Volume > Issue > Capitalism Is Squandering Its Inheritance

Capitalism Is Squandering Its Inheritance

GUEST COLUMN

By David C. Stolinsky | April 1999
David C. Stolinksy, M.D., who is of the Jewish faith, lives in Los Angeles and is married to a clinical psychologist. He is retired after 25 years of medical school teaching at the University of California at San Francisco and the University of Southern California.

Traffic engineers have lines painted on streets to help vehicles move safely. The lines indicate the center of the road, the limits of lanes, and pedestrian crosswalks. It is then up to drivers not to drive on the wrong side of the road, not to wander outside their lane, and to stop for pedestrians. The lines are aids to safe driving, but safe drivers are still essential. What is obvious for driving is equally true, but less obvious, in other fields. In economics and politics, we often assume that the system is responsible for the observed results, while we ignore the role of the individuals who make it work — or not work.

In theory, socialism means that there are no very rich or very poor, and no one lacks the essentials of food, clothing, shelter, or health care. Committees control things, and no committee member has too much power. In practice, socialism degenerates into stagnation, because the nonproductive are rewarded and the productive penalized. In its extreme form — Communism — all power is concentrated in the hands of a small group that enjoys the best of food, clothing, shelter, and health care, while the majority subsists on a minimum of all these. Production and distribution of everything is strictly controlled, which requires an oppressive bureaucracy. Unrestrained by ethics, the supposed pursuit of equality leads to the gulag.

Similarly, free enterprise in theory allows everyone to achieve his potential. In practice, it tends to degenerate into greed and rapacious capitalism. The stock market may reach new heights, but so do debt and bankruptcy. Many small businessmen ask, “What boom?” as their small businesses are ingested by remote conglomerates. Doctors withhold needed care on the orders of HMOs. Industrialists and politicians sell military technology to potential enemies. In its extreme form, a small group enjoys the best of everything, including the finest health care and private schools, while the majority must content themselves with rationed care and public schools that are ineffective and dangerous. Street crime and drug abuse are major problems. The government declares “war” on drugs, crime, and guns, and develops an oppressive bureaucracy. Despite this, most people are more afraid of the tax collector than the police, which shows where the government’s real priorities lie. Unrestrained by ethics, the pursuit of profit leads to the jungle.

Missing in all this is any consideration of what kinds of individuals are involved. Almost any system would work tolerably well if it were run by individuals who had been educated in the basics and taught hard work and honesty. Such individuals were numerous in the earlier days of both socialism and free enterprise, but they had been produced by institutions centered on home and church. These institutions were products of neither socialism nor free enterprise, but were the result of religion and family structure that had changed little for centuries. Both socialism and free enterprise were in their earlier stages the unwitting and ungrateful beneficiaries of generations of hardworking, God-fearing people.

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