world peace; 2) environmental sustainability and the amelioration of the wounds we have inflicted on our home planet as a path to, rather than an impediment to, economic prosperity; and 3) a benevolently strong and tightly woven social safety net as an essential element of, rather than an intolerable burden upon, a more just and humane society for our chosen tomorrow.
If that is not what Democratic Socialism is, then that is what it should be. And regardless of any labels, this is what I believe. The economy needs regulation because history should have taught us that the confluence of American ingenuity, our renowned tendency toward excess, and the rapacious greed of some of the players, forcing others to follow suit, would conspire to produce disastrous results. The strong public sector will smooth the boom and bust of the private economic sector. When consumers stop spending and private employers stop hiring, government can step in to save the day. It is at those times that investment can be made in the magnificent infrastructure projects that distinguish developed from third world countries. Those ventures create jobs that cannot be outsourced beyond our borders and thus will produce taxpayers that reduce, rather than increase, our staggeringly swelling national debt.
The governmental policies enumerated – liberty with safety, survival with comfort, empathy with fairness – on behalf of a brighter future will result in a rich and rewarding life not only for our posterity but also for us. We could rest content that we are keeping faith with our responsibility to help create a better world. As the proverb reminds us, "We do not inherit the world from our parents; we borrow it from our children."
Who could oppose these ideas and on what basis? Aren't we all in that same closet? I've always imagined I wasn't alone. That is my Ethical Culture.Send comments to Arnold at anfesq[at]aol.com